The market scale had dropped to one-seventh compared to its peak. Let’s revive the market again!! What is Kita-Boshi Pencil’s, the long established pencil maker, approach and Circular economy in pencil industry.
Kita-Boshi pencil is a pencil maker in Katsushika-ward Tokyo. They manufacture their brand products which are developed internally, represented by “Pencils for adults”, and OEM products.
Pencil market scale had dropped to one-seventh of its peak. Here is the interview with the Fifth company president about the new approach for their own brand products and his future vision.
As an opening question, could you please tell us your company’s business outline?
Our business is pencil manufacturing, and we have both our brand products and OEM products. Not only the pencils, but we also manufacture wooden mechanical pencils and pencil sharpeners by applying our pencil manufacturing technologies. And also, we manufacture clays and paints by reusing sawdust disposed of in manufacturing. Our company was established as Sugiya Mokuzai in Hokkaido in 1909 (Meiji 42nd). At that time, our products were wooden boards as a pencil manufacturing material, and we sold them in the mainland of Japan. In 1943 (Showa 16th), the wooden board makers were consolidated into Hokkaido pencil material industrial association during wartime. In 1945 (Showa 18th), we purchased Tsuki-Boshi pencil company in Tokyo, and newly established Kita-Boshi pencil & stationery co..ltd in Kushiro.
In 1950 (Showa 25th), Sugiya Mokuzai purchased Tsuki-Boshi pencil company’s production facilities. In the next year, 1951 (Showa 26th), the first company president of Kita-Boshi pencil started business in the current location (Yotsugi, Katsushika-ward, Tokyo), and the business continues today. I became the 5th company President since last year.
Currently, we have many kinds of writing tools and we are in the age of paperless. What changes does the pencil industry has experienced?
The amount of pencil production in Japan reached its peak in 1966 (Showa 41st) about 1.4 billion. After that year, new writing tools were developed, and the number of childbirth rates decreased. Therefore, the production amount of ballpoint pen exceeded wooden pencil in the 1980s (Showa 60’s).
Currently, some Japanese pencil maker transferred their production bases abroad. As a result, the annual production amount of pencils in Japan decreased the number to about 200 million. Also, the number of pencil manufacturers have decreased from 100 companies to 30 companies due to the decline in production
Both the production amount and the number of pencil manufacturers drastically decreased by 80%. Wooden pencils were the only writing tool in the past because we didn’t have any other tools. So, the market share of wooden pencils became higher naturally. However, we have many kinds of writing tools today, not only wooden pencils, I should accept the current market share as a proper market balance.
The data makes us imagine the decline of the industry, but the quality of the pencil is getting higher year by year. Moreover, wooden pencils are the most produced writing tool in the overseas market. The demand for pencils in the overseas market will increase more if the literacy rate of children in developing countries will get higher. In contrast, using a pencil as a writing tool is less than before in Japan.
Source : Japan pencil industry association
This might be basic, but could you tell me how to make wooden pencils?
Roughly speaking, paste pencil leads and slats (the board used in the manufacturing process of pencils), and make the shape of a pencil. The size of the slat is 185mm long, 75mm wide, 5mm thick, and the wooden material we apply for production is “incense cedar”, which is easily processed and cut.
The details of each process are,
1.Carve the slat (the board used in the manufacturing process of pencils), and make semi-circular shaped grooves to put pencil leads.
We can make 9 pencils from one pasted slat. We could make only 7 pencils from one slat in conventional methods. However, as a result of our improvements, we succeeded to develop the new technology of 9 pencils production.
The developer disclosed the technology in public hoping to advance Japanese pencil manufacturing technology. Currently, every Japanese pencil maker adopts the technology for their production.
2.Apply adhesive on the slat, and put pencil leads on the grooves.
Adhesion condition varies with the type of leads and thickness of the lead. We need to change the type and amount of adhesive depending on the condition.
3.Paste the other carved slat on the adhesive applied slat.
Hold the leads between two slats, and dry it overnight clamped by the mechanical clamper.
4.Carve the slat into pencil shape every one surface.
Carve the slat every one surface. We can shape it into a triangle, quadrangle, and round shape by changing the edge tool. 40% of the slat will be shaved off during production, and the shaved 40% will be disposed of as “sawdust”.
5.Carve both sides of the slat, and 9 pencils are completed.
The slat becomes a pencil shape by carving both sides. Until this process, the pencils are processed on plate shape, but from the next step, they are processed one by one.
6.Make the finished pencils pass through the hole on the rubber and apply paint to them.
Normally, we apply paint 6 to 7 times in one pencil. This coating method, passing through the rubber hole, is called “squeeze coating”.
7.Finishing process, marking and, etc.
Mark pencil density such as HB, 2B, mount an eraser, print on pencils. Color pencils will be sharpened on the finishing process. The delivery form of it is the sharpened state.
8.Make the pencils all the same designated length.
The length of the pencil is determined as 17.2cm by JIS standard. The length 17.2cm originates from the man’s hand length, from the tip of the middle finger to the wrist.
9.Pack the finished pencils into the box or the bag.
We developed “Color sequential packaging machine for color pencil” and “Automatic dozen packaging machine” by ourselves, and realized high production efficiency and high quality.
