The Truth Behind Tama's Move to China

Artstar

Platinum Member
Posted on behalf of TAMA's U.S.A. Division Manager, Terry Bissette...

After reading an incredible number of comments (both positive and negative) about the “Tama goes to China” topic, I feel it’s time to set the record straight. We really appreciate all the comments and passion for Tama that is being expressed here and abroad. And we also respect everyone’s opinion about this sensitive and somewhat controversial subject. That being said, if you would please allow me to explain, I would appreciate the opportunity to take you “behind the scenes.” All I ask is that you read this in its entirety so you can fully understand the dynamics and timeline of the situation. Before I start, please understand that everything I say will be based on fact. Nothing more, nothing less. I won’t be mixing in any “political spin” here. What I will tell you is the real deal. Factual information. There is quite a bit of misinformation and/or misunderstandings being posted out there in web-world, hopefully this will set the record straight. Many of you have already posted “the right answers”, and for that I thank you! But still, some things need to be clarified.

So, let’s get into the nitty gritty- One might ask “Why in the world did Tama go to China?”

The simple answer: To cut costs and make high quality drums at more affordable prices. Prices that the average drummer can afford and feel good about their purchase. We wanted to make our high quality drums even more accessible to the drummers of the world by lowering the price points. With this goal in mind, fewer drummers would have to “settle” for a less than adequate instrument, based on price alone.

The more complex answer: We had to go, to stay competitive. When you take a broad look at the global drum market, we’re one of the absolute last brands to make this tough decision. Whether you know it or not, select Ludwig, Gretsch, DDrum, Pacific, Sonor, Premier, Yamaha, Pearl, Mapex, OCDP, and dozens of other brands you know and love have been made in China for the last 7 to 15 years. Not every kit in every series, mind you. But the vast majority of their lineup. A few specific series within the brands listed above are still made in the USA, Taiwan, UK, or Mexico. However, one may be surprised to know, in some cases, multiple brand names are made in the very same OEM factory. (More on that another day. OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer). The questions to ask yourself: Is there anything wrong with any of those drums? Is their quality level acceptable for the prices paid? If they are so “bad” or “inferior” just because they are made in China, why do they keep selling by the truckloads?

Anyway, we at Tama chose not to go the same route. We wanted to have 100% control, we wanted to make sure that if we put our name on the product, it had to match our standards. We knew for that to happen, we had to build them ourselves. We didn’t want to hand some “hired gun” factory a blueprint and say “Here you go, build them like this, we’ll be back tomorrow with a truck, some Tama badges, and Tama boxes.” So for the most part, the decision was made to take a very bold step. We decided to build our own factory. We started this venture in 2002.

Fact: We own our own factory in Guangzhou China: We built it from the ground up, one brick at a time. We moved a number of our most highly skilled Japanese craftsmen to China to train the local workers how to build drums “The Tama way.” These Japanese craftsmen live in Guangzhou, they do not live in Japan and simply visit once in a while to spot-check. They are an integral part of the daily staff, working “elbow to elbow” alongside the local crew. They adhere to the most stringent quality control standards, the very same ones we use in Japan. You may or may not be surprised to know we operated the factory at our own expense for well over a year making blanks (test shells), before we ever shipped one drum into the market. We wanted to make sure our Chinese production quality level was an exact match to the Japanese factory standards. The same exact standards we built our reputation on.

Fact: Quality is key: The first series we made in China was Superstar. After this series was critically acclaimed and well accepted by the market, we slowly transitioned our Starclassic B/B drums to Chinese production. Originally, all B/B kits were made only in Japan. In the first year of transition, some colors were made only in Japan. Other colors were made only in China. Eventually, the entire B/B product line was shifted to China. The end result was…Uh, well… nobody noticed... Sure, a few folks asked “Why doesn’t my badge say Made In Japan anymore?” The obvious answer- Because it’s not. The big question: “Does it look and sound as good as it should as a Tama product, though it’s now made in China?” Overwhelmingly, the response has been “Yes!” Sales on B/B kits are flying! If the quality wasn’t there, and the price wasn’t right, no one would buy it… Agreed?

Fact: The economy affected us all: Once we felt the quality was 10000% the same as Japan, we decided to slowly move some of the other high-end kits to China. And in some respects, timing couldn’t have been better. Though this planned move had been discussed years before, the world’s economic shift escalated our timeline. Before we knew it, the economy had started to collapse. In some ways, we had to wonder, was this “a sign” to move forward? The end result was, we were able bring Japanese quality level drums into the market for hundreds (or thousands, depending on the size of your kit) of dollars cheaper than they once were. One might ask, is this such a bad thing?

