Kawai Company’s Quality of Luxury Grand Pianos

Introduction

Kawai, the company that ranks second after Yamaha Corporation in the production of family pianos in Japan, has faced numerous challenges since its inception. Efron (2000) states that the increasing competition in the local market, the high cost of production, and the stagnating economy of Japan are some of the challenges that Kawai has been grappling to overcome over decades. In the music industry, Kawai has made significant growth and progress in the past 72 years because it currently operates in 81 countries and makes sales of $870 million per year (Efron, 2000). Kawai has rich experience in the manufacturing and music industries because its managers have shared experiences as father and son. The father, Koichi Kawai, is the first-generation manager because he founded the company, whereas the son, Shigeru Kawai, is the second-generation manager since he continues with the work of his father. To remain competitive in the music industry, Kawai aims to produce first-class pianos that compete with Steinway’s pianos. As the current manager, Shigeru Kawai proposes to improve the quality of luxury pianos by creating superior soundboards, unique keyboards, strong keyboard covers, and applying craftsmanship.

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The purpose of the report is to undertake a critical analysis of the case study and establish how Kawai attains quality and craftsmanship in line with the literature. Manyika et al. (2012) argue that future manufacturing trends focus on improving products based on customer needs and distinctive attributes. Primarily, the quality of a product is dependent on its attributes, functions, and benefits that it provides to customers. Critical analysis of the way Kawai approaches the manufacturing process and operates in the music industry provides an extensive meaning of quality. The understanding of quality is important since it enables Kawai to meet and satisfy the unique needs of its customers in the luxury market. The appropriate audience for this report comprises directors, managers, technicians, and artists so that they can understand diverse meanings of quality and utilize in their respective roles, positions, and organizations. As the scope, this report undertakes a critical analysis of how Kawai infuses quality on its products using literature and examines the implication of the music industry.

Literature Review

The quality of products plays a significant role in the competitive markets as they determine the extent of customer satisfaction. Theories of quality management systems elucidate the effect of quality on organizations and customers. According to Nguyen, Phan, and Matsui (2018), there is an intricate link between total quality management and sustainable development because they contribute to the improvement of performance, reduction of costs, and enhancement of sustainability. Since Kawai focuses on improving its competitive advantage through the production of quality products and the advancement of customer satisfaction, it needs to adopt quality management systems and adhere to established standards and principles. Product-based, manufacturing-based, value-based, transcendent-based, and customer-based are five approaches that determine the quality of a product (Yarimoglu, 2014). These approaches are evident in the case of Kawai because it applies diverse dimensions of quality in designing and creating grand pianos, which are not only competitive but also satisfy the diverse needs of customers. Therefore, this report focuses on undertaking a critical analysis of Kawai to establish the meaning of quality in the design and creation of its grand pianos.

Manufacturing Quality

The quality of a product is dependent on manufacturing standards and practices that a company incorporates. Features that a product possesses stem from innovative and creative manufacturing processes. These features aim to enhance quality by incorporating extra functionalities to boost the competitiveness of products in the market. Manufacturing-related features define products’ performance, utility, and competitiveness (Jardim-Goncalves, Romero, & Grilo, 2017). Manufacturing-based quality is evident in grand pianos as Shigeru Kawai aims to improve soundboards, keys, keyboard covers, and physical appearance. To improve soundboards, Kawai designs and creates them using a 200-year-old wood gotten from a rare species of tree, the Ezo Spruce tree, found in Hokkaido (Efron, 2000). Moreover, Kawai ages its soundboards for five years for ordinary pianos and 20 years for concert pianos (Efron, 2000). Comparatively, Kawai ages its pianos for longer periods than Steinway and other competitors. Based on craftsmanship, Kawai makes piano keys using a material made from plastic, cellulose, and acetic acid, which enhances the exceptionality of grand pianos. In addition, Craftsmanship improves keyboard cover because the advanced amalgamation of aged wood and technology creates innovative grand pianos.

