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Reunions

jason

I didn't make much use of the end of last week. I like to think that it was necessary recuperation, but that might be self-delusional.

Saturday I woke up very early on not much sleep and drove to Beaverton, Oregon to do sampling. I didn't give away as much as usual, and the conversion ratio wasn't horrible... I was trying to finish up a little earlier than 4pm today so I could return in time for a little dinner party in North Bend, featuring various members of my little pottery circle. A small distraction made it harder to accomplish that goal... Somehow, for reasons unknown, my car battery was dead when I was preparing to leave Beaverton. I don't know if my car alarm went off, or if maybe I unintentionally hit the remote starter buttons on my keychain while in the store, but regardless of the cause, I was unable to depart without the benefit of assistance from Sheena from the gift department. On the bright side, the only horrible traffic was on route 26 heading toward Portland.

Somehow I made it to the dinner party only about an hour late... Fashionable, perhaps... Fortunately, everything seemed to be just getting started when I arrived, though I imagine some people were there much earlier than I. Because of my lack of access to any meaningful kitchen in the interim, I only brought a box of candy and the fixings for a simple salad dressing Carol, one of the most productive students at the BCC studio, showed off photos of a recent trip to Africa, and everyone nibbled on various things. I haven't seen most folks in over 2 months... It was a pleasant little reunion.

Speaking of reunions, today I went to a farewell party for Susan, a former editor at the Northwest Asian Weekly, under whom I served as an intern in my January 1994 “Winter term” program at DePauw University. I may have run into her once or twice since then at some event, but I basically haven't seen her in about 10 years. Monica, the long-time office manager at the paper, is also leaving Seattle to return to Hong Kong soon. So this was a day of partings, and a weekend of reunions. Some folks were grilling various animal parts, corn, and so on, and there were some plates of fruit and side dishes. I brought a little salad, which is what I was planning to bring yesterday, when I was lacking time and ingredients.

I realize I have a busy week ahead of me. All of the things I neglected at the end of last week are now coming due...

Almost severe fatigue meets me head-on

jason

Playing the role of a manufacturer representative for a food product that relatively few people in the gift industry have ever heard of is kind of a surreal experience, especially for someone like me with no particular background or innate talent for sales. My goal during the show was basically to leave people with a positive impression of the product, regardless of whether it fit into their retail store or not.

For the most part I think I succeeded, but it would have been a bigger ego boost if there had been a few more orders. There were a couple of good surprises, like an order from Nampa, Idaho, a town which I probably wouldn't have visited for the purpose of making a sales call otherwise. There were a few leads which have some potential of working out in the future. If my broker has the skills and relationships to get this product into a bigger range of stores, I'll be happy.

Meeting the other manufacturer representatives also taught me a bit. I think my head was spinning with names that were being tossed about, so I'm not sure how much of that will stick with me, but it was good to hear the war stories of people who have been selling fancy foods for a while. The product line that I was most impressed by in the showroom were from a company called Hand To Mouth, which has a nicely sappari artichoke spread and a pleasantly fresh-tasting roasted red pepper tapenade, as well as a subtly anise-seasoned olive tapenade they call “Greek caviar.”

I did some sampling at Uwajimaya on Saturday, and I'm starting to feel better about the conversion ratio. It's still not really a comfortable ratio, but it seems to be an improvement over the last couple of events. Yesterday I got a report of how many units have been sold at the Seattle store and I can now say that the sampling is pretty much paying for itself. If I could just start paying for the advertising I'm doing, I'd be a little more comfortable. I'll have to check out how sales have been doing at Bellevue and Beaverton... I expect the volume is a little lower in those locations, even though the visibility is better.

On Sunday I simply walked around the temporary exhibits at the Convention Center in downtown Seattle. It was surprisingly exhausting, but I think that came from being on my feet most of the last three or four days. I met a couple of companies that may be useful in one way or another, and I actually made a sale of one box of candy to a woman who works at a local Chinese antique dealer and had trouble finding the candy in our retail outlets. She wanted to give it to her sister.

I'm getting close to needing to reorder from Hong Kong, but I hesitate to do that unless I have a good idea what sales volume will be like in September...

My objective today is to do as little work as possible. I had a little inspiration to work on my web project today, but it hasn't been a sustained motivation. I'll hack around a little bit and then I'll try to relax for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I have some outstanding errands, but I might take it kind of slow tomorrow also. I'm just really beat after a few weeks of almost nonstop movement.

I'm in the gift show!

jason

On Monday I met with a sales broker who focuses on specialty food items, a woman who was recommended by the leasing agent at the Seattle Gift Center. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I wasn't surprised that Cheryl, the broker, was frantic and faced multiple distractions as she was preparing for this week's Seattle Gift Show.

