Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Slave to the web

February 13, 2005, 8:40 PM

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

February 6, 2005, 9:04 PM

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.

The week in review

January 28, 2005, 11:22 PM

The last couple of days I have alternately been craving sappari foods and the completely unhealthy. Yesterday I decided to try an experiment... I tried wrapping some soft, vacuum-packed yuba that I bought in Kyoto in October around some mochi with a little bit of nori for color, then fried them in some oil until golden. After I fried them, I set them in a bowl of kakejiru, which is basically seasoned dashi (japanese soup stock) with soy sauce and mirin in it.

The flavor was just about right, but I need to learn some tricks to keep the mochi from bursting the yuba and nori apart. The presentation left a little something to be desired. I tried using some toothpicks to hold everything together, but it wasn't quite enough. I might try using thinner cuts of kiri-mochi next time, and I might skip boiling the mochi first, just to see how it expands. I recall having some fried nori-wrapped natto in Japan, and some fried nori-wrapped yuba in a Chinese restaurant in Seattle, but I can't remember eating any of nori-wrapped fried mochi. The yuba seems to like being fried... the texture was really nice.

I had set out to take some photos of the results, but I wasn't quite happy with how everything looked when I finished, although I did appreciate the flavors. I'll try again someday.

For lunch today, I made a nice soba with a little bit of rolled yuba and some scallions. I also served the soba in my kakejiru, which I've had in the freezer for awhile. It didn't seem to suffer, though.

The last few days I've finally made some serious progress on my internet store, so next week sometime I expect to have some of my new products up on YuzuMura.com. I decided that I'm going to use an off-the-shelf solution that meets most of my needs; after I get it set up, I'll say goodbye to bCentral, which has worked for a basic shopping cart but doesn't meet my upcoming needs.

Unfortunately, I've been waiting for a new shipment of Dragon Beard Candy to arrive for most of the week... A comedy of errors with a new freight provider means that, even though the cargo arrived last weekend, it won't be able to be processed by my customs broker until Monday. Considering how little inventory is available on the store shelves of Uwajimaya stores, this is an irritating problem.

I've gotten a lot of walking in over the last week. Since I have been carless, I've been walking to Ballard to do various errands most days. That gives me a little more than an hour of low-intensity exercise... I should get myself jogging again, though.

Not a good day

January 21, 2005, 11:52 PM

I was on my way to deliver the donation for the Women of Color luncheon, and had the misfortune not to see a car crossing into a curvy intersection on Motor Place. My view was obstructed by a van parked at a crossing, and although I was slowing down as I approached the crossing as I would anyway, I couldn't stop fast enough to avoid the car entering the intersection, so we smashed into each other.

We did the usual exchanging of personal information, made phone calls to 911 and waited for the police. It turned out because my airbags deployed I had to have the car towed to a body shop, so now I'm carless for the moment.

I was able to make my delivery to the international district, irritating a taxi driver as I spent a good amount of time transferring items from my car into hiscab. Afterward I took the non-donation items home in the same cab, and I'm sure he was expecting a shorter fare, so I left a more generous than usual tip, even though he didn't help me terribly much... I just figured I was a bit of an inconvenience.

Originally I thought I emerged relatively unscathed, just shaken up a bit. But the scrapes on my hand have turned irritatingly swollen, and I'm feeling tension aches in my back. I must have just tensed up too much.

In the meantime I guess I will get some air in my bicycle tires.

Trying to be focused

January 20, 2005, 9:48 PM

Yesterday I shipped out an unusual number of internet orders. One of them was destined for Seattle and I almost delivered it myself, but I was busy enough that I thought better of it.

Today I was preparing a donation of candy for an event honoring minority women in business, which was a good way of using what little remains of my fall inventory; it's benefits a non-profit but has some potential marketing side effects as well.

I am also extremely short of the newer inventory in the Pacific Northwest stores, not counting big gift boxes, so I am desperately awaiting a shipment that is supposed to be here by Monday or Tuesday if all goes well. I expect it will be no problem to sell what I have in big gift boxes though...

These days I'm eating a little carelessly. I haven't been sleeping well, maybe due to subconscious distractions, and I'm sometimes skipping meals or substituting snacks for real food. I need to stop that. Yesterday I had a nice dinner though... I made okonomiyaki.

New things brewing

January 18, 2005, 11:59 PM

I was chatting with the owner/manager of a new vegetarian restaurant who is interested in marketing her soy and gluten products that she makes in her store. I think I will help her out with some sales work for her, and take a fair cut without any inventory risk on my part. I'll also research and consult on solutions for some of the foods she makes that she'd like to offer as easy-to-prepare healthy, vegetarian Chinese entrees.

I'm also trying to talk to some contract manufacturers for introducing some of my own private label products, so I started making some inquiries on that; this need should be compatible with the restaurant's needs as well.

Yesterday I moved my display out from my sales broker's showroom, since I've been doing a better job on sales than them so far. I also think that will free me up to sell some other products in the same manner, functioning as a sales broker rather than an importer or import merchant.

As for the dragon beard candy, I'm having some issues with a shortage of small gift boxes and sampler tubes of dragon beard candy, but I'm supposed to be getting a new shipment later this week. I'm trying to figure out how to accommodate some orders received in the last few days that requested some quantities of items of which I don't have enough stock.

Wasted demo day

January 15, 2005, 6:52 PM

I set out to Portland to do an in-store demo this morning, but neglected to check a weather or traffic report. Accordingly, about 15 minutes before hitting Portland I started driving through tremendous amounts of slush and sleet. Once I reached the bridge over the Columbia River I started to have second thoughts, and as I slid onto the I-405 ramp I decided I should probably make a quick call to Uwajimaya.

