US, Japanese Firms Explore Each Other's Markets

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TOKYO - Another American company plans to enter the Japanese market, while a Japanese company explores prospects in the US. Both target women - the US company with hosiery, the Japanese with cosmetics.

Hosiery Corporation of America (HCA), a Pennsylvania-based company that sells private brand hosiery via DM and database analysis, has set up a Japanese branch through HCA International, its global business unit.

It named Nouko Hamada as general manager, bringing in a veteran of US operations in Japan. She started with Reader's Digest in the early '80s and in 1986 moved to Otto-Sumisho, a joint German-Japanese venture.

She switched to Lands' End Japan in 1993, where she managed the marketing division. The new job is a challenge, she said, because it runs outside the multiproduct, large book tradition of the Japanese catalog industry. HCA focuses on marketing a few products and on building customer loyalty through database analysis.

The company has conducted tests to see how its product and approach would fare in Japan. Results, Hamada said, were "satisfactory" enough for go-ahead plans.

HCA Japan will concentrate on marketing the operation when it is launched, probably early next year, and outsource fulfillment, order taking and other backroom activities.

The US company has been in business since the '70s and had revenues of $178.7 million in its last fiscal year, a gain of 9.8 percent.

HCA launched foreign operations in early 1996 when it set up in the UK. Subsequently the company moved into France and Germany. This is its first foray into Asia.

Fancle, a Japanese manufacturer of natural cosmetics, entered California two years ago to market its products to Japanese residents in and around the state.

"After a while in that market we began to look at the possibility of selling our natural beauty approach beyond the Japanese community, figuring that American women would like it too," said Fancle spokesman Tetsuo Tatsuhira.

Last year, Fancle began advertising in selected US newspapers and magazines, selling trial kits for $12.99 to acquire prospects and customers for a more concerted campaign.

It plans to drop a catalog with some 30 introductory items to its house file - about 25 percent of which are non-Japanese names - and to other lists as early as later this month. Tatsuhira would not reveal how large a mailing is planned.

Fancle has grown rapidly at home. Domestic sales in FY '98, which ended in March 1999, were up almost 23 percent to 47.4 billion yen ($395 million).

Last year's operating profit was up more than 29 percent to 8.9 billion yen ($74.1 million). The company went public last year and expanded its product offering into the dietary supplement market.

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