She seemed pretty pleased with the dragon beard candy, and she told me she would need a couple of days to talk with her sales team to see if they would agree to take on the project. In fact, I already got a reply on Tuesday afternoon, and was asked to bring the product and a display in on Wednesday morning to set up a display. I tried to throw together an 11”x17” poster without the benefit of my graphic designer's time, skill, or tools, and I prepared a flyer under the same constraints, and headed over to the showroom.

We realized that the poster didn't have enough support to stand up on the display, so I started to head off to Kinkos. Coincidentally, though not surprisingly considering how close the gift show is, the manager of the Georgetown Kinkos was in the elevator as I was headed out, and he offered to take the posters off for lamination and application of a cardboard easel. I never had to leave the gift center and the items were delivered about a half hour later.

After setting up, I tried in vain to print out a few copies of the flyer on the broker's printer, so I moved on. I got a quick sandwich at a Vietnamese spot just across from the corporate office of Starbucks, called Cyclo... it was already about 3:30 or so. I made another couple of stops, including a brief stop at Azuma Gallery, before moving on to take care of getting some color laser printing done at a shop in Capitol Hill.

I was somehow bewildered that all of this was happening so fast. A couple of months ago I was thinking it would be a good idea to attend the Seattle Gift Show so I can decide if I want to do a booth there in the future, and now I'm actually in the permanent showrooms. The broker's commission will take out most of my profit in the region, but I think they can get the volume up to a respectable level faster than I can, and I can start focusing on California and British Columbia, and hopefully some other products.

Today I spent the day at the showroom after taking care of some errands in the morning. It was kind of a surreal experience. I don't know how aggressive I should be about showing off the product or about approaching visitors to the showroom. It's not really my space, so I have to find my bearings, which is particularly awkward under such frenzied circumstances.

Earlier in the week, I stopped at Uwajimaya Seattle and learned that their inventory for the small gift boxes of dragon beard candy was getting pretty low, so I also made a delivery on Tuesday... I also met with an American Express financial planner at Chinoise in the same building... somehow my business card had been placed into a fishbowl at the Uwajimaya customer service center in the last week or so... I don't remember doing it, so maybe one of my cards someone picked up when I did an in-store demo or one that I left behind with some brochures may have been placed there by someone else. I had a nice lunch and received a short, respectful, sales pitch for AmEx Financial Services.

I'm trying to decide whether to go to Vancouver or head toward San Francisco for a few days after the gift show ends. I guess it's not the best time to make up my mind... I have a long day on Friday at the gift show, and Saturday I'll be doing sampling at Uwajimaya Seattle. I'll try to attend the temporary exhibits at the Convention Center for an hour or so on Saturday and whatever I can take on Sunday, then I'll go back to the showroom at the gift center on Monday and Tuesday.

I remember vaguely that I had a few other plans for this week... I haven't had a chance to even think about what those plans were...

Nonstopweek

jason

Thursday I visited the Seattle Gift Center and met with one of the space leasing coordinators. The Seattle Gift Center is basically a wholesale market where a lot of regional buyers for retail shops come in search of the latest and greatest gift items. The leasing guy suggested I meet with one of the vendors who focuses on food products, but, since Monday and Tuesday are the normal days for showrooms to be open, nobody was there to talk to. I did run into a couple of other interesting people while I was there, but anyway, Monday or Tuesday I should go back and try to meet with one of the sales people there. I might be able to find someone to represent my candy there or I might learn something else useful.

I've been struggling with my work taking over my living space, so I've started to spend more time thinking about leasing some commercial space. Also I really think it would be helpful to show off my products in a space that shows them off to the best advantage. My revenue situation doesn't entirely suit doing this and it was something that I was planning to do in the more distant future, but I barely feel like I live at home right now and it's increasingly uncomfortable. Anyway, I took a look at various retail spaces, including two in the International District, one in the Convention Center downtown, and a few in the Wallingford and Fremont areas.

Part of the week I spent talking with some other small retailers, though these often weren't so much sales calls as harmless discussions and occasional market research. I learned about a few other places I should talk to, and I'll be exploiting some of that information this week. I spent a little time meeting with another Japanese newspaper and I think I'll be stepping up my publicity efforts a bit this week.

I spent some time most days, when I wasn't otherwise out and about, working on my web code, and I'm finally down to the last few work items to make it functional. I think I can nail it down in a couple of days and then I'll get ready to walk the Seattle Gift Show.

Saturday I woke up early in the morning and drove to Beaverton, Oregon, to do sampling at the Uwajimaya there. I think the audience there was a little less adventurous about even tasting the candy, but the sales conversion ratio seemed to be ok... pretty much in line with our Bellevue experience, maybe slightly better. My last sale was actually to a woman who was just fascinated by the video; I had already put away my samples, so she bought a single tube “just to try it.“ I wonder if there's something to be said for not giving samples away and focusing just on telling the product story...