Fact: The Tama Japan factory is not closed: By all means, the Japanese factory is still up and running! We are not closing it down. They continue to make Bubinga Elite, Omni-Tune, select Artist Kits (though many are made in China now), Limited Edition kits, Signature Palette Snare drums, Starphonic Snare drums, Tama original percussion such as Octobans, Timp Toms, Gong Bass, etc. It also remains our world headquarters, and that’s where we come up with new ideas and new product designs.

Fact: Japanese drums can still be ordered: Some of you still want the Japanese drums, made in Japan, with 2009 (and earlier) specs. They are totally available! (see page 6 of current price sheet). If you want an entire kit, or an add-on drum for an older kit, and you want the decal badge and wooden grommets, all you have to do is order it. It should be noted, as with all of our top tier drums, we make each and every drum to order. One shell at a time, by hand, piece by piece. Of course, this approach adds quite a bit of lead time to the delivery date, but most people think it’s worth the wait. We do not make “cookie cutter, stamp them out, stack them on a shelf” drums. Each one is hand made with TLC.

Fact: We make all add-on drums conform to the original spec: If you are adding a drum to a kit that was originally made in Japan, the add-on drum will also be made in Japan. If you are adding a drum to a kit that was originally made in China, the add-on drum will also be made in China. This will guarantee a perfect match, as we stock different parts and fittings in the two different factories.


Thanks for hearing me out! Best regards, Terry Bissette
 

Nodiggie

Gold Member
well that's comforting to know. Thanks for the info, now I will just keep my fingers crossed that mine arrives with the correct badges.
 

Artstar

Platinum Member
well that's comforting to know. Thanks for the info, now I will just keep my fingers crossed that mine arrives with the correct badges.

Remember, like Terry was pointing out, you can order Japan drums if you want them. You just have to wait longer and pay some premium.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Very cool post. Personally, I try not to make a big deal out of where the drums are made. I just happened to buy a used kit that happened to be made in Japan. If I had to buy new Tamas, I certainly wouldn't avoid them if they had been made in China. If the quality level is the same, and from what I've seen, it is, then that's great. It sounds like a win-win situation for both the company and the consumers.

I recall being a kid when the Made in Japan moniker wasn't all that hip, either. But what worries me is this: as manufacturers keep moving to other countries to build the products that we buy, where will they go next when Chinese employees begin to demand the higher pay US employees enjoy?

The news of the OEM factory shouldn't sound too surprising. Hell, Matsushita in Japan was making everybody's VCR's and TVs except for Sony and JVC at one point!
 

Artstar

Platinum Member
Very cool post. Personally, I try not to make a big deal out of where the drums are made. I just happened to buy a used kit that happened to be made in Japan. !

More important, IMO, is how he lays it out about them BUILDING THEIR FACTORY FROM SCRATCH, and keeping it in-house and part of Tama corporate. They did'nt just call one of the mega factories who builds all the others.
 

Les Ismore

Platinum Member
Terry sells it like a pro-

The end result was, we were able bring Japanese quality level drums into the market for hundreds (or thousands, depending on the size of your kit) of dollars cheaper than they once were. One might ask, is this such a bad thing?

... and built their own factory from the ground up, brick by brick.

How is all this possible? Cheap labor, no environmental controls (pollution). I think the majority of Americans who buy a TAMA kit are OK with knowing (or not knowing) the money they save is being absorbed by low paid workers and degradation of the planet. Who cares about chinese workers, they're happy right? Pollution... that's in China, who cares right? TAMA needs to stay competitive and we need affordable drum kits! How does Japans workforce/economy feel about all this I wonder?


"... we are one of the absolute last brands to make this tough decision."-- and the first to produce their whole line of drum kits in China. The last shall be the first.

Was it really the 'decision' that took longer, or was it all the planning, building of the factory, training workers etc. before the people saw great TAMA savings on the retail floors?

There's business, and then there's reality, lets not try and mix the two and say the people benefit... the reality is 'some' of the people benefit.

Lets not make a big deal out of where and how drums are made, the less we know the better off 'we' are. All you need to know is their affordable, the quality is there and you can afford it, that's what its all about kid, now go play your drums and be happy.

