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Planting the flag of success

Interview - July 18, 2023

With products such as its aluminum flagpoles, lifters, bollards and camera stands, Sunpole aims to be a flag bearer of Japanese manufacturing “monozukuri” in Southeast Asia.


Your company is recognized as one of the most famous landscape product creators in Japan, and your flagpoles act as a symbol of friendship to the world. Which are your best-selling products?

Our rope-type products are our best sellers. Many of our products are used in ceremonies. For example, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces use our products in their flag-raising ceremonies. The raising of a flag in the air itself is a big ceremony. However, I feel that Japanese people today are hesitant towards flags. Japanese people used to have flags in front of their homes on national holidays, but nowadays people are a little hesitant to do so. However, in other countries such as Thailand, the flags can be seen everywhere. Japanese athletes wear flags so that may be changing the mindset of the Japanese people.

Your historical business of course has been flagpoles, of which you have a dominant market share in Japan. More recently, you have diversified into other types of products, such as lifters and bollards, together with some landscaping products such as electric chain gates. First, why did you choose to diversify to these landscape and safety-related sectors? Secondly, looking at the future, are there new applications or new sectors that you wish to expand into?

The reason why we diversified our products is that if you just focus on one product, it can be very difficult for a company to survive. Also, there are always new needs that must be catered to in the market. To make the company attractive to future employees it was also important to diversify our products. Creating new products, such as the camera stand, for example, creates an enjoyable mood within the company. It makes the company more attractive.

Conventional bollards are something that people take for granted. They are very common. However, by giving new functionalities to the bollards, a new value is added to the product. Right now, we are focusing on the impact bollards that we have developed. They are contributing to the safety of society. This sense of contribution to society is giving satisfaction and motivation to our employees.

Right now, the automotive industry is going through big changes with the introduction of EVs. The role of bollards will change in the future. We want to be the pioneer in the development of new kinds of bollards which will ensure that we are competitive not only domestically, but in foreign markets as well.

It is widely known worldwide that Japan has an aging population. However, it also has a declining population, and it is expected that the population will drop below 100 million by 2050. What impact are you expecting this to have on your business? Are you looking to overseas to compensate for the declining domestic demand? In terms of recruitment, with a shrinking domestic labor force, how will you continue to recruit new employees?

Due to the declining population in Japan, the market itself is shrinking. It is therefore important for us to add new values to our products. For example, the impact bollard that we developed has functionality to protect children and the elderly. There is also a need for our products overseas What is important is for us to continue to innovate and produce new products with high value. That will allow us to continue to contribute to society, while at the same time, it will attract new employees to our company. If our company stays vivid and alive, it will attract people. Therefore, it is very important for us to be aggressive and motivated.

The shrinking domestic market has led to us turning our attention to overseas. We have established a base in Thailand. I wanted to change the mindset of our employees. Japan is an island nation and is very secluded from global society. While we take this for granted, this is not the case elsewhere. It is important for us to be competitive and be aware of our global competitors. Our M&A of European Flagpole was quite a positive process, as it was they who offered us the chance to purchase their company. By having our base in Thailand, we are now able to penetrate into the Thai market. For example, in Khaosan Road, our lifters are being used, and 50 of our flagpoles are now embedded in the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center. “Made in Japan” products are quite expensive. However, Thai people are willing to purchase them. We realized that there is a market there for our products, and if we work hard, we will have more opportunities in the future.

Lifter on Khao San Road, Thailand

Flagpole on the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Thailand

We know that your company is constantly designing new products for the market. Are there any particular products that you are looking to showcase to the international audience?

Our impact bollard is one of the products that we are looking to promote overseas. The traffic situation is not good in many foreign countries, with many accidents occurring. By implementing the impact bollard, we can protect the lives of the people, especially children. Therefore, we are looking to take this product overseas.


We know that Sunpole acquired European Flagpole in April 2017 and that the company is located in Thailand. Could you explain to us as the president of the company, since this acquisition, what has been the evolution of European Flagpole?

European Flagpole was a European company initially. They fabricated FRP flagpoles. We acquired this company through an M&A, and they are now selling our aluminium poles and bollards. We were able to increase our sales channels through European Flagpole.

Looking to the future, are there any new types of products that you are seeking to develop and sell in the ASEAN market?

We are now focusing on the entire Asian market, centring around Japan and Thailand. We are currently doing research and exchanging feedback in both Japan and Thailand. Our current focus is on our impact bollard.

Strength testing of impact bollards with actual vehicles

When it comes to the impact bollard, you mentioned that current similar products have a high price point and that your product is a cost-effective alternative to this high price point. Could you explain to us how you have been able to lower the price of each unit while maintaining the proper safety requirements?

Anti-terrorist bollards are operated by an electronic mechanism that moves the bollards up and down. However, our impact bollards are stationary. This has allowed us to reduce the costs. Also, while the impact bollard is not as strong as the anti-terrorist bollard, it is stronger than conventional bollards that are used to protect people from car crashes.

So far, what has been the reaction of the international market to the impact bollard? What feedback have you received from customers?

We are having discussions with many international architectural design companies, and they are quite interested in introducing our products into their designs. For the past two years, we have had an extensive record in domestic sales. Based on our know-how and experience, we want to increase our sales overseas. We are currently at the entrance stage.

Our development of the impact bollard is linked to Japan’s aging population. There have been an increasing number of road accidents due to elderly people making mistakes with the accelerator and the brakes. For example, in one case, an old man accidentally pressed the axle and crashed into a line of children. As you already know, Japan is at the forefront of the aging population, but I am sure these sorts of accidents will happen in other countries as their societies age. We believe that our products will help to mitigate this social issue.

Impact bollards installed at school road in Japan

Impact bollards installed at intersections in Japan

Imagine that we come back to have an interview with you again in 2030 for your company’s 60th year anniversary. Is there a goal or ambition that you would like to have achieved by then that you would like to tell us about in the interview?

I want to continue to make new products. If you come back in five years, I would like to be able to tell you about the success of our impact bollards around the world. They are my goals for the future.

Interview conducted by Paul Mannion & Antoine Azoulay