Afterward, I chatted with some Hawaiian folks peddling kaki-gouri (shaved ice) out in front of Uwajimaya and relieved my dehydration with a guava shaved ice that had a little ice cream and coarse anko (sweet azuki bean paste) on the bottom. 

I drove around looking fruitlessly for parking in Portland's Chinatown in the early evening... some downtown events, including the Bite of Portland and some outdoor concerts in Chinatown made parking downtown pretty much out of the question, and I didn't have a specific enough agenda to justify paying for parking. I finally drove across the bridge to have dinner at a decent Mexican restaurant I tried to eat at a couple of trips ago, but had worse luck with seating at that time due to a recent favorable review. I had a nice tamale dish with a nice simple side vegetable dish.

Saturday was kind of an all-day work effort, so I barely moved this morning except to do a little housework. I made pancakes for breakfast and made a makeshift dorayaki intended for an afternoon snack... In the afternoon I made okonomiyaki for the second or third time this week, this time with kimchi and cheese. I ducked out to work on some of the web project at Vivace's in the afternoon, which I've done more than once this week... today I made a small dent, but the work on this step required more thought on UI than I expected so the progress was slower than I had hoped. I haven't done much exercise this week, so after a few hours away I came back to go jogging around Greenlake. I made a simple pasta dish with fresh green beans in a tomato cream sauce and chopped basil, adorned with good parmesan acquired from a new Wallingford specialty food shop started by an Amazon.com refugee.

I'm not sure how productive I was this week, but I rarely had a moment when I was able to slow down and relax... I was running all over...

Sweets in a suit and a wedding

jason

Since Friday I have been busy presenting the dragon beard candy at Uwajimaya Bellevue and Seattle... I've been offering samples and showing a video of Mr. Wong, the founder of the company, making the candy. It's actually been a pretty pleasant experience overall, although I wish sales had been a little better. The conversion ratio, sampling to buying, was much more favorable at the Chinatown festival... I am not sure if it was the complete novelty, the festival atmosphere or the apparent uncertainty of future availability, but it was much easier to turn people into buyers when I was doing the festival event. Of course, most people aren't really going to the supermarket to buy gift items, so it might also require finding additional more appropriate venues.

Saturday was probably the most successful overall, although it came at the cost of a lot of free samples. Maggie handled the Bellevue store, and I was at the Seattle store. I was at the busiest entrance, so nearly everyone who enters the store comes somewhere near there. That meant that I had good visibility, but enough people coming past me rapid-fire that it was sometimes hard to tell everyone the product story. On Friday and Saturday we were also at the main entrance of the Bellevue store. Maggie apparently did a pretty good job at the Bellevue store and had a better conversion ratio than I did.

My friend Alexandra, who has been rarely seen in public since she met Alan about a year ago, was married at Lake Union Cafe on Sunday. Since I was doing some sampling on Sunday at Uwajimaya Seattle as well, I dressed in my dark blue suit to avoid running around madly just before the wedding. It meant, however, that I ended up having lots of dragon's beard candy bits clinging to my suitjacket, and it also surprised some of the Uwajimaya staff, who always dress in their standard store attire when doing product demos.

The wedding ceremony was pleasant, and was full of all sorts of touches that wouldn't have been possible in anyone else's wedding... Everything from the meal to the wedding cake to table adornments reflected their first encounter when Alexandra was planting purple potatoes at a south Seattle P-Patch garden. Handmade soaps and pots of herbs made and grown by Alan and Alexandra were placed on every table as take-home wedding favors, the wedding buffet featured roasted purple and white potatoes, and even the wedding cake was decorated with two small potatoes adorned with bridal and groom accoutrements. The atmosphere was casual and comfortable, with just the usual requisite toasting speeches and no unnecessary drama or kitsch. It was also great weather, and the backdrop facing Lake Union cast a nice glow throughout the room.

I've managed to squander a lot of my Monday, so I'm going to spend some time consuming coffee and coding and I'll try to be a salesperson again tomorrow.

Just enough competence to be dangerous

jason

Over the last couple of days I made some mini-breakthroughs in my shopping cart code, which is encouraging enough to make me feel like I know what I'm doing.

To be fair, though, that's come at the expense of time I should probably be spending selling. I'm hoping that the hard part of the work on the web store is over with, and that I can just pound out the rest of the code now that I have a functional framework. Past experience tells me things won't be so simple. But I also feel like I've finally got my head around the problem, instead of my head being disembodied, looking askance at the problem and just wincing.

I had a few more meetings and telephone conversations with potential customers, but I think I need to be more focused on that. Also I need to pick a few larger retailers to target so that I can clear out my existing inventory a little faster. I think there's not enough time in the day...