THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR A FAX

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TOKYO-Matsushita Corp. is taking two different approaches in tapping the fast-growing home fax market in Japan.

Sales of faxes for the home, at $876 million last year, accounted for nearly half of all Japan's fax sales of $2.3 billion in 1994.

The movement is in tune with lifestyle changes in Japan, where many families use a home fax to send answers to TV quiz shows and order from direct mail catalogs. A Matsushita spokesman said Japanese families, in fact, are embracing the fax as a replacement for the telephone, using it to send personal messages.

According to the government's Foundation for Welfare Statistics, 13.7% of Japanese homes owned facsimile machines in 1994, more than double the 6.7% recorded four years earlier. Industry insiders say the flash point for any home appliance is when it reaches 10% saturation, after which sales are expected to jump rapidly.

Naoki Yasuda, manager of Matsushita's Graphic Communication Systems division, said there are two trends in the home fax market-a phone and fax combination and the more sophisticated upscale fax. Matsushita is aiming at both.

Already a leader in home faxes with a 40% share of market, Matsushita's Kyushu Electric Co. division is marketing a phone/fax combination for the mass market as a way to expand-but not necessarily into faxes.

"We are trying to expand into the telephone market," the spokesman said, "and we are telling consumers to purchase a fax with a phone instead of a telephone."

Kyushu's main phone/fax entry is priced at $682, comparable with competitors, and the spokesman said sales were brisk at 30,000 to 40,000 a month since the product's introduction last November. The KX-PWfSTA model accounts for two-thirds of Kyushu's home fax sales, he said.

To further encourage everyday home use, Kyushu is repeating a successful ad and promotion campaign urging consumers to use the fax to send holiday messages-encouraging potentially millions of, say, New Year's faxes in a country where holiday greetings are practically a religion.

Advertising for the combination home fax model aimed at everyman includes TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor and transit advertising themed "A facsimile for 100 million people," a play on Japan's population.

The company wouldn't name the ad agency for any of its products, but it's known that Matsushita works with both Dentsu and Hakuhodo.

Sister unit Graphic Communication Systems, meanwhile, is aiming upscale with its Panafax UF-321 model, which is promoted as the only home fax on the market to use plain paper. Mr. Yasuda said the more common thermo paper curls and is hard to handle while this new fax is far superior with inkjet printing capability, a documentary memory of 12 standard pages and the ability to produce smooth pages without a "faxed" look.

The unit is pricey, however, costing $2,094, which accounts for slow sales of 110,000 units in 1994.

To hike sales, GCS is planning to lower the price to $1,176 in 1996, Mr. Yasuda said, in an attempt "to double the sales in three years."

So far, sales have mainly been to business people ages 30 to 50 who use their home as an extension of the office. With this in mind, the company is advertising on commuter trains with the theme line, "There's nothing Plain about the Panafax UF-321-except the paper!"

GCS also markets the Panafax Pl, a combination fax/telephone that hangs on the wall, for home use, priced at a more reasonable $752. But that model needs to be stocked with standard thermo paper.

Matsushita isn't actively advertising either model outside Japan yet, though Kyushu exports 25% of its faxes to the U.S., 20% to Europe and 55% to Asia and Latin America. GCS exports 30,000 units a month outside Japan.

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