Japanese firms eye aging Thai population with products for elderly

BANGKOK, NNA - A leading wheelchair maker and hospital operator from Japan are seeking to expand in Thailand with an eye on products and services for the elderly as the country's population rapidly ages.

Matsunaga Manufactory Co., based in the central Japan prefecture of Gifu, expects to double sales of its premium wheelchair model in Southeast Asia this year from 40 million baht ($1.2 million) in 2016, with Thailand constituting half the revenue.

It plans to promote advertising in a bid to approach the local mass market, targeting rising demand for services for senior citizens.

Matsunaga (Thailand) Co., its local sales unit established in 2014, offers manual wheelchairs and folding types with prices ranging from 9,500 to 30,000 baht, competing with Chinese products priced around 3,000 baht.

Shinji Hayashi, managing director of the Thai arm, told NNA that it is also considering enhancing its product lineup for the elderly, such as pushcarts, walking sticks and shoes imported from Japan, at its two flagship shops in Bangkok.

Apart from supplying high-end products to hospitals, the company aims to "increase retail outlets at department stores while launching an online shop and marketing platforms such as Facebook," Hayashi said.

Given the business potential amid the rising senior population in Thailand, Ishii International Investment, which operates hospitals, clinics and nursing homes in Gunma Prefecture, has opened a physiotherapy clinic in central Bangkok, its first foray overseas.

Ishii Life Support Physiotherapy Clinic targets clients aged 30 to 70, providing services of similar standards as in Japan at a fee of 2,000 baht per hour for people who need rehabilitation after getting injured or for all types of treatment that become necessary along with aging.

Daisuke Yamada, managing director of local shop-operating arm Ishii and Partners (Thailand) Co., said the firm aims to disseminate its expertise on physiotherapy to Thais as few locals know about it.

Locals account for 70 percent of all clients, he said, adding the shop is expected to generate monthly revenue of up to 500,000 baht this year and twice as much next year.

The Japanese medical service firm will continue to promote the benefits of physiotherapy for the first two years and invest to open a nursing home in the capital in Bangkok, Yamada said.

According to Somkid Somsri, director general of the Department of Older Persons at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, seniors are becoming more influential in the Thai economy as the rate of people aged 65 or older is forecast to top 20 percent of the total population of about 66 million in 2021.

Thailand will soon be the third most aging nation in Asia after Japan and Singapore, he added. (NNA/Kyodo)