A Cherished Two-Way Street

May 12, 2008
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When the U.S. Department of Commerce honored Kindel Furniture Co. last week for its recent success at entering the Japanese market — part of a World Trade Week-West Michigan VIP gala reception Monday night at Gerald R. Ford Museum — some insightful comments were aired by Kindel President Jonathan Smith. Smith accepted the Export Achievement Certificate, an award created by the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Commercial Service, to recognize small and medium-sized enterprises for successfully entering a new international market.

Kindel has been in discussions with Sala Azabu, one of Japan's largest retailers of high-end furniture, since 2005 to sell its handcrafted furniture in the Japanese market. Kindel Furniture signed an exclusive marketing agreement with Sala Azabu in August last year and began shipping to Japan in November.

Earlier this year, Kindel announced a special arrangement with Sala Azabu to allow the oldest and most prestigious department store chain in Japan — Mitsukoshi — to offer a wide assortment of Kindel's high-end home furnishings for the house and home.

"We are honored that the U.S. Department of Commerce is recognizing our success in Japan," Smith said. "Japan is an important part of our international strategy, and this award helps validate our company's efforts to introduce Grand Rapids-made furniture to consumers across the world. That’s the Kindel story — producing pure American-brand products on Garden Street since 1901."

Smith said that Japan is a strong market for Kindel because Japanese consumers appreciate quality, service and fine workmanship, noting that about 40 percent of all luxury goods sold in the world are sold in Japan. Kindel also is developing furniture specifically for the Japanese market, including a high-end cabinet for plasma televisions.

He said exporting the company’s goods to Japan represents “putting products on a container rather than taking them off one.”

Smith told the audience that during the recent furniture market in High Point, N.C., Kindel, which anticipates 20 percent of its sales to be international in 2008, forged sales contracts totaling 60 percent of its show sales to representatives from Kuwait, Beirut, Cairo and Kabul.

Established in 1901, Kindel employs more than 130 people, including hand carvers, decorators and other skilled craftsmen at its 170,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Grand Rapids. The company is now launching introductions of its products at the showrooms of Robert Allen|Beacon Hill in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, Dania Beach, Fla., Westbury, N.Y., and Troy, Mich. It also has expanded into other international markets such as Kuwait, Ukraine, Egypt and Spain.

The Grand Rapids Export Assistance Center, part of U.S. Commercial Service, assisted Kindel in its efforts to penetrate the Japanese market. Commercial Service staff in Japan hosted two receptions for Kindel at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Grand Rapids EAC Director Thomas Maguire continues to provide information on Japan and other international markets to the company.

**Marketing information company J.D. Power and Associates, a unit of the McGraw-Hill companies, has ranked health plan member satisfaction in Michigan. Priority Health came in third behind Henry Ford Health System’s Health Alliance Plan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, according to the recently released survey results. Priority Health Associate VP of Communications Rob Pocock said the organization was pleased nonetheless. “Because the methodology skews heavily to the Detroit market, they never got enough sample size of Priority Health members to include us,” he said. “Because we purchased Care Choices last year, the sample size is large enough to report on Priority Health, and it’s the first time we’ve shown up on it.”

Priority Health scored two out of five Power Circles on overall experience and on choice of doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. It scored three out of five on coverage and benefits, and information and communication. Health Alliance Plan received perfect fives except in choice of doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, where its score was three. Conversely, BCBSM scored threes, except on choice of doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, where it scored a five.

“People are new to Priority Health and are more than likely responding based on their Care Choices experience,” Pocock said, and then added: “We really are very pleased with the results because it shows that Michigan is at the top in the nation.”

**Racing With The Stars? As usual, Indianapolis is all revved up about the big 500 race on May 25, featuring the first Indy event in a while following the recent reuniting of the two open-wheel series organizations. Smack dab in the middle of the festivities is GR’s own Floyd Mayweather, whose financial contributions to this past week’s national Golden Gloves competition here keeps him in good favor with the locals. The world champion in five boxing weight classes will wave the green flag to start the famed Indy 500. He will be joined at the “greatest spectacle in racing” by his successful “Dancing With the Stars” competitors Helio Castroneves, and the two-time Indy winner’s cha-cha partner Julianne Hough, who will sing (who knew?) prior to the event.

**The West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative is hosting an informational meeting for those interested in applying for funding through the recently announced 2008 21st Century Jobs Fund Competition. The meeting is open to the public. The session will be held 3-4 p.m. Thursday in Room 540 at the WMSTI office in the Cook DeVos Health Sciences Center, 301 Michigan Ave. NE.

The state of Michigan’s 2008 21st Century Jobs Fund Competition will award $30 million to Michigan companies. Funding is available in the form of loans to for-profit companies that can provide matching funds and demonstrate sustainable business opportunities in life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive materials and manufacturing, and homeland security and defense. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. June 4.

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