How the hell did we even make it b/f drum kits were affordable anyway? Anybody remember?
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
But what worries me is this: as manufacturers keep moving to other countries to build the products that we buy, where will they go next when Chinese employees begin to demand the higher pay US employees enjoy?
Well, it'll take a generation or two for that to happen. Chinese democracy, capitalism, and the "American Dream" won't come overnight for China. But India will be the next, to pick up the torch (they already have) ....​
Meanwhile ... the "bitter pill" to swallow (for the US worker) is those "higher paying jobs" ain't gonna come back. People are simply gonna have to get used to making "a little less" and getting by with "a little less".​
How the hell did we even make it b/f drum kits were affordable anyway? Anybody remember?
Yeah, buy gently used pro gear. Last time I bought a brand new kit was 1980, when I bought my Vistalites.​
 
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GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
It is money. Money from American pockets. If the corporations put customers and employees first and not share holders they would still be made in America.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
If you don't like the fact that companies that have to compete on a global level, need to operate their businesses so they can compete on a global level, buy your drums from local artisans. Even then, expect at least some of the hardware (lugs, etc) to be sourced from outside of your country/local area. There are choices out there, but going the local made route may cost you more money. If made in (insert country) is important to you, put your money where your mouth is, & go buy product made in your country. The world is full of those that complain about their favourite brand being outsourced, yet won't pay the premuim for locally manufactured product.

Let's consider the reverse scenario. Fictitious large drum company A decides to build all it's products, & source all it's materials from it's home country. Meanwhile it's competitors are reducing costs through outsourcing. Their competition reduces prices month on month. Company A's sales volumes start to suffer. As a result, they have to build in smaller batches, and their suppliers charge them higher unit costs due to reduced volume/increased inventory. Comany A's prices go up. Because their prices go up, & their competition's prices continue to reduce, company A's sales volumes reduce even more. As a result, they're forced to build in even smaller batches, their suppliers increase their costs again, etc, etc. You can see the diminishing spiral company A is now trapped in. Result = company A goes out of business.

Choose your scenario, vote with your dollars. If the bigger companies lose sales on the basis of outsourcing, they might just listen. The harsh reality is there aren't enough customers who care enough to make a difference. If local sourcing really matters to you, source local!

Edit: Just to add a general point, & that's the right to export. Protectionism is a very very dangerous tool, & one that's the automatic vote winning default of politicians. It's a double edged sword, & often results in the oppression of those least able to scratch an alternative living. Should I stop eating banana's? On a drumming level, was it a bad thing for me to buy Spaun drums & Keller shells, made in the USA? Many of our home grown drum companies owe their existence to export sales, so would it be right to prevent them from exporting their product? It's no different from preventing the importation of someone elses product. Again, as a consumer, you have a choice.
 
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GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I understand having an option but just making a point as to where corporations have gone with their missions. Not necessarily to please customers but to please share holders. I understand the global economy aspect but I am sure if Rolls Royce decided to start making their cars in China there would be quite the uproar in England. That may be an extreme as not everyone can afford one, but the workers that would lose jobs certainly would have problems. I work at a for-profit hospital and it is the nearest thing to a retail store that you can imagine. It just rubs me the wrong way. Nothing to do with nationalism just work for the locals.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I understand the global economy aspect but I am sure if Rolls Royce decided to start making their cars in China there would be quite the uproar in England. .
Grunt, that post wasn't aimed at you, but a general lack of wider thinking, & especially the crude hammer short sighted protectionist lobby. BTW, Rolls Royce car production moved from England to Germany some years ago. As you can imagine, not a popular move, but the truth is, they're better made and more popular than ever!
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
How is all this possible? Cheap labor, no environmental controls (pollution). I think the majority of Americans who buy a TAMA kit are OK with knowing (or not knowing) the money they save is being absorbed by low paid workers and degradation of the planet. Who cares about chinese workers, they're happy right? Pollution... that's in China, who cares right? TAMA needs to stay competitive and we need affordable drum kits! How does Japans workforce/economy feel about all this I wonder?

Doesn't Tama sell in the EU? If so, then they have to meet ISO14000 regulations regarding environmental controls.

I used to work for a Japanese company and have been in Chinese and other low cost sub contractors with the Japanese teams. Like any other sub-contractor, the Chinese shops will do what the customer asks. They just have to pay for it. I've seen tag teams of quality inspectors going over the same product to make sure anything one person misses gets caught by someone else down the line. In a low labor cost area, people are cheap. And there's a line outside the door of farmers kids looking to work in clean clothes. So anyone who isn't keeping up (either production rate or quality for a quality minded customer) is easily replaced. And the people are are working there know it. It's much like the industrial revolution in America when all the agg labor moved from the south to the heavy industry in the north.

