Interview with Cliff Levin, Pres. of Inada USA – 10/01/13 (Part 1)

Transcript of Video Titled “Cliff Levin Inada USA Interview – October 1, 2013 (Part 1)”

Cliff Levin, Inada USA
Cliff Levin, Inada USA

Dr. Alan Weidner: Well, hello.

Cliff Levin: Hello.

Alan: Nice to see you again.

Cliff: Good to see you.

Alan: Hey, it looks like I’ve got everything set up and it’s working OK. Are you doing OK with feedback over at your end?

Cliff: I’m fine.

Alan: No negative feedback? And I just want to say how much I like that background, it kind of gives me that Oriental feeling like you’re actually in Japan at Inada’s warehouse, or at Inada’s manufacturing plant, just taking a moment.

Cliff: It’s a trick.

Alan: Nice.

Cliff: It’s a trick because it’s not from Japan. If you can guess where that’s from, I’ll send you $100.

Alan: Well, I’m going to go with, let’s see, how about somewhere in Africa?

Cliff: No, you had it right at Asia.

Alan: Asia? Well, alright, I got no idea.

Cliff: That’s Burmese, believe it or not.

Alan: Burma? OK.

Cliff: Yep.

Alan: Well, most people use a green screen behind them, you’re using the Burmese screen.

Cliff: That’s right.

Alan: So, I think that’ll suffice. But anyway, good to be with you again on a recording, it’s been over a year, we recorded our trilogy of interviews last year in May. So, it’s been a year and a half pretty much, and I mean, I’m eager to talk to you again about what’s going on at Inada and in the massage chair world. So, I really appreciate you taking time to visit again, Cliff. And of course, again, I need to introduce you. For those that don’t know, this is Cliff Levin, president of Inada USA, and someone who I have a lot of dealings with as I’m a retailer for Inada, and I’m accountable to Cliff for the way that I represent or misrepresent his products, as I am with every company that I represent. But Cliff, just as a side note, Inada is a wonderful company to work with. You guys have always been fantastic with my customers and your customer support’s second to none and, of course, the products are second to none as well. So, it’s good to see you again and good to visit with you again, thanks for being available.

Cliff: Well, it’s my pleasure, and thank you for saying all that you just said.

Alan: You’re welcome, I worked on it for weeks. No, just kidding. But anyway I thought we could maybe revisit the Inada line. Now, since last year, or since we last talked, you know, there’s been, let’s see – you’ve discontinued the Doctor’s Choice chair, the CUBE, I think the i2a was discontinued over the last year and a half – and am I missing anything, or has been anything else, any other changes in the line?

Cliff: The i2 and the i1 were discontinued at about the same time.

Alan: Oh, the i1 has been discontinued, but you still have existing stock of that chair?

Cliff: We still have a little bit of inventory left.

Alan: OK.

Cliff: Yeah.

Alan: So, you’ve got the i1 then, you’ve got the YuMe, and you’ve got the, of course, the iconic Sogno?

Cliff: Yes.

Alan: Now, and I know you hate it when I ask you these kinds of questions, but what, of what you can maybe tell me, in the future plans, say over the next year, or six months to a year, I’m sure Inada’s – Inada’s always working on something, I mean, when I look at their Japanese site, they’ve always got all kinds of models, and of course, you choose to carry whichever ones you want to carry here in the U.S. – but is there any fodder that you can throw out for the masses?

Cliff: There’s always stuff happening. Inada’s busy throwing a lot of stuff up against the wall, and quite frankly, with any healthy R&D company, some of the stuff works and some of the stuff doesn’t work.

Alan: Mm-hmm.

Cliff: And most of what they develop in their labs never makes it to market, never makes it to the Japanese market, never makes it to any other Asian market, and never makes it to the U.S. market. Are they working on stuff, I think you have your answer, yes, they’re working on stuff. Is there anything that’s coming along, coming down the pike, that’s going to replace the iconic Sogno, no – a couple of reasons for that – one is that, sales keep skyrocketing. There is no sign whatsoever that consumers are tired of hearing about the Sogno, have stopped buying the Sogno, or are eager to see something else, kind of, come out of our factory, because the competition has upped their game to the point where Sogno isn’t standing, sort of, by itself at the pinnacle of the market.

Alan: Right.

Cliff: There’s nothing happening right now that’s suggesting that that’s changing.

Alan: Mm-hmm.

Cliff: Having said that, I will tell you that there are a million and one little changes happening to the Sogno all the time.

Alan: OK.

Cliff: Some, some, most of them, we actually never announce to anybody. For example, we recently worked on a change regarding – without getting too down in to the weeds on this – regarding an up-down motor that drives the mechanism inside the Sogno.

