I [started at Aprica] as a General Administrator. Everything [that] needed to be taken care of, I did. Hooking up computers, purchasing, making sure that all the deliveries are made, I did that for about four years. Then about two years ago, our former president decided to resign, and go back to Japan to spend time with his family. So I took over as the president.
Aprica’s been here since 1986. Back in the eighties, we were it. If you didn’t have Aprica, you weren’t in the hip crowd. That legacy is still kind of existing out there – those people who had the original Aprica strollers back in the eighties – probably their daughters have a stroller.
In Japan the brand name is extremely important. In the US we use a lot of online specialty shops to the get the word out.
Q: Do you struggle at all with the concerns and directives of your parent company?
Oh, always. I believe [that’s true] with any international company that deals with the United States. Our parent company in Japan, they design [for the] baby first and the user and usability becomes secondary. The main position still applies to the United States market. The welfare of the child itself is of utmost importance.
I go to Japan about six times a year. Making sure all the products are being lined up for the US market. Making sure that the design team is designing for the international markets -- for next year’s model.
Q: Do items have to be resized for American babies?
No. When [babies] are born, they are almost identical. Rate of growth might be different. But in the first year or two they are almost identical with each other. So that part is not a problem, but more on a consumer side – in Japan some mothers might be five-five, five-four, five-three; in the United States: five-six, five-seven, five-eight. That might be the difference.
So a lot of strollers in the past tended to have shorter handles. Some people might kick the wheel. But we’re trying to revamp that and redesign for the US market, while still keeping the same features in tact.
Q: Do Japanese baby/family needs/preferences differ from American?
No in terms of the fact that everybody wants the best for the baby, their child. That’s globally common so, in that aspect, I think our product is good no matter where it’s sold.
Q: When you see a stroller on the street, do you check out the brand?
I try to catch what other manufacturers are doing in order to make it user friendly, safety features. I believe strongly that ours is the best stroller out there. But what we can improve on is what I’m looking for. Attachments, other features that will make it easier for parents to use.
I try not to comment, but with the parents that have our strollers, I tend to ask them questions. I’m like “Oh, I’m a new parent. I’m thinking of buying a stroller.”
[Mostly] a lot of accessories are what parents are looking for. Features, usability. If a person owns an Aprica, usually they love the stroller. So in terms of negative feedback, it’s not as common.
We have an international meeting about twice a year in Japan. There’s no form to fill out, but I put together a report to submit to the design managers, the marketing managers, different reports for different set of people.
They implement it probably ten to twenty percent of the time. The other percent of the time it’s just too costly to change the whole structure of the stroller for the way we want it to be for the US market.
A: So do things you recommend actually show up on the new stroller?
Yes, our full size model called Promenade and the multi-function handle [where] you can reverse the handle with just one squeeze of the button.
Overall aesthetically I don’t think we’re ever going to complain. Most of the fabric parts are designed in Italy. We have a design center there.
Most of the manufacturing of strollers is done in China. We have our own manufacturing building there, own staff. The design is done in Italy, Japan, so everything is controlled within the company. Quality-wise it’s top notch.
Q: What do you think Aprica has that differentiates it from the competition?
Let’s see, our dedication to the welfare of the babies, our children. I mean safety-wise, there’s no comparison. We have a joint [partnership] with American Academy of Pediatrics, the University of Japan, universities in the US. We don’t do R&D to make the stroller sell, but we focus on how can we make the baby safer.
Our philosophy behind that is nothing like any other of the companies out there.
Q: What would you consider to be Aprica’s competition here in the US?
For the US, Peg-Pérego, Maclaren, more recently, Bugaboo.
Q: What do you admire about your competition? What do they do well?
… What they do well…? I’m not sure. I’m so focused on our company ourselves.
I guess the marketing aspect. They go to mass merchants and what not. You know, there’s many easy ways to go….
We’re not in business to put others in business. When Babies R Us started, we noticed that for every Babies R Us there are, about four or five specialty shops that had been in business for twenty, thirty years, just couldn’t handle [the competition]. So we’re trying to support those mom and pop stores.
We need one on one attention in order to sell Aprica – you’ve got to love our product. And that determination… I don’t know if passion is the right word, but that you can only get from specialty shops and interaction with the customer. Instead of just putting it on the floor and selling it to whoever wants to buy it.
Q: As president of a company, what keeps you awake at night?
Inventory, finance, customer service calls, you name it. I take my work home. Probably every waking moment, I’ll be thinking something about work. That’s the bad thing.
Q: Do you think there’s a solution for that?
I don’t see anything happening for another six months or so.
Q: Did you say that six months ago?
Yes [laughter]. Matter of fact, yes.
Q: Do you have children?
I don’t know if it’s a very good thing to use my children for R&D, but I would like to actually use a stroller. I always test it with a weighted dummy, to see if it’s feasible to see if we can bring it into the US. But that’s about as far as it goes.
Obviously the babies are screaming, crying, kicking, and you know, turning, that’s the kind of feeling I’d like to know first hand.
Q: What do you recommend for a screaming baby?
Use Aprica strollers [laughter]. Babies that sleep in our product tend to be happier – that’s what we say internally. So if the baby is crying with another manufacturer’s stroller we say, “Ah, that’s because they are not in an Aprica stroller.”
Q: What’s the best part about being a kid?
Oh, just being a kid. You know, not having to worry about anything. I was a very curious child. I had a very curious childhood. I wanted to know how everything worked.
Q: What do you think is the number one set back for children in the world today?
There are a lot of things out there…. I don’t know if I can even sum it up in one large lump.
I’m worried that a lot of cheap strollers lack safety features. You know obviously things that bothers me a lot [are] single parents, divorce rates, abuse at home. With the research we’re doing with universities and things I read in the news…, it worries me a lot.
Q: Cloth or Disposable?
Oh boy. If I had a baby, it would be disposable.
Q: Organic or regular?
That’s hard to say… oh. That is hard. I myself am not a big organic guy…
Q: Breastfeeding or bottle milk?