Here is the 3rd and final video of my interview with Cliff. I hope you have enjoyed this series and learned much of the Inada products and the Inada way of doing things:
Transcript of Interview with Cliff Levin, President of Inada USA Massage Chairs (Part Three)
Dr. Alan Weidner: Well, I think also it intimidates, I think the most intimidating thing about a massage chair for the new buyer is the remote control, thinking that they can’t learn it or they can’t get it. But, yeah, I’d say that the Sogno and the Yu•Me are very, very simple to use. I found the Human Touch remotes also to be very simple. I think the Panasonic and the Sanyo are probably the most complicated ones to deal with, but again, all remotes, you get accustomed to it over time. But boy, just for ease-of-use right off the bat, Yu•Me and Sogno are quite easy. Now, one thing I was just thinking of, we talked about any upgrades to the Sogno, if there’s any plans for that, but I was thinking about this the other day, people ask now more and more about zero gravity. This is a feature that we’re seeing in more and more chairs. I think it’s a bit of a fad right now. It was kind of pioneered maybe, or introduced to the market primarily by Human Touch, I think, but it seems like everybody’s kinda gotten on the zero-gravity bandwagon, even the Yu•Me has a zero-gravity feature, though not explicit on the remote, in the rocking motion it does go to a zero-gravity position. Is that something that you think the Sogno may ever, they may ever integrate in to the Sogno? Or have they discussed it, is it even a topic of conversation?
Cliff Levin: Yeah. So, when most manufacturers, and I’m not talking about just in the realm of massage chairs, any sort of competitive industry, the car industry, when they go back to the drawing board, they’ll go look at a competitor and say, ‘Look, here, look at this list of a dozen features that this particular product has’, and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s do 13 features, so that we can one-up them on a dozen features’. And if a competitor has one extra feature than the car you want to build, well, you want to make sure you build in at least that feature, and then potentially more.
Alan: Right. Right.
Cliff: I think some of that’s happened with zero gravity in the massage chair world.
Cliff: And Yu•Me has it by virtue of its rocking capability, it can automatically assume that, you know, that slightly flexed back, flexed knee posture, in the prone position, that is the zero-gravity posture. With Sogno itself, as I said, the only thing you going to see, Sogno’s got it dialed in. I mean, it was a ground-breaking chair when it first came to market. It is still the standard of the industry …
Alan: Yeah. Yeah.
Cliff: … and at some level, because consumers love it so much, our inclination is really not to change it …
Alan: Yeah. Yeah.
Cliff: … it’s got it just about right.
Alan: Right. Well, the seat does have a bit of a tilt, and I mean, it has a zero-gravity component, but it’s minor compared to the 30-degree tilt that the true zero-gravity chairs offer, but you know, again like you say, there’s so many other features, like the Dreamwave technology in the seat, that maybe, offsets the need for zero gravity. And we’ve yet to see anybody imitate that Dreamwave technology that Sogno has. Anyway, I was just wondering about that zero gravity.
Cliff: I think the best thing in terms of helping people understand this, is the best advice that I can give is, when you buy a massage chair, you’re not buying a collection of discrete features, you’re buying an entire experience.
Clint: And you’re going to spend thousands of dollars, whether you buy Sogno, Yu•Me, or something that’s not Inada, you’re going to spend thousands of dollars, you don’t want to evaluate your purchase based on the nuts and bolts of what’s going on, you want to evaluate your purchase based of things like, will it reduce my stress, will it reduce my back pain, will it make help me get to sleep, will it make me love my kids or my wife more? Or whatever the case might be, and in those ways, Inada delivers the goods.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. A very popular question, a common question I get from people is, is Inada going to come out with another chair or is there going to be something that’s going to trump the Sogno?
Again, they just, I think they want to be comforted to know that if they get the Sogno, they’re not going to regret it a year from now, or six months from now, or a month from now, when Sogno, when Inada comes out with some super chair that’s going to trump it?
Cliff: What I can say, nothing’s going to trump Sogno.
Cliff: I mean, that’s the short answer, and I think the best way to, the best analogy I can draw, for people that are in the market, is take a look at, are you familiar with the Eames chair?
Alan: The which chair?
Cliff: [AUDIO DISTORTION]
Alan: Sorry, you just broke up.
Cliff: It’s very, very famous, and it’s called the Eames chair.
Alan: No, I’ve not heard of that.
Cliff: Herman Miller?
Alan: Yeah, Herman Miller, I’ve heard of.
Cliff: The Eames chair? OK. You’ve heard of the Aeron chair, right?
Cliff: OK. So, the Aeron chair, when it came out, I want to say it came out, a dozen years, more than a decade ago, at this point. [AUDIO DISTORTION] … in the seating industry, and essentially unchanged, and I think that’s probably the best way to look at Sogno, you know, a lot of, Sogno addressed a lot of the shortcomings in the entire massage chair industry, in one product.
Cliff: And it continues to do that.