They said almost no one was in the store, and I told them I'd be turning back. When I saw the ice-covered junction for Highway 26, I realized why nobody wanted to be in Beaverton, so I continued along I-405 until it re-joined I-5. I stopped around the Portland Convention Center to grab some quick lunch, but many restaurants were shut, presumably due to the ice.

I headed back to Seattle after getting an extra dose of coffee. My day, and about a tank of gas, was mostly wasted. Next time I'll check the weather conditions before heading out of town.

The last few days I've been busy, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I've always been spending my time well. I have a lot of work to accomplish, including some tasks that should have been settled last month.

More demos, less drama

January 9, 2005, 10:36 PM

This was a pretty quiet weekend after two months of mostly good sales results from in-store demonstrations. It felt a little like summer only with less store traffic.

I want to get rid of a little bit more candy before Chinese New Year shopping kicks in, since a few items from the fall shipment are still in stores (though, thankfully, not much of it). Despite pretty good sales, I made the mistake of leaving about 4 cartons of candy back in Seattle during the tour to the Bay Area, so some of it was sitting around when it could have been sold to customers down there. Not much of that is left, but it's irritating that I had such good sales and still have the risk of a little expired inventory after everything, mostly due to my inability to move some items from one place to another while I was out of town.

Thankfully, the risk of expired inventory will decrease to a very small number one I get another 12-14 stores selling the candy. I won't have to order too far in advance of need at that point.

In other news, I really need to get myself some winter exercise gear. It's so cold that I have even more excuses for not jogging these days.

No more distractions, unfortunately

January 4, 2005, 10:48 PM

I spent a couple of days in Vancouver with Hiromi and came back late last night. In Vancouver, I took a look at a couple of Asian markets and along Robson Street to try to get a feel for what might be possible in the Vancouver market, and Hiromi and I visited with a couple of her friends from the time when she was on her working holiday program in Canada.

Today I fillled a couple of orders for Chinese New Year that cleared a whole lot of inventory, but I found out I have some more stock than I previously thought when I itemized my inventory more carefully. I will try to get some of that sold this weekend by doing some in-store promotions, most likely in the Seattle store.

I need to figure out how to get my candy in Los Angeles as well, so I think I'll focus on researching good venues for that. This week I also have to finalize my order for the next batch of candy as well, and I need to do an obscene amount of catchup work on bookkeeping.

What I've learned this year

December 31, 2004, 1:08 PM

This year, I took a leap of faith to leave an unfulfilling job and start something completely new. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I knew that most of what would happen next was up to me. My primary goal for the year was really just to get my bearings and not lose too much money. I was hoping to get a full web store up and running with my ceramics products, and I wanted to import several products over the course of the year and build customer bases for each of them.

I was perhaps a little optimistic about how much I could take on in the first year, but I think I'm off to an acceptable start. When I started, I thought I could concentrate on three or four products simultaneously, but the products I am interested in are so unusual and have too many different countries of origin for me to be able to handle the logistics, sales, promotions and marketing work all on my own. I'm also no longer able to effectively invest a lot of time and energy into building web software, since it distracts from more important wholesale sales and promotion work.

I could probably do everything I want to if I had more cash to throw around. But I hesitate to take on inventory risk without a likely destination customer for each product, and I also didn't want to invest too much in the web store until I had a foundation of wholesale customers.

So, by the end of the year, my goal morphed to be more about getting a reasonable number of retail outlets for the dragon beard candy and use it as a foundation for the next series of products. I now have 14-15 retail points of presence, and I think it's feasible to add another 12 or so stores by mid-February. If by fall of next year I've gotten my numbers up to about 60 stores, and get a little revenue trickle from some other products by summer, I'll actually start to have a healthy income.

Based on last month's in-store sales, January will probably be the first month where I actually start seeing enough revenue to cover most of my personal expenses. I've also minimized most of my advertising budget and switched to a more promotion-based approach, so the regular business expenses will start being properly covered by March or April. I am still nervous about three likely "irregular" business expenses related to travel and trade shows in January, March and July, but I think all three of those will pay off.

I learned that focus was the thing I needed most. Since I wear multiple hats, I really have to bet heavily on a small mix of products. I'm just starting to learn how to be a salesman. I'm incredibly naive as a marketer. I am not a genius at advertising. I'm not bad at promotions but I think I have a lot of work to do there as well. And I am not a great bookkeeper, though I am pretty conscious of where my money is going to and coming from. I'm relatively decent at planning, and even at accommodating dramatic changes on short notice. One thing I'm really good at, I think, is recognizing when a product is very distinctive and will bring something unique to the U.S. market. Of course, that's only a very small part of operating a business.

I need to be better organized and I need to make fewer dumb mistakes and miscalculations. I've made mistakes related to filling orders a few times (three, unfortunately all to the same customer). I've misplaced documents, which led at least once to a day-long distraction searching for an item. I underestimated the time it would take for an air freight order to leave the port of origin and to clear customs and FDA inspection. With varying degrees of severity, these have impacted the efficiency and momentum of my business.

When I was at Microsoft I often complained about being resource-constrained on very complex projects. But I never worked on anything as complex as operating all aspects of a business by myself, and I've never been more resource constrained in my life. I know how precarious my position is.

On the positive side, I'm starting to build momentum, and the long term key to my success is converting active sales work into passive revenue streams; I have to help my customers become successful with the products that I am selling them, so that people come to me and ask if they can start selling the products rather than mostly being the other way around.

I'm starting to see evidence of customer loyalty to the things that I sell; several people have become serious repeat customers, buying large quantities or with enough frequency that I have more confidence in the future of my products. Other than continued footwork, I don't know what it will take to transform my small business into a healthy, self-sustaining operation, but I think I'm mostly on the right track. I just need to be incredibly aggressive and execute my sales strategy in the next year.

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