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Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

For some, heat wave means hot profits


Staff writer

The record heat wave that has been baking the nation since early July is benefiting some segments of the economy by sending consumers scurrying for items that can make them feel cooler.

News photo
Cool biz: A portable electric fan and a Maji Cool scarf are displayed by Yasufumi Goto at Loft in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district last month. The items are selling well as consumers pay out to cool off in record summer heat. HIROKO NAKATA PHOTO
News photo

Besides beer and air conditioners, which sell well in sizzling summers, unique products ranging from high-tech cooling scarves to chilly air sprays are drawing high demand this year, retailers say.

At least 118 people have died of heatstroke or other heat-related maladies since the end of May, according to statistics from the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Retailers say the new products are extremely popular.

One of the most popular is Maji Cool, a ¥700 high-tech strip of cloth that is worn around the neck. When dipped in water, polymers in the cloth evaporate, taking heat away from the skin.

Spokesman Yasufumi Goto of the Loft store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district said the chain's 59 outlets sold 22,000 of the cooling ties between June 28 and July 25.

"Since I often ride a bicycle in daytime to go to work part-time, I want one like this because it looks stylish and cool," said Ikuko Shimazaki, a 49-year-old housewife. "I put on a hat, but I can't protect my neck from the over 30-degree heat."

She also wants to buy a bed pad that lowers the temperature of the mattress but said it's more than she can afford.

"I would have to buy one for each member of my family, which would cost me tens of thousands of yen," she said.

Another popular cooling product is Keitai Ea-con 123 (Mobile Air Conditioner 123), a spray that uses liquefied gas, alcohol and an antibacterial compound to cool things to minus 45, temporarily freezing clothes and eliminating odors.

Loft's Goto said the chain sold 1,800 of the ¥840 cans in July, compared with about 1,000 cans in June.

Other products generating sales include a mobile electric fan and cooling skin gel. Together, sales of heat wave-related products are up more than 20 percent compared with the previous July, he said, noting, "Goods with reasonable price tags sell first."

Some retailers, however, are concerned about shortages.

"Many products sold out partly because makers apparently cut back production to match a long-term climate forecast released earlier in the year that said temperatures were unlikely to get very high this summer," said a spokeswoman for a major retail chain in central Tokyo who asked that she and her company not be identified.

"But when July started, it became sizzling hot all of a sudden and people rushed out to buy those products," she said.

The spokeswoman said she didn't want to reveal her company's name because that would invite more people to swarm outlets that have already run out of some products at a time when no new production is planned.

According to analysts, sales of hot-weather goods are helping to shore up consumption.

Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said a rise of 1 degree in the average temperature between July and September pushes up nationwide consumption by ¥433.3 billion.

At the moment, spending is primarily being focused on air conditioners, beverages and trips to the ocean or swimming pools, supplemented by the aforementioned cooling products, he said.

According to the Meteorological Agency, several cities logged record-high temperatures in July. Average temperatures in the Kanto-Koshin, Hokuriku and Tokai regions over the last 10 days of July were the highest since comparable data became available starting in 1961.

In Tokyo, temperatures topped 35 for four consecutive days starting from July 21, tying the heat waves of August 1978 and August 1994.



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