Conformance is another parameter of quality based on the manufacturing approach. In manufacturing, conformance is the ability of products to adapt to market standards and practices. The basis of manufacturing is to ensure that products are not only dominant in the market but also conform to major standards, which leading market leaders have formulated and established over time. In the manufacture of grand pianos, Steinway has complied with conventional criteria because Kawai recognizes its products as gold standard. In its efforts to challenge Steinway, Kawai seeks to follow various benchmarks of grand pianos and offer extra features to boost innovation and creativity.

A critical analysis shows that the aging of wood, innovative creation of piano keys, advanced technology, and craftsmanship have enabled Kawai to obey principles set by Steinway (Efron, 2000). To conform to functional ideals, Kawai has ensured that seasoned wood, maturing of keyboards, and tuning of grand pianos are consistent with reputable standards. Besides, Kawai allows piano experts to evaluate and tests its concert pianos to guarantee performance standards. The presence of quality control phases in the manufacturing process has made Kawai produce quality grand pianos that fit luxury markets. Feo-Arenis et al. (2016) explain that the formal verification of products improves compliance with industrial criteria and boosts the quality of products. Hence, based on conformance, the implication is that Kawai challenges Steinway as it has a competitive advantage in the global markets.

Product-Based Quality

A product has a quality that is inherent in its attributes and functionalities. Diverse characteristics of products define their functions and performance. In this perspective, performance is a measurable feature of a product for it influences the functions, utility, and satisfaction of customers. According to Shi, Wang, Sun, and He (2016), technological innovations dictate the quality, functions, and performance of products in competitive markets. The evaluation of Kawai’s grand pianos reveals that they perform better than other pianos in the global market owing to additional features and functionalities that they possess. The use of aged wood and soundboards in the manufacture of grand pianos have boosted the quality of sound produced.

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A customer attests that Kawai’s grand pianos produce loftier sounds than Steinway’s pianos (Efron, 2000). Since performance is a key competitive feature of Kawai’s grand pianos, Shigeru Kawai plans to incorporate singers and expert pianists in evaluating performance. The implication is that pianists and singers would choose Kawai’s grand pianos based on their ability to perform better than famous brands of pianos. Reviews and endorsement of performance by singers and piano experts are critical improving features, and consequently, the performance of grand pianos. Enhanced performance of grand pianos emanates from a special material used to design keyboard, and slam-proof cover, whereas a high-quality sound originates from the state-of-art tuning and voicing. Overall, Kawai’s competitive advantage is in the quality of performance that grand pianos offer to customers, resulting in optimal satisfaction.

Durability is another aspect of quality ascertained from the perspective of product features. Durable products have a longer lifespan that provides utility and economic value to customers. When choosing products based on durability, customers consider technical and economic aspects of durability (Iberahim, Taufik, Adzmir, & Saharuddin, 2016). Technically durable products provide an extended duration of use before they degrade their utility or fail. In this perspective, Kawai’s grand pianos are more durable than Steinway’s pianos because durations taken to season and harden wood are considerably longer. Efron (2000) states that Kawai seasons it wood for 200 years and soundboard for 5-20 years to safeguard longevity. Ivory-like keyboards are durable since they absorb sweat, while hardened keyboard cover is slam-proof. Economically durable products are cheap to maintain and do not cause significant inconveniences, resulting in major losses. As Kawai is confident about the durability of its grand pianos, it does not provide repair services easily. An expert technician has to travel from Japan to the United States to attend to the repair needs of customers and restore functionalities of grand pianos. The reduced instances of breakdown and repair make grand pianos durable in the global markets. The durability of grand pianos implies that Kawai has a competitive advantage in the music industry.

In addition to performance and durability, a product needs to be reliable for it to attain the required level of quality. According to Vining, Kulahci, and Pedersen (2015), the reliability of a product is its capacity to perform functions effectively and consistently without failing or breaking down. The analysis of Kawai’s grand pianos indicates that they have important features that make them reliable. Since materials used to construct Kawai’s grand pianos are durable, they promote the reliability for they function for a long period without succumbing to wear and tear. Hardened wood obtained from Ezo tree and long-term seasoning of soundboards for 5-20 years play a significant part in improving the reliability of grand pianos. The use of experts in testing and evaluating the performance of pianos is a quality control measure that assures reliability. Efron (2000) notes that Kawai manufactures durable and reliable piano keys that are resistant to sweats using a patented material made from plastic, acetic acid, and cellulose. Kawai undertakes elaborate and rigorous final touches of grand pianos in a soundproof room to obtain reliable pitch, tone, and physical measures. On this basis, Kawai’s grand pianos are reliable in the music industry because their features, material used in their construction, and the process of craftsmanship are advanced.