Alan: Sure, sure.

Cliff: We were having shipping and delivery issues related to that. Well, we’ve worked with the factory on a number of occasions to improve that particular element of the chair. So, somebody that bought a Sogno four years ago, and somebody that’s buying one today, are getting two products that operate and feel the same, but there are a myriad of improvements in the current-day Sogno compared to that Sogno four years ago. It’s that old Japanese – we’ve talked about it before – that Japanese principle of ‘kaizen,’ constant improvement.

Alan: Yeah. So, they’re not overt changes that are not visible to the eye. It kind of reminds me a little bit of the theory of evolution. I mean, I know, when we look at man, you know, changing from, you know, a Neanderthal to the modern-day human, it’s an overt and obvious change. But in evolutionary terms, minor changes are more commonplace – like a change in a bird’s ability to adapt to an environment, or the ability of a another species to adapt to predators, and maybe subtle feather changes or skin changes – to adapt to that. So, a lot of the changes are very, very, well they’re minor, not minor to the species, but they’re hard to be – you don’t really see it changing, it’s not that overt – and I guess that’s kind of what you’re saying about the Sogno. There’s lots of little tiny inner changes that are evolving the Sogno in to a better tool, a better massage chair, but nothing overt, like you’re not, there’s not a new armrest or a new, you know, you’re not putting foot rollers in it, or lights on the side, so it’s nothing like that.

Cliff: Right, right. I think, you know, there are probably other product parallels in the world of furniture and design, where a product is kind of built that occupies that top spot, and holds it for a long, long time, and there’s no reason for the manufacturer, or the designer, or in our case, the distributor, to mess with something that customers are saying represents real value.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: Sogno’s, there’s no question that Sogno’s expensive, in fact, we’re probably the priciest massage chair that you can buy in the market, but we don’t find consumers telling us ‘I paid too much.’

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: We actually find the opposite. They don’t say they paid too little, but what customers tell us is ‘We’re very happy, we’re very happy about the choice that we made.’

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: ‘We’re glad we didn’t settle, we’re glad we went for it.’ And you know this, you have customers, sometimes, that are really stretching their means in order to afford a Sogno.

Alan: Right.

Cliff: And I mean, I can’t – that kind of vote of confidence in our product and in the brand that we represent – is deeply personal for me.

Alan: [sneezes]

Cliff: Gesundheit.

Alan: Oh, thank you, excuse me.

Cliff: That’s meaningful, you know, that – to build a company, and a brand, and a product that connects with people in that way – that’s powerful.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: And that’s our message, we aren’t, we’re a lifetime choice, that’s what we want to be, we want to be an investment, not a purchase.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: And I think if people look at massage chairs as a purchase, it’s really unlikely that they’re going to end up buying an Inada product.

Alan: Right.

Cliff: But if they look at it, and study the industry carefully, and really have an opportunity to try the chair, that’s a pretty important little piece of it too.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: They’ll come to realize over time that there are kind of more common chairs, if you will, and then there’s this sort of uncommon, iconic, different player called Inada out there.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: And even though we’re talking a lot about the Sogno, the YuMe is unique in its category as well. It offers all kinds of stuff that you simply won’t find in other massage chairs. So, let’s not forget about Sogno’s little brother, the YuMe.

Alan: Well, yes, and we’ll chitchat a little bit about YuMe. I’ve got some questions about it a little later. But getting back to what you were originally saying, I would – I guess the old adage ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ – and that’s the way it is with the Sogno. But as far as the affordability of the chair, I kind of, when people ask me about the Sogno, and I get calls, I would say, every day about the Sogno – of course, I have people watching our videos, and reading my blog posts about it, and people know that I’m, like I really, I’m high on the chair – but typically people will say ‘But it’s so much money, it’s so much money, do you think I should buy it?’ Well, this is what I generally tell people, I say ‘If money is not the object, and you want the best, you know, the best that’s out there, and money is not the determining factor, well then yes, get the Sogno.’ But for a lot of folks, money’s a big deal and, you know, maybe in this economy moreso. But what I think that speaks to is that the industry is opening up to where, not just people with a lot of money can afford a chair, anybody can afford a chair anymore, there’s all kinds of them out there. I’m not saying they’re all good, and they’re not risky investments, or risky purchases, but you know, the Sogno’s a special thing, it’s kind of like a Mercedes. I remember once I was looking at a Mercedes, and I remember asking the guy at the car – it was a used car lot – I said ‘Well, how much is gas, like how much gas does this thing go through, how much would my gas bill be?’ He says, ‘Man, if you’re asking that question, this car isn’t for you.’

Cliff: Oh no.