Cliff: And it continues to do that in such a compelling way that there are a lot of these copycats that you talked about a little bit earlier, and even though they’re able to, to some extent, mimic the appearance of the chair, none of those companies have the depth of understanding of massage or technology that Inada does, nor do they have the interest in the research and development and product quality that Inada does.
Alan: Yeah. Well, I think you once called the Sogno an iconic chair, and I think that is probably a good descriptor of, other manufacturers’ products that are, they just kind of hit the nail on the head, and it just kind of rings true, so that’s probably how this chair will be. So, what you’re saying then is, you don’t foresee any other chair coming out from Inada, any time soon, that’s going to try to trump that chair?
Alan: So, for those that are interested in that …
Cliff: Yeah. Sogno is at the top of the market today, in terms of functionality, capability, feeling, sensation, all that good stuff, and I do not anticipate that changing any time soon.
Alan: Now what do you foresee, now you’re kind of connected in the industry, Cliff, you’re the president of a US distributor of a major massage chair manufacturer, what do you foresee happening in the future in the industry or in the market? You know the massage chair industry has changed quite a bit, even in 7, 8, 9 years that I’ve been in it, what do you see in the future, do you have any kind of a forecast or ideas of what you think are going to happen in this industry?
Cliff: I do, but I don’t have a crystal ball. And I’m, sort of, talking from the heart, off-the-cuff here, on this one, but what I’ve seen is that, with the recession, a lot of the smaller, non-branded product, was kind of, very quickly swept off the market. If you didn’t have a support network, if you couldn’t prove that you were a decent value to consumers, you were gone. And these were the people that would, sort of, show up at trade shows, and that’s all, that’s the only place you’d see them, and they’d come and go, and they’d disappear, and if you called their 800 number, nobody would answer the phone. They all left, and disappeared.
Alan: By the way, I might mention, that I get calls, I would probably say, once a week or once every two weeks from someone who has purchased a chair, that they can not get a hold of customer support, and they’re very afraid that they’re going to lose the warranty, and it is lost.
Cliff: Right. Right. So those guys went away. Even some big guys struggled mightily. Panasonic is a gigantic company, but their massage chair business really, really suffered during the recession. Human Touch’s business really, really suffered during the recession. Now the economy has come back somewhat, not for enough people, but it’s certainly gotten stronger. And you’ve seen your business do quite well, and I think people are having more confidence to spend on big tickets. This has created, because of the disappearance of all these other companies, and you can correct me if you think I’m wrong, Dr. Weidner, because you probably know this as well as I do really, because a lot of these smaller companies were kind of filtered out of the industry, as the economy improved, and people were beginning to spend in this category, there was kind of a vacuum, there was a big space left. There was Sogno sitting out here, and Inada, we were doing very, very well, as I described earlier, through the recession, and then there was a little bit of kind of mid-high price stuff, and then a lot of price-point stuff. And as the economy came back, a lot of, particularly Chinese manufacturers, who had the capability of building massage chairs saw that there was a lot more demand happening, there were a couple of companies who started partnering with Chinese manufacturers, and they have really, more recently, when I mean more recently, in the last 12 months, really tried to fill that hole. And Sogno, itself, created a tremendous amount of latent demand.
Cliff: Because people have seen Sogno on your site, they’ve seen it on Amazon, they’ve seen it on other dealers sites, they’ve seen it in SkyMall, they’ve seen it in the New York Times, they’ve seen it in the Wall Street Journal, and a lot of folks look at the Sogno price-point and say, ‘I can’t afford that’, and then there were all these other manufacturers bringing products that seemed to be sort of echoes of Sogno …
Cliff: … so I think they’ve taken advantage of some of that kind of, latent or built up, demand at much, much lower price-points.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. And what do you, do you see that continuing, do you think there’s just going to be a flood of other competitor chairs out there, or do you think it’s going to kind of, whittle down to just a select few that are, that have, like you were talking about, that have the infrastructure and the staying power, how do you see that playing out?
Cliff: I think it’s going to get more confusing for the consumer.
Cliff: I think that as the economy strengthens, and people have more money to spend, I think you’re going to see more players in the market. What we have noticed is, and you alluded to this a little bit earlier with Panasonic’s decision to move manufacturing from Japan to China, Sanyo’s not actually moving to China, Sanyo’s going away as a massage chair manufacturer. And if you, sort of, trace the numbers of competitors to Inada, that were in the mid-high to high price-point range, you will see many more 24 months ago …
Cliff: … slightly fewer 12 months ago, and a complete falling-off of anybody competing with us in that sort of super premium massage quality space.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. No doubt about that.
Cliff: Yeah. And manufacturers quietly, on the side, and distributors have basically told me, ‘Hey guys, you’re Inada, not going to measure up, you take the premium customers who want the really, really high-quality price’, and I think the net of that is, you going to see a real, kind of, battle royale at the 4000 dollar-down price-point …
Cliff … so I think there, where most consumers buy, it’s going to become even more confusing …
Cliff: …and there may be a little bit of a kind of ‘consumer beware’ thing going on there.
