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IBNewsmag publishes Kent Displays cover story
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IBNewsmag publishes Kent Displays cover story

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Kent Displays looks to expand distribution options in exporting its famed Boogie Board® eWriters

Best known for its consumer electronics smash hit, the Boogie Board® eWriter, Ohio’s Kent Displays, Inc. (KDI) manufactures and sells Boogie Board eWriters to some 40 countries around the world.

The Boogie Board eWriter, an LCD (“liquid crystal display”) eWriter tablet that is thin and easy to carry, is the market leader in the category of eWriters. In fact, it essentially has become the product category name.

Based on the principle of anisotropic flow (Note: Anisotropic is defined as having a physical property that has a different value when measured in different directions.  A simple example is wood which is stronger along the grain than across it.) of liquid crystals in which crystals flow at different rates, eWriters depend on the direction of pressure being applied. And, KDI is the global leader of unique eWriter display technology.

Due to its expertise in research, development, roll-to-roll manufacturing, along with proven consumer packaged goods design and assembly, KDI continues to revise export sales and distribution strategies to help offset the strength of the dollar. In addition, KDI recently launched a new business unit to focus on identifying needs and delivering value for the Healthcare, Business, and Education sectors in the US and abroad.

Although KDI protects the Boogie Board eWriter technology  with patents, KDI finds that several companies in different countries have worked to knock off the technology. While KDI assertively and proactively protects its Intellectual Property (IP), as a small company, and winner of the 2016 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Ohio Exporter the Year. award, KDI faces challenges in efforts to litigate these knock-offs in countries like China.

The company continues to develop improved technologies and manufacturing processes to stay ahead of knock-offs.

Due to cost and availability issues, Boogie Board cases and several other inputs are sourced from other countries, but the heart of the product, KDI’s proprietary eWriter LCD film, is made in its Kent, Ohio facility.

“We would love to claim on our marketing materials that Boogie Board eWriters are "Made in the USA,” said Dr. Albert M. Green, CEO. “Our principal component is the eWriter LCD film technology  - that we invented and manufacture in the US –  and is our core product IP . Unfortunately, issuing authorities do not consider this in allowing the Made in America claim.”

KDI either sells direct to consumer outlets, or, in most cases, uses manufacturers’ representatives (sales reps) to penetrate foreign markets. “We originally used distributors in several countries,” noted Dr. Green, “but have increasingly turned to sales reps which are more typically used for consumer electronics.”

Outside of the US, KDI’s Japanese market is one of its largest. “In Japan we have been using a single distributor, King Jim, the largest in the Japanese stationery and paper products industry.” Dr. Green said. “Our strategy is to consider distribution market-by-market to remain competitive this year and going forward.”

The European market has been a challenge for KDI, mainly because of the fragmentation of consumer chains. “Europe is different country-by-country and sometimes store-by-store within a market,” Dr. Green pointed out. Unlike a Walmart buying for all of its stores at one time in the US, selling to buyers in European countries requires too much separate attention. “We often use smaller distributors in Europe and in certain markets such as Taiwan and Dubai (United Arab Emirates), which focus on smaller groups of retail outlets.”

The primary non-tariff barriers are in countries where writing is not as prevalent as it is in Japan and South Korea. “Where they don’t rely as much on writing, we face a different set of circumstances,” Dr. Green said. This translates to a much greater emphasis on market education, which takes time and costs money.