Alan: And it was kind of embarrassing, but it’s true, that car was not for me at that time, and I think the Sogno’s the same way. It really is a class in its own.

Cliff: But you are driving a Mercedes now, aren’t you?

Alan: Well yeah, but it’s a used one.

Cliff: How’s the gas bill?

Alan: Well, if you have to ask, then …

Cliff: Right.

Alan: It’s an old, used one, but anyway, thanks for bringing that up, Cliff.

Cliff: Yeah, sure.

Alan: Anyway alright, so here we go, so again, so the Sogno – slight iterations to the chair that are non-visual that nobody would ever really recognize, but it’s – and of course, as you were describing, the kaizen, the continual improvement of the product. And of course, that’s what brings Inada to a near-zero failure rate on some of their chairs, like the i1 and the i2a, those are near-zero failure rates, correct?

Cliff: Yeah, correct.

Alan: So, I don’t know where the YuMe and the Sogno are at, but I know you guys – that’s the goal, is to get to that place where – you know, pretty much no chair breaks down.

Cliff: I can give you – I can give you something of an answer on that with Sogno, you know, we’ve sold thousands and thousands of units of Sogno now over the past few years – and our call rate, which is different from our failure rate, our call rate is 3%. And the call rate includes everything from ‘I didn’t really like the way the delivery guys handled my chair.’

Alan: Right.

Cliff: To comments like ‘They didn’t know what they we doing,’ which does happen on occasion, and it’s embarrassing, but every once in a while it’s true, to ‘Tell me how to use my remote because the store didn’t tell me how to use the chair.’

Alan: Right.

Cliff: And once we get past all those customer issues, we end up with a real mechanical issue rate that hovers right around 1%.

Alan: Well, that’s phenomenal.

Cliff: Yeah.

Alan: That is phenomenal, and I know that some companies and some chairs, it’s well over a percent. As a matter of fact, I don’t know, I can think of a couple of models where I, just with my own customers, it’s probably 10 to 20%, and that’s a huge difference, huge difference. But anyway, that’s the great thing about Inada, I know I’m very, very comfortable in referring the product to other people because of things like that.

Cliff: Let me add something about failure rate, though.

Alan: Yeah?

Cliff: The important thing is that – the important thing for us as an organization, and as your backup supporting your customers, is that we understand that the chairs, a 1% failure rate is not perfection – we understand that the chairs are not perfect. We understand that a shipper might be a little rough on a chair, and as a consequence, that chair will show up at a customer’s house with some element of the mechanism dinged just enough, that it doesn’t want to behave out of the box.

Alan: Right.

Cliff: So, even though we’ve got really high product quality, we invest – and hopefully you notice this too as a dealer – we invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, money, in making sure that when a customer does call, we are able to solve their problem.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: You know, we will – you know, we’ll go the whole way to protect their investment – to make sure that they’re not spending a whole lot of time getting wound up and struggling with a product that they purchased in order to relax.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: So, we’re well aware of that sort of obligation.

Alan: Well, I appreciate that. And I will say that, in the years that I’ve been in this business, and it’s approaching 10 years – one of the biggest determinant factors of whether a chair is worthy of referral, or a chair is worthy of recommendation, is not necessarily the chair and the feature set, or the price, it’s the after purchase support – and that is so huge to me. And I cannot stress this enough, I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in my blog posts, and in other chitchats – but the essence of it is, if you can get a great chair at a great deal, and you can’t get customer support, that will affect, that’ll affect the buyer’s experience – and that kind of stuff irritates the dickens out of me. And I will say that Inada has a phenomenal customer support, and when I’m asked to rate people’s customer support, I always rate Inada number one. There are some close seconds, but Inada in my mind, is number one in that department as well, that’s huge.

Cliff: Yeah, well we work at it, and as we get bigger, and we have more chairs out there, it becomes a more and more important part of what we do as an organization, as the other thing is, people are covered under warranty, but at some point warranty expires.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: We have i1s, i2s, d5s, d6s, all old models.

Alan: Mm-hmm.

Cliff: That are floating out there, that we still service.

Alan: Yeah.

Cliff: People aren’t left holding the bag even after they’ve owned their chair for a number of years.

Alan: Yeah, that’s a big deal. There are some models that get discontinued by other companies, and you can not get a part for it for the life of you, and I get those calls all the time as well. And by the way, are those dogs going to bark again, or is that the last of the dogs?

Cliff: I thought those were your dogs.

Alan: No, I’m allergic to dogs, I know those are your dogs.

Cliff: Depends on whether …

Alan: Tie those things down, would you?

Cliff: Depends on whether the postal service comes through again.

Alan: Geez.

Cliff: That’s what got them going.

Alan: OK.


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