The young folks I saw seemed to be happy. Much better than working on Grandpa's farm behind the ox. A generation or two and there will be a middle class used to nice things and clamoring for more. By then, things will have moved to India (which will be begining to have the same issues) Vietnam and so forth. This has already happened to Singapore which has priced itself out of the low cost labor market and now serves as a hub with the technical and management experience for distant companies to manage things in other southeast asian countries.

Where things slide is in the 3 tier and lower subcontractors. Tama may be making shells and assembling drums in a plant that is a clone of their home plant. But things like hardware are being bought from someone else nearby. Same folks that are making hardware for DW, Gretsch and other "American" lines. And these folks are getting bits from lower level subs that are probably closer to what people think of when they think of 3rd world factories. Metal foundry work is a dirty nasty job no matter how you go about it. Just ask anyone in Pittsburg from the last few generations. Of course we don't like to think about where those metal castings and extrusions we've become used to actually come from. Those 3rd generation steelworkers in the rust belt used to proud of an honest days labor. Now, folks would rather be day traders on the net from their home office hoping to hit the lottery. So there are plenty of folks in China who would prefer a few burns from splattering metal to the backbreaking work of hand tilling tiny plots of mushy dirt.
 

conchrandy

Senior Member
OK, so what if I want a Starclassic maple kit made in Japan for whatever reason? Simply stated, not available, unless of course, I can live with the add on prices. For that $$, I can pick up a SONOR Delite, a GRETSCH USA or a top of the line YAMAHA. I love Tama, but I see a lot of spin here.
 

Artstar

Platinum Member
OK, so what if I want a Starclassic maple kit made in Japan for whatever reason? Simply stated, not available, unless of course, I can live with the add on prices. For that $$, I can pick up a SONOR Delite, a GRETSCH USA or a top of the line YAMAHA. I love Tama, but I see a lot of spin here.

A Starclassic Maple is just as nice, if not nicer, as any of those, with probably the tops in quality and finish, IMO..
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
OK, so what if I want a Starclassic maple kit made in Japan for whatever reason?
Then whip out that wallet, and pay "extra dough".
For that $$, I can pick up a SONOR Delite, a GRETSCH USA or a top of the line YAMAHA. I love Tama, but I see a lot of spin here.
No spin ... just the harsh re-ality that Tama, as a corporation (as with most corporations), follows the path of the dollar bill. Bottom line, they need to make profit. They don't care, that you, as an individual, might make the jump to Sonor, Gretsch, or Yamaha. They're betting on the whoever else's that will buy their Chinese drums and/or pony up the "extra dough" for the Made In Japan drums.​
When the profit margin speaks, most companies listen. The only drum manufacture that I've seen, with "any" principle at all, is RMV. RMV decided not to sell in the US anymore. From what I gather, it was because of "political" reasons. Here's a guy, that's willing to not double his consumer base, for principle. Now, I don't wanna get into the right/wrong area of it all ... but I do admire a cat who's gonna walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A guy who'd rather make X a year, and be true to his conscience, than make double X a year, and "compromise" his beliefs.​
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Then whip out that wallet, and pay "extra dough".
No spin ... just the harsh re-ality that Tama, as a corporation (as with most corporations), follows the path of the dollar bill. Bottom line, they need to make profit. They don't care, that you, as an individual, might make the jump to Sonor, Gretsch, or Yamaha. They're betting on the whoever else's that will buy their Chinese drums and/or pony up the "extra dough" for the Made In Japan drums.​
When the profit margin speaks, most companies listen. The only drum manufacture that I've seen, with "any" principle at all, is RMV. RMV decided not to sell in the US anymore. From what I gather, it was because of "political" reasons. Here's a guy, that's willing to not double his consumer base, for principle. Now, I don't wanna get into the right/wrong area of it all ... but I do admire a cat who's gonna walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A guy who'd rather make X a year, and be true to his conscience, than make double X a year, and "compromise" his beliefs.​

Wow. A drum maker doing that? That's brave. You figure it's gotta be hard enough just declaring yourself a drum builder trying to get as many sales as you can regardless. Didn't Steve Wynn do the same thing? That's awesome.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
Wow. A drum maker doing that? That's brave. ....

That's the "gist" of the story, as I heard it. RMV is a Brazilian company, drum shells made out of Bapeva. And the owner, well, I guess he gets enough business selling kits to South and Central American customers, that he doesn't feel he needs the US market ...​
Indeed. it is brave. And I admire a cat who looks at life and says "personal honor" is worth more than a "large paycheck".​
Funny, is I just scored 10, 12, and 14 inch RMV toms off eBay. I'll play the waiting game, and eventually a matching kick drum will show up.​
 
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