From Hiroko Toda and Yomiuri Shimbun of Japan's Daily Yomiuri Online:
Okamoto Corp., a wholesale sock manufacturer based in Koryocho, Nara Prefecture, has a hit product--socks that do not trap moisture or give off an odor.
Tetsuji Okamoto, the company's 60-year-old president, said that when the firm was developing the socks, he kept a pair on for a whole week in the middle of summer. Okamoto said the socks did not give off any socklike aroma even when subjected to a close sniff.
"If we go with these, they're going to sell," Okamoto recalls saying.
"Super Sox" are one of the most popular items in the company's product line. They were designed to save wearers the discomfort of sweatiness and the embarrassment of offensive odors, using threads developed by the company over a six-year period.
The product soon became a hit. When launched in 2004, some customers bought 10 pairs at a time--despite the high prices, ranging from 800 yen to 1,800 yen per pair, excluding tax.
The strength of Okamoto lies in its product development. The company studies the physical features of the body and its physiology and has developed proprietary threads and knitting machines.
Through these efforts, the company has been able to strengthen its reputation.
In March 2006, however, Okamoto was notified out of the blue that a licensing agreement with a major brand would be canceled. The deal accounted for more than 10 percent, or 3 billion yen, of the company's annual sales.
At that time, Okamoto came to realize the danger of allowing its product line to become a "borrowed brand" unable to win recognition in its own right.
The company made a concerted effort to fill the sales void left by the departure of the major client, and in fiscal 2007 it made its biggest-ever ordinary profit.
The company now manufactures most of its products overseas. Domestic production of the company's various products has been scaled down as far as possible, although the firm still produces more socks domestically than any other maker in Japan.
In 2008, the company took over the management of a mid-ranking wholesale sock manufacturer in the United States.
"There's plenty of demand for good quality socks in the United States," Okamoto said.
The company, established in 1934, has 402 employees and had annual sales of 24.2 billion yen for the year ending March 2009. Besides Japan, the company has other manufacturing bases in China and Thailand.