A Yen For Practical And Functional Designs
Marimo Land Sdn Bhd (Marimo) Managing Director John Taro strikes an interesting figure in person. While proudly proclaiming to be 100% pure Japanese, his mannerisms and speech are reminiscent of a man who has settled comfortably in Malaysia for a long time. In fact, he could be mistaken for a local, given his features.
It perhaps comes as no surprise, given the fact that he has been living in Malaysia for the last 13 years. Married to a local, Taro has three children.
During this exclusive interview with Property Insight, he is personable and engaging, willing to make detailed explanations regarding his painstaking journey to realise the workings of his maiden project named O’hako @ Puchong Jaya in Puchong, Selangor just the way he envisions it.
Hailing from a family in Japan which has a formidable reputation in property development, he is now attempting to create his own legacy with O’hako.
In Japan, his father’s firm, Marimo Co., Ltd. has completed over 330 condominiums and more than 22,000 units including its Marimo brand townships. His father, Takeo Fukagawa, has since retired from the group operations that have been taken over by Taro’s brother, Makoto Fukagawa.
Revisiting the company’s overall strategy, Makoto, the current CEO of Marimo in Japan, decided that the company should focus on expanding the business to South East Asia. Two of the countries include China and Malaysia which they ventured into in 2009.
Planning with foresight, their reasoning was that Japan is an aging nation with declining birth rates and an increasing average median age. This has led to lower demand for newer properties as compared to Malaysia which is still a young nation with high growth potential.
Establishing Marimo Land Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur, the company will focus on building affordable homes for middle-income earners in Malaysia.
40-YEAR LEGACY IN JAPAN
In Japan, the developer company is known for its direction in building high-rise condominiums for the middle-income group for 26 years. In addition, the Japanese pride themselves on their attention to detail and their commitment to building quality homes.
Interestingly, Taro’s father started out as an architect, having set-up his own design studio before venturing into developing homes. Established in 1971, Takeo named his company AI Architectural Design Co., Ltd. The company, based in Hiroshima, Japan, specialises in designs for affordable high-rise condominiums.
Exemplifying the concept of kaizen, the Japanese word for “continual improvement”, the company grew over 20 years to eventually become a developer specialising in affordably priced condominiums. It remains a leading developer in Shikoku Island today.
ESTABLISHING MALAYSIA AS A BASE
Taro, wanting to be an opera singer but later gave up, worked with his father for a decade from when he was 20 to 30 years old. During this time, he learnt how to draw master plans for condominium designs for presentations from his father.
However, not wanting to merely follow in the footsteps of his dad, Taro left Hiroshima, Japan. Not knowing what to do, he chose to travel abroad and then improvise along the journey. Since he believes that doing sales is a basic prerequisite before venturing into business, he engaged himself in the pursuit of on the ground sales activities.
Taro realises that businesses are based on mathematics and the Pareto principle, which states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Although he managed to get good sales results, he eventually got tired of the never-ending sales story.
Hence, he went into what he considered as a more sustainable business involving large-scale estate management for winery, soya beans and coffee beans, with Brazil being the destination.
During this time, he learnt a lot about cash flow since the growth and yield of crops would take a long time before the returns could be profitable. Deciding against purchasing a 1,000-acre plot of land in Brazil, Taro decided to come to Malaysia. This started his journey as a boutique developer specialising in bungalow development.
So, after 15 years since he left his hometown, he obliged his brother’s request to join him in becoming a developer in Malaysia. Working with his first local marketing partner Ken Teo, a former Chemist-turned-Property Analyst, they came up with practical sales and marketing strategies based on scientific facts and logic, to fruitful effect.
Taro says he chose Malaysia as a base as its people are friendly and one has more opportunities to succeed here as compared to Brazil or China whereby you have to be exceptionally outstanding for people to notice you. Although the market in Malaysia may not be as huge as other countries, Taro says that Malaysians should have more confidence in the local market which has plenty of opportunities.
O’HAKO, BOX OF SURPRISES
When quizzed about why he chose Puchong as the location to launch his project, he says that there aren’t many choices left to build in Kuala Lumpur.
“I had three choices; Puchong, Kepong and Cheras. I chose Puchong because it is very big and there are available landbanks here for development,” he says.
Inspired by the late Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, he ascribes to the notion that function takes precedence over form. He also paraphrases American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who stated “God is in the details”.