Transcendent Quality

The transcendent-based approach provides a way of evaluating and determining the quality of a product in a market. Since products have numerous attributes and market leaders have established standards and specifications, the ability of a product to achieve industrial expectations constitutes transcendent quality. In the aspect of aesthetics, Kawai has set standards high because it uses highly seasoned wood and materials that provide splendid ivory texture and touch (Efron, 2000). In the luxury market, aesthetics are crucial attributes that customers consider for uniqueness implies quality. Schnurr, Brunner-Sperdin, and Stokburger-Sauer (2016) hold that attractiveness is the ability of a product to captivate and persuade potential customers to change their purchasing intentions. In this view, it is apparent that Kawai’s grand pianos are attractive to customers because they possess competitive attributes.

Value-Based Quality

The value-based approach is a dimension of quality that evaluates the worth of a product regarding the price and costs required to maintain it at an optimal state. Narteh (2015) explains that serviceability is a critical component of products because they are susceptible to defects or malfunctioning. When customers encounter challenges while consuming products, they require customer care services, which provide appropriate solutions. The accessibility of services and resolution speed determines the quality of products that a given company. Since Kawai does not have accessible and available customer care services in the United States, it has low serviceability of its pianos. Efron (2000) states that Kawai relies on experts from Japan in attending to diverse customer care needs in the United States. Given that customer care is far-off, it inconveniences customers, for they have to wait for even a year to have their issues addressed. Therefore, the implication is that grand pianos have low quality, which does not challenge Steinway’s products, since Kawai’s scores low on serviceability.

Customer-Based Quality

From the perspective of a customer-based approach, products have varied qualities, depending on the perceptions of customers. According to Narteh (2015), perceived quality is essential in influencing the purchasing intentions of customers in competitive markets where products share similar features and exhibit corresponding performance. The analysis of the case study indicates that Kawai is focusing on developing an image of grand pianos so that they can penetrate the market and compete effectively with established brands, such as Steinway, Bechstein, and Bluthner. Efron (2000) reports that Kawai has just started to penetrate the luxury market, for it has managed to sell 80 grand pianos, whereas its competitors have already curved their niches and dominated them. The analysis of market share shows that Kawai has covered a negligible part because customers still have a low perception of its grand pianos. The implication is that Kawai would perform poorly in the global market because potential customers are not aware of the existence or have not used grand pianos.

Competitive Kawai’s Craftsmanship

Critical appraisal of the concept of craftsmanship reveals that it is one of the leading trends in manufacturing. Manyika et al. (2012) argue that craftsmanship is essential in generating and sustaining competition in industries that the use of technology has dominated. As an important aspect of quality, craftsmanship is evident in the manufacture of grand pianos by Kawai. In the modern era, where industries rely on the use of advanced machines in the manufacture of products, craftsmanship has become rare expertise (Jardim-Goncalves et al., 2017). In this view, craftsmanship provides opportunities for industries to create distinctive products. Hand-built grand pianos depict unique features of craftsmanship because craft people apply sophisticated skills in combining wood and engineering procedures that result in resulting in the production of outstanding grand pianos. In the analysis of the manner in which Steinway comes up with innovative pianos, Cattani, Dunbar, and Shapira (2017) divulge that craftsmanship is a major strategy that differentiates pianos in the high-end markets. In the same manner, Kawai wants to differentiate its grand pianos by incorporating craftsmanship in the manufacturing process.