Pencils were sold by the dozen standardly in the past and we started to sell our pencils in 3 pieces package uniquely. Our competitors followed suit copying our strategy so we started to sell our pencil in the sharpened state instead. In that way, we built our current commercial basis and style of selling.
May I ask you the details of Kita-Boshi pencil’s approach, "Circular economy in pencil industry"?
"Circular economy in pencil industry" means the flow of recycling that reusing sawdust, which is disposed of during production, for product development and invest the profit coming from new products to pencil production.
40% of wooden products are disposed of as industrial waste “sawdust” during pencil production. We considered how to solve this waste of material issues. And then, we developed the machine to crush wood chips by ourselves and succeeded to produce new products made from sawdust on a commercial basis.
We wanted to make the recycling flow environmentally friendly, not just to make a business sequence of work. So, we persisted with its biodegradability so that it returns to soil eventually.
You might wonder why we try to do so hard. The reason is that we started our business as a lumber dealer in Hokkaido originally, and all of us share the common mind of regarding woods as important and valuable. We have been dealing with lumbers from the beginning of company establishment, therefore, we have a passion for wooden materials and don’t want to waste them at all.
Products made by sawdust
Recycled sawdust clay “Mokunen-san”
It is the recycled clay that includes no soil but includes sawdust instead. And it has the feature that will turn to be a hardwood piece after it dried up. It has no stickiness and never makes the surroundings dirty, and you can enjoy many kinds of wood processing such as drilling, adhering, and cutting. And also, you can discard it as flammable garbage, easily disposable. It is also OK to bury in the ground, it will return to the soil.
Mysterious paint “Wood paint”, turn to a wood piece after dry up.
It is recycled paint that is made by reused sawdust which is disposed of during pencil production. It will turn to wood chips after dried up. You can use it for painting using a paintbrush and create the texture of oil painting. After drying up, you can enjoy wood processing by sandpaper or a carving knife.
We have a gallery of Mokunen-san and wood paints in our pencil laboratory. You can appreciate Mokunen-san and wood paint artworks there.
You have a top-selling product “Pencils for adults”, the total sales amount is 1.5 million pieces. Why you can develop new products one after another? What is its know-how?
We developed “Pencils for adults” as the memorial product for our company’s 60th anniversary. The concept of the product was that we want adult users to use a pencil again because they don’t use it habitually than their childhood, as they grow up. By using it again, we expect them to remember the feeling of smooth writing that pencils have. That’s why we developed it.
- I’m having trouble as a pencil lead breaks easily.
- I don’t know how to hold a pencil
- I want to make 150 colors color pencil set.
- I want to make only one special order color pencil.
We always try to respond to the user’s troubles and demands with full effort. And if it is difficult to solve, we propose an alternative idea like “we might solve it in this way”. Even if we cannot get any benefit at that time, the experience will be related to other chances in the future. And by tackling the next issue, the past experience will lead us to a good result.
As our basic mind of development, if we continue to produce only top-selling items, we lose our technologies. We have to keep the technologies for the future and to do so, we have to make a challenge to anything we can, not only to do a stable business. As a result of that, we can succeed in our technologies to the next generation.
Could I ask a question about yourself? Did you have a will to succeed in the company business when you are a child?
Well, I naturally accepted that I will take over the business. It is because I understood that our business is very useful for our life, by watching the predecessor’s work.
The predecessor told me “pencils help kids to study. Kids will use up the pencils, and nothing left. But, what they studied is kept in their mind as their knowledge.” Child as I was, I thought this is precious business. Now, I have succeeded in the mind, so I have to play a role to tell it to the next generation.
Is this business unstable? Is it really useful for our life? How we think the business depends on our way of thinking. Everything has some bad points and if we look at them from the other point of view, it would look like good points. Therefore, how I can change the pencil business is the challenge of my life. I joined the Judo club in my school age. Its training was very hard, but if I think it is hard, it will be hard. But, if I think “now I’m growing”, it will be enjoyable.
“Pencils are kid’s item”. Most people have that kind of image to pencils, but I don’t think so. Even if we have pencils for adults, it is also acceptable. I want to find a new demand that we don’t notice yet, and make a new product for it.
What is your future vision as the fifth company president?
I wish the number of pencil makers should increase more until my retirement. There were about 200 pencil makers in the peek, and at that age, we could divide our work among the makers. Currently, about 30 makers left, and the number of makers who can accept pencil orders is about 5 or less.
Our mission is “Pencil manufacturing is a great business based on our great effort that is helpful for our society. Don’t pursue a profit. Keep it as our profession.”
I was also told this word in my childhood. I really believe it now as I am the current company president. All people want to be happy. But, even if only one’s self were to become happy, it would not mean real happiness. I believe that contribution to other’s happiness leads us to our own happiness. Contribute to other pencil makers, liven up the pencil business more, open a franchise as in the past, and then there are more pencil companies. This is one of my future vision.
Next time, we will have the visiting report of Kita-Boshi pencil’s gallery and its product review!
|Company name||KITA-BOSHI PENCIL CO.,LTD.|
|Location||1-23-11 Yotsugi, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo|
|Business description||Research and development of stationery and ecology products|
|Speaker||Representative Director, Ryuichi Sugitani|
Author of this article：Tadayuki Emoto
Web Rocket Inc.