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Next steps

jason

After several weeks of difficulty, I finally managed to get hold of one of my customers that has been MIA for awhile. The call turned out to be productive, though, as I’ve been able to get reasonable buy-off on some additional products, and will be meeting with that customer about a near-term plan for some other good stuff after I come back from Asian mid-March.

The gift market is going to be seasonably quiet for about two months, so I’ve been trying to nail down some additional products to make sure I’ll have a decent revenue stream during the spring and summer months.

Of course, because of all of that, I’m now facing more challenges on the supply side. Some companies are awfully sluggish about responding to my email or fax inquiries, and some companies which have been more responsive turned out not to meet my needs. I am happy, however, that I have one more product almost ready to go.

Cash flow is a little nerve-wracking. I’m still waiting for a lot of the money from big shipments in December, and it’s making me incredibly nervous. It’s not a fun position to be in.

This is a period when I really need to get everything right. I’ve not really been a pleasant person to be around the last few days, as I’ve gotten a lot less patient and a little less polite. I hope my usually good nature returns by the time I do demos this weekend.

My home is chaos

jason

My apartment is now barely livable. After a series of new shipments, including the arrival of additional shipping supplies, and attempts at making passable photographs of products by turning my kitchen table into a makeshift studio, I barely have enough room to walk. I also have some gutted electronics in my living room, as I was trying to complete a low-cost upgrade to substitute for my briefly malfunctioning, and subsequently repaired, laptop computer. That upgrade process did not go smoothly, and the evidence of the trouble is right in

I started hunting for some low-cost storage and office space, but my choices are not enviable. The closest one is probably the best fit for my needs, though it might be a little small; the cheapest one has some unpleasant features, namely the proximity of a constantly humming transformer, and a lack of light in the section more practical for office space. Another one is more versatile but has a high total cost and is kind of out of the way; although reasonbly convenient to my home, it's convenient to nearly no one else in the city, located in northern Magnolia.

I'll try to nail down my solution for space next week, before I fly off to Hong Kong. I will go to Hong Kong to meet with my candy supplier and see their retail locations and their production facility. A couple of days later, I'll attend, and to some extent, participate in FoodEx 2005 in Tokyo. This trip will be pretty short, but I'll also try to cram in a visit to a yuzu farm in west Japan if I can arrange everything in time.

Last Sunday I managed to snag some sichuan pepper at the Beaverton Uwajimaya. After years of absence from the US market, this was a pleasant treat. I cooked some yu-tsai (na-no-hana) with ganmodoki and sichuan pepper, as well as some fresh peqin chilies. It was simple and had a pleasant numbing taste... Except for a dish I had back during the fall festival with a friend who somehow obtained some smuggled sichuan peppers, apparently from Canada, I haven't had a dish featuring sichuan pepper for years. I'm thinking of revisiting a dish my Chinese neighbor in Marburg, Germany used to make, which was basically thin sliced potatoes sauteed with sichuan pepper and a little salt.

I've had some bad luck with atsuage recently... this week marked my second recent attempt to make a stuffed atsuage that turned out to already have passed its prime. The expiration dates seemed fine, but the taste was strangely sour... two different stores, two different brands, two different disappointments. I was happier eating my eringii, carrot and greens filling.

Today in Beaverton I saw a familiar brand while doing a demo... Representatives from a company I met at FoodEx last year, Fuji Oil's Soyafarm, were demoing some tofu nuggets meant for the US market, and some fried reheatable yuba-wrapped edamame. I still prefer Soyafarm's soy milk yogurt and soy milk; that company had the nicest attempts at soy milk yogurt I have ever tested. But I would recommend with only the slightest of reservations the yuba-wrapped edamame. My only complaint is that they were a little salty, and maybe a little microwave-soggy. I don't know if there are ways around those defects; the salt might have been added for the demo purposes only, for all I know.

Slave to the web

jason

Tonight I'm getting the last bits of absolutely necessary work done to convert YuzuMura.com to a new online ordering system.