Elaborating on his maiden development named O’hako, he relates that conceptually speaking, the condominium is shaped like a box and is inspired by modern living in the tropics.
In line with this concept, Taro aims to surprise the local market by the development’s generous offerings. Apart from providing the standard Malaysian condominium range of amenities, 53 amenities with an emphasis on modern living will complement the development.
To ensure the facilities are provided and to allow sufficient room for all, the towers are spaced at 90 metres apart from each other. The facilities can be divided into three zones; namely the Tree House Zone, Event and Festival Zone plus the Zen Jungle Zone.
Taro envisions that this facility area will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 people should any of the residents wish to hold a wedding reception at the Romantic Aquarius Zone with its Floating Wedding Stage overlooking the Infinity Pool and a Treasure Island. There will also be a Festival Stage on the grounds to provide entertainment for residents.
Other facilities include a Floating Gym, Treehouse, View Pavilion, Sunken Garden, Tea Pavilion, a Wall Climbing Area and Playground, a Pool Villa, Yoga Deck, Kindergarten, Outdoor Pool and Outdoor Onsen. A BBQ Deck, Multi-Sports Field, Outdoor Café, Jogging Track and Organic Garden are other facilities provided here.
Part of the units will face the Klang River while others will open up to the surrounding greenery. While it is not a Green Building Index (GBI) certified development, Taro says the building design will feature vertical greenery running down the sides of the building to absorb heat from the two towers.
The buildings are divided into three major areas; namely a River View Garden, Pool Pavilion Garden and Welcome Entrance Garden. The River View Garden allows residents to enjoy the breeze coming from the Klang River while the Welcome Entrance Garden allows residents to enjoy dining at an open air café complemented by timber flooring and modern sculptures.
The building is built as a commercial development project. To showcase its commitment to the residents, the company will be relocating its Malaysian headquarters and its management office on the grounds once the project is completed.
Complementing the large open spaces, the two towers will combine the best of local culture with the Japanese attention for detail.
Not wanting to merely “copy and paste” ideas, Taro says he went through a few obstacles in pushing his ideas through for the project.
For instance, his Japanese counterpart wanted to incorporate Japanese style bathtubs which were not suitable for the local weather.
Deciding against a heavy Japanese influence, Taro brought in three young local architects to serve as inspiration for his new project.
The condominium, first launched in October 2015, has been well-received by the public with a 100% take-up rate for Block A.
Meanwhile, Block B has a 60% take-up rate since its Sales and Purchase Agreement (SPA) was disbursed in October 2016.
Before the SPA was finalised, the new Housing Development (Control & Licensing) Act (HDA) ruling came into the picture. In addition, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was executed on April 1, 2015 wasn’t in favour of new development firms such as Marimo Land.
Looking back at all the challenges though, Taro says that the sales figures are above his satisfaction.
“Approximately 80% of our target market so far are homebuyers looking for a safe living environment,” says Taro.
With a Gross Development Value (GDV) of RM370 million, the two towers will house 359 units respectively; bringing the total number of units to 718 units.
Each unit comes with two covered parking bays for residents, with an overall total of 2,000 lots allocated for the project.
Individual home units range from 815 sq ft to 1,002 sq ft, and are priced from RM450,000 to RM680,000.
The units, as Taro emphasises, are priced lower than most average property prices around the area.
This underscores his commitment to his family’s vision of providing quality homes at affordable prices.
A JAPANESE MALAYSIAN WAY OF LIFE
Speaking of his family history, Taro explains its importance to him.
“I would say that my Marimo Group family DNA is important to me. As such, I am building my team and corporate image upon the brand,” he says.
He further expounds on the company’s motto of passion, purpose and personality, carefully explaining each word’s meaning and importance in building his company.
“Run first, improve later, and lastly, summarise,” says Taro tongue-in-cheek recalling how his freefall plan of improvisation has worked out beautifully for him in the end.
When asked about their future plans, Taro comments that new development projects are in the pipeline but the company would only announce their new project in October with a new launch.
“I am not ambitious over the quantity of projects I create but I am quite particular about quality,” says Taro.
Having said that, he says that the principle of multiplication can be applied to the success of the first development.
“For example, a profit of RM50 million can multiply to become RM100 million for one project. We can grow very fast, but the most important thing is sustainability, with team work in mind.”
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