Vimeo – How two brothers turned their struggling family business into a global brand

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15 years ago, Kuni and Tomo Hijikata quit their jobs to save the family business. Now, their cast iron pans are selling fast in 5 countries (and counting).

Even as children, Kuni and Tomo Hijikata knew that their family business was worth fighting for. Founded in Nagoya, Japan back in 1936, the Hijikata family’s cast iron foundry was renowned for its extreme accuracy. But by the early aughts, the foundry’s future was in question. As heirs to the long-standing company, Kuni and Tomo knew it was up to them to keep their cast iron craftsmanship alive.

At the time, both brothers had stable jobs at Toyota and Toyota Tsusho, but they saw an opportunity in designing cast iron cookware meant to last generations — so both brothers left their full-time jobs to go all-in on saving the family business. The brothers trained on the floor of the foundry as artisans, and in 2010, Vermicular was born. When their first cast iron pot hit the market, the demand racked up a whopping 15-month backorder, fueled largely by enthusiastic word of mouth.

A decade later, the Vermicular team is setting their sights on global expansion, now offering their products in the U.S., China, and beyond. To best communicate the value of their cookware to new, international markets, Vermicular has invested heavily in video to spread the word. “Without our videos, we’d have a much tougher time expanding our business,” says Mark Hayashi, Vermicular’s Head of U.S. Office. We caught up with Kuni, Tomo, and Mark to learn more about Vermicular’s approach to going global with video. Watch their story above, and read the full interview below.

“We always consider our video assets to be an extension of our brand and products. Visuals are always more effective than just the written word, and this is especially true in the realm of cooking.”
Mark Hayashi, Vermicular’s Head of U.S. Office

How did you develop this product? 

Tomo: “I thought that we could utilize our company’s cast iron expertise to create enameled cast iron pots with perfectly-fitted lids. But there was no precedent for that process in Japan. We knew then that we’d have to pioneer it ourselves.

To learn everything we could, Kuni and I apprenticed on the floor of the foundry. Kuni became a casting craftsman and I became a precision machinery expert. It took us three years and over 10,000 iterations to create a prototype that delivered on our goal.”

What was the process of establishing your brand in Japan? 

Mark: “Brand storytelling has always been the core of our marketing and communication strategies. Telling stories of our unique history and commitment to craftsmanship resonated with our audience and helped us connect with them on a deeper level.

We started by crafting video concepts around our brand mission. Whether creating a brand story video or how-to-product videos, we make sure the contents represent who we are. At the start, we did not focus too much on short-term sales, but instead prioritized maximizing customer satisfaction from a long-term perspective.”

What has been your biggest hurdle in building the Vermicular brand outside of Japan? 

Mark: “Our biggest challenge was the language barrier. Since we launched the Vermicular brand in 2010, we’ve established a solid brand presence in Japan but none of that transferred over outside Japan. We literally had to start building the Vermicular brand from scratch, which was challenging and required extensive pre-launch preparations.”

Where did you invest first when looking to build the your brand internationally?  

Tomo: “Designing a brand story video as well as partnering with a chef who shares the same passion and appreciation for cooking that we have was an obvious choice in showcasing who we are and what we believe in as a brand.”

Your branded content is obviously beautiful. How have you achieved this level of quality? 

Mark: “We partnered with a branding agency for the brand video and we spent quite some time agreeing on the ‘look and feel’ of the lighting, casting and wardrobe, and food styling. We also spent quite some time going back and forth on crafting video storyboards which became the guiding star throughout the process including the shoot days.

With so many people involved in the shoot, there’s almost always unexpected setbacks resulting in onset delays. Having a solid storyboard that includes a detailed shot list helps set clear expectations and guide everyone involved in the shoot to look in the same direction. Not only did our storyboards become a precise map for our hectic shoot days, it also helped us avoid post-production woes. I think this step is especially important for smaller brands with a limited budget.”

Where are you investing your production dollars as you continue to expand? 

Mark: “Our hypothesis was creating a product video along with a how-to-video series would help our customers enjoy the full capabilities of the induction cooker. As stated in our brand mission, our goal doesn’t end when customers make a purchase of our cookware.

Our desire is to have our customers enjoy cooking with the Vermicular cookware as long as possible. We’ve noticed clear results from these how-to-videos as they not only help educate the owners but also help shoppers have a better understanding of the usage of the cooker.”

Has video assisted in building a name for Vermicular globally? 

Mark: “Definitely! A lot. We always consider our video assets to be an extension of our brand and products. We may not have the biggest budget, but we spend hours trying to figure out the narrative and structure of the videos that best tell our story. Visuals are always more effective than just the written word, and this is especially true in the realm of cooking.”

Why does the team use Vimeo to host and embed your videos?

Mark: “We prefer Vimeo for a number of reasons, but the first being Vimeo’s customizable features for video embedding. The clutter-free and ad-free experience allows seamless user experience throughout the website and protects the ‘touch and feel’ of our brand.

Vimeo also helps us share draft contents between our teams in the U.S. and Japan, so it’s easy to get feedback, even when we’re 5,000 miles apart.”

What’s next for Vermicular? 

Kuni: “More innovative products are in the works and we will be expanding our product offerings in the U.S. and across various Asian countries.”

Mark: “We are currently strategizing our video content strategy that ranges from branded content with various partnered chefs and farms to product explanation videos and how-to-videos that will become our valuable assets for years to come.”