I spent the week taking photos, adding content, twiddling with unfamiliar configuration settings, and modifying my basic site template so that it's at least presentable. I'm not 100% thrilled with the results, mostly because I have some customizations I need to finish in order to make the site design more consistent. I'm also still a couple hours work away from integrating my payment gateway. But my bCentral ordering system was never integrated with my payment gateway, so it's not a dealbreaker.

However, the shopping cart solution, from http://www.AspDotNetStoreFront.com, is leaps and bounds ahead of what I had before. I think it will make cross-merchandising easier and it's a little more rigid than manually editing each page when I have a new product, but still flexible enough to allow me to present the site the way I'd like to.

This weekend I also did candy demos in Beaverton and Bellevue, amid the din of a lion dance at Uwajimaya. This will be a 3-day demo weekend, in fact: for Valentine's day, I'll be sampling at the Seattle Uwajimaya. It'll be my first Monday demo ever, I think.

Call me Mr. Delivery Man

jason

After an unexpectedly long delay in releasing my most recent shipment of dragon beard candy, I finally got notification around 5pm on Saturday that my shipment had cleared FDA document review. The FDA held the shipment for only a couple of days, but after a week and a half of disastrously long sluggishness in passing documents from one agent to another, the government hurdles only added the slightest bit of insult to injury.

More painful, perhaps, was that because my need for inventory had been transformed over the two weeks from “pressing” to “desperate”, I really needed to get the shipment to retailers in the Pacific Northwest region as quickly as possible. I also had a number of internet orders to fill.

So, I decided it was best if I personally picked up the shipment myself in my little Camry. After attending an event featuring a self-deprecating Korean potter at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, I headed straight to the airport to pick up my shipment myself.

A 1998 Toyota Camry is not a tiny car. However, it turns out not to be terribly suitable for carrying nearly 2 cubic meters of stuff. I can, however, for future reference, say that the maximum capacity of my car, including driver, is 26 cartons of dragon beard candy. For maximum sanity and safety, I'd say that 20 cartons is a little bit more realistic. Alas, I needed to move 31 cartons. Fortunately, the amused warehouse workers of Aeroground said it would be ok for me to make a second trip as long as I returned before 11 pm.

After making an initial hasty dropoff at my apartment, sure to annoy my neighbors in the morning, I went to pick up the remainder, and managed even to restock my display at Seattle's Uwajimaya around 11pm at night. I thought this was the only sane thing to do, as I knew I would be filling internet orders and making a Bellevue delivery on Saturday... and with the relative paucity of smaller sizes on display at the Seattle Uwajimaya, I knew it was essential to have some supplies there throughout the first weekend of the Chinese New Year season.

I don't remember exactly how I finished Saturday, but I know that I went to bed earlier than I have in weeks. Sunday, of course, I made off to Beaverton, both for restocking and a bit of a demo. Sales there were not stellar, but certainly more than if I had not been there. It's still taking some work to get Beaverton customers familiar with the product. Since all of the December publicity in the Seattle area, my sales in Bellevue have finally been beating the results in Beaverton.

My apartment, of course, is now an unpardonable disaster area. Recent laptop failures set me on a mission to get a functional modern machine at home (still unsuccessful) using recycled desktop components that I haven't used in a year plus a new motherboard and CD drive. Inventory from the new candy shipment, some tetsubin I recently ordered, and bulky but light cushions, as well as some tea packs from Bamboo Garden, have contributed to a special kind of chaos. I am hoping I can make enough sales in the next month or two to cost-justify some storage space, if not a full-blown office. My home is exploding.

My car was returned on Wednesday, looking better than it did before my accident. But the first two nights it was back, the car alarm seemed to be a bit paranoid, choosing 3am as a nice time of day to wake me, not to mention my neighbors, even with the vibration sensor off. The Car Toys folks first tried to extort money out of me to investigate the problem, but then decided that my extended warranty entitled me to a free exam, and everything seemed to be fixed Saturday morning.

I should perhaps be a little more reflective and less self-involved... but no, this is not the time for that. The time for reflection is after chaos has somewhat resided. Maybe Wordworth once said something along the lines that poetry is emotion reflected in tranquility. The rest, I suppose, is merely a diary.