A neat international business story caught my eye in this week’s Economist. It draws our attention to the efforts of Japanese toilet technology leader Toto and their efforts to convince international markets of the merits of wiz-bang toilets that do a lot more than flush.
These guys are at the cutting edge of the water-spurting, control-padded, programmable, intelligent toilets that amuse and confuse visitors to Japan. They are taking the big gamble that there is sufficient audience for such costly gizmos in the West (and other Asian markets, especially Japan).
As the article points out, the world of plumbing regulations (especially in Europe) is almost enough to kill this straight away. We shouldn’t forget that electronics companies have overcome such differences with relative ease (although their impediments may not have been quite so idiosyncratic and location-specific).
The bigger question is the scope to change the behaviour of potential customers in that most private of domestic settings. As any traveller knows there is enormous variation in lavatory layouts, protocols and the like from country to country and culture to culture.
Clearly this will only be a niche market for many years. A strategy of increasing product awareness (and hopefully cache) via placement in prominent public spots should generate some noise (I presume they’re talking restaurants, hotels, conference centres etc). I look forward to encountering one somewhere some time soon (let’s hope they are easier to use than some other electronic products).