Alan: Yeah. Well, one of my biggest tasks in educating people, and you know, I’m not just a massage chair salesman, I don’t even like to look at myself that way, I like to think of myself more as an educator or a consultant for massage chairs, but I get asked all the time about, ‘How can I tell if this is a good chair or not?’ or ‘Is this a good company?’ or you know, ‘Why aren’t you carrying this brand?’ or whatnot. And I think people, deep down don’t, of course they don’t want to get ripped off, but they are hoping that there’s just these bargain-basement priced chairs, and they’re going to get all the bells and whistles, and all the warranty support, and all the extras that maybe, Inada offers or Panasonic offers, or Human Touch offers. But yeah, I agree with you, I think it is going to get more confusing and there’s going to be a bunch of, you know, Tom, Dick, and Harry-type private labeling. These aren’t even people’s own chairs, these are chairs that they’re buying from a warehouse, or a factory in China, and putting their own name on it, you know, ‘Bob’s Massage Chairs’ and trying to sell them through Ebay or whatever, I think we’re going to see a lot of kind of stuff, we already do see a lot of that stuff.
Alan: Zero customer support. Now, as far as the retailers go, you kind of made me think of something when you said, you know, another company will be popping up. Retailers are popping up all over the place, and every day it seems like I’ll see another retailer, or I’ll have someone call me and say, ‘Hey, this retailer is selling this chair, are you selling it?’ or ‘Do you do price-matching?’ or whatnot, and I’ve never heard of them before. I’m seeing more and more of these E-tailers coming on board, and I worry for the clients, because I don’t know how good the customer support’s going to be from the retailers, and I don’t know if people are getting taken for a ride. I hear horror stories of people placing an order and then never getting their chair or not being able, a chair comes and it’s a used chair when they ordered a new one and they can’t get a hold of people to get a replacement. I worry a lot for the consumers when they see, this type of riff-raff out there, and what suggestions or what input would you have for a shopper, and they’re looking for an online retailer, how can they be more discriminating?
Cliff: You know, follow your nose. Use common sense. If the promise that a website is making to you is too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. If you are out in the market as a consumer, and you’re going to be driven entirely by price, in other words, a 999 dollar chair is almost automatically going to be better than 1999 chair, be careful, because you walk in to a snare that you find very, very difficult to get out of. What I like to tell consumers is, you may heard, we may have had this conversation in the past before, ‘Even if a Sogno is 7800 dollars, 7799, some of the imitation chairs are less than half the price of a Sogno’ …
Cliff: … ‘if they’re low-quality chairs, and none of these imitations are really established brands today, if they’re low-quality chairs, you might be saving half your money, but if you’re lighting the other half on fire, you’re not saving a darn thing, and you’re not going to feel very, very good about that. So, use your common sense, follow your nose, call the E-tailer, if you can’t talk to somebody, big red flag, call the manufacturer of the massage chair’ …
Alan: [SS] Yeah.
Cliff: … ‘ask about the warranty, see if you can get somebody on the phone, see if the people respond to your emails, and that will feed you, that will educate you, you’ll educate yourself about what you’re getting into’.
Alan: Actually, yeah, that’s a good tip, I’ve had clients of mine that have called you guys to make sure that I’m a legitimate retailer …
Alan: … and I am an authorized dealer, and that actually is a good suggestion.
Cliff: Yep. Yep. And we know that, we love those customers, because we know that the more research customers do about massage chairs, the more excited they get about becoming an Inada owner.
Alan: [laughs] Of course. Well, Cliff, that’s pretty much the breadth of the questions that I had for you. Are there any other closing, parting shots that you wanted to throw in that we maybe didn’t cover today, or anything else you want to say?
Cliff: Well, I mean, I’ll leave you, you know, I’ll leave your customers with a promise, to your customers and to any customer of Inada product, if you buy the product, and you’ve placed your confidence in the quality message that we were telling you before you became an owner …
Cliff: … and you’ve become an owner, and you’re in any way, unsatisfied with the product or the performance of your product, we’re on the other end of the phone, we’re on the other end of the email, my email address is: ‘Cliff@InadaUSA.com’, customers are welcome to email me, and we promise a rapid and thorough response.
Cliff: And I think that’s what I, I’d like to say that in closing.
Alan: Well, that’s good and I appreciate that Cliff, and thank you very much for taking time, I know your schedule’s busy, I know you just got back from Japan, and I appreciate your time a lot, and you’ve been very good to me and to my customers, and I’m very grateful for that, your whole crew over there at Inada, and keep up the good work and thank you so much. So, Cliff Levin, President of Inada USA. Thank you for joining us today on this video interview. I’m Dr. Alan Weidner from ‘Massage-Chair-Relief.com’, and you can visit us at ‘Massage-Chair-Relief.com‘ or you can give us a call at 888-259-5380, or call our showroom at 801-417-8240, you can also visit us on our Facebook page or on our Twitter channel, so we look forward to hearing from you, if you have any questions about what we’ve talked about today, feel free to get a hold of me, but again, thanks Cliff, we really appreciate having you today.
Cliff: Thanks Dr. Weidner.
Dr. Alan Weidner