BreakThrough Interview

Success of an Ad Agency that Turned into to Residential Vibration Control System BusinessIMA Co., Ltd.

2017.01.11

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Vibration Control System for Wooden Houses “GVA”

  • This article covers the story of an ad agency that entered the construction industry, tackling challenges in manufacturing and selling vibration control systems for wooden houses. The credibility and effectiveness of the company’s products were proven in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes.

Ad agency challenging the manufacture and sales of vibration control systems

IMA Co., Ltd. was established in 1991, mainly operating an ad agency business, but its current core business consists of the manufacturing and sales of GVA, a vibration control system for wooden houses. Starting in 1993, the company started taking part in the production of the newsletter of The Japan Society of Seismic Isolation, and IMA's President Ichio Niikuma developed close ties with the university researchers and engineers of structural design through the editing work and ad production.

When the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck in 1995, it caused many casualties due to the collapse of households. Around that time, a researcher of structural calculation with whom Niikuma had an amiable relation started researching vibration control systems for wooden houses, and Niikuma began participating in that research. He says, “Although I didn’t understand anything about the specialized structural calculations, I felt that it was an amazing technology watching the experiments being carried out. Because I had a long-standing relationship with the researcher, I helped out with the experimentation costs, but never did I imagine that my company would start selling this vibration control system.”

In 2004, GVA was completed through joint research between 3M Japan Limited, Kanai Co., Ltd., MASA Construction Structure Design Office, and Tokyo University of Science’s Faculty of Science and Technology, and Niikuma decided to manufacture and sell GVA at IMA.

Surge of orders for GVA after the Great East Japan Earthquake

GVA is a vibration control system that is installed to wooden houses when it is newly constructed, and it can reduce the shaking of earthquake by a maximum of 70% by using the viscous damper manufactured by 3M Japan that converts the vibration energy of earthquakes to frictional heat energy. IMA helped promote GVA by participating in trade fairs and the like, and it also leveraged the strengths of its main business as an ad agency to work on creating pamphlets and sales promotion tools that are easy to understand. Niikuma shares, “When actually explaining the product to customers, I was dealing with the sales personnel of builder’s offices and housing manufacturers, so I focused on explaining how GVA is superior in an easy-to-understand way, and I appealed the benefits [of GVA] compared to existing earthquake-resistant construction methods.”

Niikuma made various efforts, such as sending direct mails to builder’s offices across Japan, conducting sales to major builders in each prefecture, and holding seminars at prefectural capitals, but for a long time those efforts did not link to actual sales. “The situation was that the additional construction fee of about one million yen per house became the bottleneck to purchase the product, even though we were receiving positive responses at exhibitions and customers were listening to our explanation with interest,” he says.

However, this situation changed completely after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The company started receiving inquiries from builder’s offices from throughout Japan, and it saw an increase in the number of orders. As of January 2017, GVA is being used in 35,000 houses throughout Japan.

Viscous damper that reduces the shaking of earthquakes

Vibration control effect proved in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes

X-WALL, a bearing wall certified by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, that the company developed in 2011 is being used by mid-sized housing manufacturers and local builders as their own brand. In 2016, when the Kumamoto earthquakes struck, all 76 houses within Kumamoto Prefecture using X-Wall experienced no major damages, proving the effectiveness of IMA’s vibration control system. “In recent years, there have been major construction material manufacturers entering [the market], but I’m not worried because our company’s sales would increase as the size of the market itself expands,” says Niikuma. In recent years, the company has spread the scope of its earthquake countermeasures business, developing SL-Cube, a low-cost building collapse prevention reinforcement, and ZERO System, a liquefaction prevention ground reinforcement using sandbag construction method.

In 2013, IMA won the Management Innovation Award by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The company was highly regarded for entering the construction industry from being an ad agency, and having succeeded in commercializing new earthquake countermeasure technologies.

Building collapse prevention reinforcement SL-Cube

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IMA Co., Ltd.

mainly operating an ad agency business, but its current core business consists of the manufacturing and sales of GVA, a vibration control system for wooden houses.

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