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10:10 7 March 2017

FEATURE: 13-employee Japan firm aims to be a top car seat maker

By Michio Watanabe
TOKYO, March 7, Kyodo

Though it has only 13 employees, an auto parts manufacturer in central Japan boasts a 50 percent share of the market for auto racing seats in Asia, and is regarded as one of the five biggest global brands.

"We are pursuing products that can make people excited when they are seated," says Mineo Takase, the president of Bride.

In mid-January, some 320,000 people flocked to the Tokyo Auto Salon held in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo where Bride was among the companies showcasing their products. Many fans visited Bride's booth and tried its seats.

Bride is located in Aichi Prefecture, where major automaker Toyota Motor Corp. is also headquartered.

A lot of professional auto racers use Bride seats. Takeshi Tsuchiya, 44, is one of them.

"A driver can sense the condition of his car -- whether its wheels are about to slip or spin -- through its seating. The seating is an important part of the car, like a body part," says Tsuchiya.

"President Takase and I have been working on developing seats together for many years. I like how he is eager to create quality products."

Takase established the company in 1981 after working for a car dealer and a car parts trade house. Though there have been ups and downs, Bride has grown to have more than a 70 percent share of the domestic market for racing car seats.

"I love driving cars," says Takase, 65. "Young people craved for cool cars (at the time the company was established). There was a growing trend of customizing their own cars."

Takase's first product was similar to seating made in Europe which he sold at low prices. He broke the Europe-made seat into parts and copied how it was made, says Takase with a laugh.

The product sold well, he recalls.

Takase initially sold his products as off-brand goods, but decided to change that approach five years after the company was launched, when he saw only one out of 200 racing cars used Bride's seat at a racing event.

"That was when I was made aware that I needed to show off the Bride brand so more people would recognize it," he recalls.

Takase began going to auto racing events across Japan every weekend and asking drivers for their opinion about his products to improve them, which resulted in more racers installing Bride seats in their cars.

Racers have begun to say, "Bride brings a win," according to the president.

A racing seat is called a "full bucket" seat, an important component that holds and protects the driver. Bride has amassed data regarding the body shapes of more than 1,000 professional and amateur drivers.

The company's business took a bad turn with the bursting of the bubble economy in the early 1990s.

Many Japanese young people's tendency to turn away from driving and the 2008 Lehman shock worsened the situation. Bride's sales plunged to 400 million yen ($3.5 million) in 2009 from 1.3 billion yen in 1994.

"We started to put more efforts into expanding customers," says Takase.

To expand sales channels, Bride employees visited parts wholesalers and explained features of its products in detail, while promoting them at major car goods stores.

As the company is small, all employees are supposed to do everything including product development, sales and maintenance.

The business is now on track again, and the firm produces 7,000 seats annually.

"High-quality seating does not cause backache...I want to create an ultimate seat that doesn't even make people feel like they are seated," Takase says.

Bride's seats are used not only in cars. They have also been installed as players' benches at the stadiums of two J-League first division soccer teams -- in February 2016 at Suita Stadium in Osaka Prefecture, the home of Gamba Osaka; and last June at Yamaha Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, the home field of Jubilo Iwata.

Bride hopes its seats will be used at even more stadiums, such as for rugby and basketball players as well as in the royal boxes at baseball stadiums.

Takase hopes that Bride will become emblematic of sport seats, and says he hopes to be a "chair craftsman" for the rest of his life.

==Kyodo

  • Japan firm aims to be a top car seat maker
  • Japan firm aims to be a top car seat maker
  • Japan firm aims to be a top car seat maker
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