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The review of the process of manufacturing grand pianos by Kawai reveals key aspects of craftsmanship. Vining et al. (2015) recognize craftsmanship as a competitive opportunity for advances in engineering, for they generate quality and unique products that satisfy the diverse needs of customers. The craftsmanship that Kawai applies in the manufacture of grand pianos is a product of experience and accumulated skills, which give Shigeru Kawai confidence and the determination to create a brand under his name. Seasoning of wood and creation of soundboards entails craftsmanship because they do not require special machines. Additionally, the final touches of making grand pianos entail craftsmanship since craft technician performs them manually in a soundproof room. Ivory texture, attractive features, and superior sound stem from the craftsmanship that Kawai employs the manufacture of competitive grand pianos. The current trend of manufacturing and the demand for exclusive products inform my standpoint that craftsmanship promotes the authenticity of grand pianos by ensuring that additional features and functions are inimitable.

Conclusion

Being an upcoming company that aims to manufacture grand pianos that target the luxury market, Kawai seeks to challenge Steinway and other leading manufacturers of pianos. With the extensive experience and expertise, Kawai integrates high-tech engineering and craftsmanship in the manufacturing process. The analysis of the meaning of quality to Kawai shows that grand pianos meet manufacturing and product qualities such as features, conformance, performance, durability, and aesthetics. In this view, this report recommends Kawai focus the manufacturing process and use quality control systems in making sure it produces standardized grand pianos. Nevertheless, from the perspective of customers, Kawai is not competitive because its services are not accessible, the brand name has low perception, and reliability is wanting. As a recommendation, Kawai ought to provide accessible and reliable services and adopt widespread marketing strategies to promote its image. Craftsmanship allows Kawai to challenge Steinway because the process of manufacturing conforms to established standards. Hence, for Kawai to challenge Steinway effectively, it must optimize craftsmanship to improve all dimensions of quality, for they determine the competitiveness of grand pianos in the global market.

References

Cattani, G., Dunbar, R. L., & Shapira, Z. (2017). How commitment to craftsmanship leads to unique value: Steinway & Sons’ differentiation strategy. Strategy Science, 2(1), 13-38. Web.

Efron, S. (2000). How will Kawai’s hand-built grand play against Steinway? Los Angeles Times. Web.

Feo-Arenis, S., Wstephal, B., Dietsch, D., Muniz, M., Andisha, S., & Podelski, A. (2016). Ready for testing: Ensuring conformance to industrial standards through formal verification. Formal Aspects of Computing, 28(3), 499-527. Web.

Iberahim, H., Taufik, M. N. K., Adzmir, M. A. S., & Saharuddin, H. (2016). Customer satisfaction on reliability and responsiveness of self-service technology for retail banking services. Procedia Economics and Finance, 37(1), 13-20. Web.

Jardim-Goncalves, R., Romero, D., & Grilo, A. (2017). Factories of the future: Challenges and leading innovations in intelligent manufacturing. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 30(1), 4-14. Web.

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Manyika, J., Sinclair, J., Dobbs, R., Strube, G., Rassey, L., Mischke, J., … Ramaswamy, S. (2012). Manufacturing the future: The next era of global growth and innovation. New York, NY: McKinsey Global Institute.

Narteh, B. (2015). Perceived service quality and satisfaction of self-service technology. International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, 32(4), 361-380.

Nguyen, M. H., Phan, A. C., & Matsui, Y. (2018). Contribution of quality management practices to sustainability of performance of Vietnamese firms. Sustainability, 10(275), 1-31. Web.

Schnurr, B., Brunner-Sperdin, A., & Stokburger-Sauer, N. E. (2016). The effect of context attractiveness on product attractiveness and product quality: The moderating role of product familiarity. Marketing Letters, 28(2), 241-253.

Shi, L., Wang, X., Sun, H., & He, Z. (2016). The impact of technological innovation on product quality: The moderating role of firm size. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 29(7), 746-761. Web.

Vining, G., Kulahci, M., & Pedersen, S. (2015). Recent advances and future directions for quality engineering. Quality and Reliability Engineering International, 32(3), 863-875. Web.

Yarimoglu, E. K. (2014). A review on dimensions of service quality models. Journal of Marketing Management, 2(2), 79-93.

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