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Vibrant SMEs of JAPAN

Giving New Life to Concrete Blocks that Safely Protect Lives [S-BIC]

Secret to Robustness
  • Top block manufacturer with 20% of the domestic share.
  • Stable growth with profit margin of 5%.
  • Developing new products related to its main business one after the next.

Gunma Prefecture is Japan's top location for the mass production of concrete blocks. Because the area has a rich supply of pumice, which is used as a raw material, numerous concrete block manufacturers have gotten their start in Gunma. Controlling about 20% of the domestic market share, the leading manufacturer is S-BIC. The company develops products suited for housing conditions in Japan including block walls for theft prevention and privacy protection. Blocks are heavy and inexpensive. Even so, S-BIC is able to continuously lead the market because of its creative capabilities that enable it to introduce new products to the market.

In 2012, S-BIC welcomed its 60th anniversary since its founding. President Yoshio Yanagisawa stated, "Because people's sense of values change over time, business models are limited to 30 years. We've been able to make it this far by evolving as a company." The company's annual sales exceed 10 billion yen, and its profit margin is 5%. Specially Appointed Professor Yukio Shimoda of the Center for Regional Collaboration of the Maebashi Institute of Technology (in Maebashi City), which has close ties with the company, has been amazed by the company and asked, "How is the company able to achieve constant growth with heavy, inexpensive products?" Without hesitating, President Yanagisawa responded, "We achieve growth by merely adding a little bit of value to our blocks."

Recreating the Image of Wood and Marble

Blocks are made of materials such as water, cement, and aggregate. However, the point that sets S-BIC apart from other companies is its development of applications. For example, the surfaces of blocks that were developed when President Yanagisawa was serving as the Planning Section Manager were cut and processed, thereby enabling the company to broaden its market to include the exterior field with products for wall surfaces and fences. The block walls, which imitate Shin-oyaishi, a high grade stone, and the "interlocking blocks" that were used in the sidewalk pavement changed a concept based on "stacking" to a concept based on "laying." In recent years, the company commercialized "Visart", a block product that uses "Viscotecs Print" technology from Seiren to depict various materials on a flat surface. The result is blocks that look like genuine wood, painted walls, marble, and other materials. The company's "RECOM System" for retaining walls that enables vertical construction was certified by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and because the system can be utilized without wasting land, it has taken off as a strong selling product. President Yanagisawa understands the importance of change and stated, "Continuous developments that are not caught up in price wars are important."

Desire to Promote Widespread Use of Fire-Resistant Construction

S-BIC was founded in 1952. Chairman Motoji Yanagisawa, President Yanagisawa's father-in-law, focused his attention on concrete blocks after their ban as a construction material was lifted, and he then established the "New Japan Block Laboratory", the predecessor to S-BIC. According to Chairman Yanagisawa, following the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II, he had a desire to "promote widespread use of fire-resistant construction in Japan through block manufacturing," and this desire spurred the decision to establish the company. Beginning in the mid-1950s, production expanded primarily in the Tokyo metropolitan area where building construction was booming. Large orders began to pour in including orders for department stores in Ginza and the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. In addition, Gunma is located almost right in the center of the islands of Japan, and is within 100 kilometers of Tokyo. Being located in a good area has also allowed S-BIC to grow as a price leader.

In addition, buildings made of concrete blocks, which are not commonly used any more in the new construction, are once again being reviewed. Buildings that withstood the massive tsunami that hit coastal areas following the Great East Japan Earthquake are located in Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture. Local carpenters who had experienced the tsunami following the Chile earthquake of 1960 targeted buildings with strength that exceeded that of wooden construction, and they built structures out of blocks reinforced with rebar. This block construction exhibited superior durability and fire resistance, and also generated an excellent heat insulating effect and sound proofing effect. President Yanagisawa is also focusing his sights on commercializing energy-saving homes that are environmentally friendly and made of blocks. He also serves as the chairman of the Japan Architectural Concrete Block and Brick Industry Association, an industry group, and is focused fully on promoting widespread use of block construction by the industry.

What is essential is fostering the next generation of people who will be responsible for the industry. Since 1996, S-BIC has cooperated with the Gunma Prefectural Takasaki Industrial Technology School (in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture) and other institutions to hold workshops to which builders from around Japan have been invited. The workshops are popular as gateways to graduation and trade skill exams, and thus far 600 people have participated. President Yanagisawa expressed his resolve and stated, "If we do a good job, even a major disaster will leave these buildings undamaged. Therefore, it is important that we also develop builders."

Looking ahead to the next 100 years, Yanagisawa's two sons are honing their skills in production engineering and distribution at the company. The industry is quickly reorganizing, and the 3,500 companies that existed at the industry's peak have been whittled down to just 180 companies. Even so, President Yanagisawa remains optimistic. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the company was requested by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to ramp up production of materials for rebuilding, and since then, the company has been advancing at full production levels. Thinking of the future, President Yanagisawa stated, "Blocks play an important behind-the-scenes role in protecting lives. Every company that remains is a strong company. What we want to do is to maintain our technical skills and culture."

"Visart" expresses two-dimensionally the image of different materials such as wood, bricks, and marble.

"Visart" expresses two-dimensionally the image of different materials such as wood, bricks, and marble.


Next Issue: Overseas Expansion

The block market is also growing overseas, and S-BIC is handling a string of requests from overseas companies to license its technology. However, President Yanagisawa is being careful about the outward flow of its technology and is searching for the best way to expand overseas in the future. He stated, "Our basic route is local production. Overseas expansion is an issue for the next generation, so we will continue studying the matter."

Company Data

President: Yoshio Yanagisawa

Yoshio Yanagisawa

Company name S-BIC Company, Ltd.
President Yoshio Yanagisawa
Industry Type Manufacturing of concrete blocks
Address 105 Kamishiba, Misato-machi, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, Japan
Phone 027-371-2321

Printing day:August 7, 2014

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