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.

E-commerce interim solution

September 21, 2004, 4:22 PM

Most of the expensive e-commerce framework packages that I've been investigating recently left me not very happy, but I don't want to lose any more potential orders by neglecting online ordering, and I don't think I'll have the problem licked anytime soon, since I'm still planning to go to San Francisco and Japan over the next few weeks.

There are a few adequate "happy medium" solutions, such as the systems that are offered by Yahoo and bCentral. With the amount of time I have available to invest, they offer just enough functionality to make me feel like it's worth the monthly service fee, giving me some time to implement something more suitable for my needs. Both Yahoo and bCentral are offering the service without a setup fee for now, so I decided to give bCentral a try. So, after all of my headaches, I have a temporary ordering solution for my dragon beard candy and I can probably use it for the ceramics too. The quick templates are a little ugly, but it'll work for now. Since there is a SSL solution already built in, I can accept credit cards, but I'll be doing manual processing for now.

I was wincing a lot when comparing the various off-the-shelf ecommerce frameworks because so many of them seem to have been written with a developer-centric mentality, more focused on what the developer thought was the most elegant implementation rather than on the most streamlined, comfortable user interaction experience. Most of them have clumsy methods for handling different shipping and billing addresses (which is also true for bCentral), and that's not very nice for someone who is selling a lot of items to the gift market.

Although I'm not absolutely thrilled with bCentral's solution, it's a lot less of a commitment at $24.95 a month than the $500-600 solutions that still only get me 80% done. At this rate, I've got 20 months to find or develop a better solution. My only concern is how customers will react to the distraction of being switched to another domain, but I think it won't affect most people. Also, to my knowledge, bCentral doesn't make it easy to handle orders to Canada. It treats the shipping costs as the same, which they are very much not. I think I have a workable solution for this, but it requires some user cooperation.

Anyway, I'll soon see if it makes it easier for people to order or not.

All promotions, all the time

September 20, 2004, 7:30 PM

For three days I was doing in-store demonstrations of the dragon beard candy... first in Bellevue, then I spent Saturday and Sunday in Beaverton during the Japan America Society's Japan Festival. With the help of a little bit of discounting on the part of Uwajimaya, and a more festive atmosphere, the Beaverton sales were pretty decent, and mostly justified the long drive and overnight hotel costs. It was nothing like the first weekend of sales at the Chinatown festival, but it sure didn't hurt.

I benefited also from the September publication of the Japanese translation of an article about my company and the product in Yuuyake Shinbun. A few people commented that they had read about the candy, though, as usual, many were unclear about their source. Someone even thought they had heard about it on TV. The most amusing thing was that I suddenly picked up the ability to talk about my product in machine-gun fashion (kikanjuu-no-you-ni) in simple Japanese... it was particularly challenging when I was trying to explain the price discounts that involved a lot of the number nine.

The best thing about the festival itself was that someone had set up a stand to serve freshly-made tai-yaki, which are a Japanese answer to waffles shaped like fish... snapper... they were offered stuffed with anko or with custard cream. They were so good. I haven't had fresh tai-yaki since....well... March, when I was in Japan plotting my escape from Microsoft. I couldn't help myself. When I took a little break, I ate at the restaurant neighboring Uwajimaya called Sambi, where I had a little set meal with pretty good vegetable croquettes (yasai korokke) and other things which were perhaps less exciting. Actually both before and after I ordered I saw two staff members taking breaks who turned out to be eating the same thing, so it must have been a worthwhile choice.

I tried to be adventurous and find a hip place to get a small late dinner Saturday night, but when I arrived at the first place I was interested in, it was closed for a private wedding reception. I ended up at an unremarkable but cheap pasta-focused spot and had some manicotti in a heavy marinara sauce. I tried wandering around looking for a low key place to get a drink and possibly socialize, but I made the mistake of going to the Portland equivalent of Pioneer Square, not knowing any better, and it was all noisy places for people far younger and more drunk than I am or wanted to be... so I just wandered back to the hotel.

“Dinner“ on the way home was a little sad... I ate an entire bag of “saya bean“ baked snacks, had a little blackberry kefir, and a bottle of gogo no koucha (milky bottled tea), snacking while driving. I got home late enough that real food wasn't worth the energy. I am feeling a little heavier in the last week or two, so I think I need to get myself back to exercising more regularly and eating less excessively and less irregularly.

Yoshika in the moonlight

September 14, 2004, 11:09 PM

Last night I got to see Yoshika, a Kobe jazz vocalist, at Jazz Alley in Seattle. It was a rare show without a cover charge, since it was sponsored by the sister cities program and Japan America Society. Actually I called Kazue to find out if she was up for seeing the show at the last minute, and it turned out she was already on the way, so I ended up kind of crashing her party. I probably would have gone on my own or perhaps would have drafted some other friends had that not been the case, but hopefully I didn't cause too much trouble. It was a small networking opportunity, too, since the other folks there were JAS members.

It was a pretty nice concert, though I think the first set was a little stilted... maybe the songs were too unfamiliar to the local musicians who accompanied her to allow for much improvisation. Things loosened up in the second set and timing improved when the set list featured more standards.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty successful day for demoing at Uwajimaya. I sold more than usual, and a couple of customers bought multiple units. I'm hoping this is thanks to fall festival celebrations, but i'll take it, regardless of the reason. In celebration, Amelia, Dirk, and Jennifer along to Fu Kun Wu, which is a bar that serves vaguely medicinal drinks in Ballard. It proves yet again that Ballard is where all the ingenuity in Seattle food and drink seems to be concentrated.

Today I spent a lot of time sorting various papers into files. I got started in the evening yesterday, but I made a much bigger dent today. I've been a little too haphazard with documents since getting started with my business, and I don't want things to get any worse.

My web project is too frustrating. Even the off-the-shelf solutions I've been checking out seem to leave plenty of room for headaches.

Planning and plotting revisions, Aki Matsuri

September 11, 2004, 6:17 PM

I had a slight change in plans for my departure to San Francisco, due to the fact that two key clients I want to meet with are on vacation this week and I don't want to go down to meet them without an appointment... accordingly, I'm now planning to head out to SF on September 20.

Fortunately, as I was starting to call for appointments, I found one customer who was willing to make a buy... apparently, it was a good fit for an upcoming event... I didn't expect such a quick commitment. That particular customer has some interest in the ceramics I've imported, as well.

Late in the week, my sales broker alerted me to some customer interest from a very large company... If that works out, it would be very favorable to long term revenue for my company. It will take a few months before I really know what's happening, but the possibility is very encouraging.

Today I dropped by the Aki Matsuri at Bellevue Community College, presented by an Eastside Japanese group. It was kind of surprising how many familiar faces I ran into. Even my attorney was there. I also did a little networking with some less familiar faces... Hopefully I didn't annoy anyone too much.

I think I didn't get enough sleep the last few days... I'm so tired tonight. I think I'll just be mellow and sleep early...

Unwarranted revelry

September 7, 2004, 11:19 AM

I've been enjoying myself perhaps a little too much recently, spending too much money and being too sociable. Saturday I met Amelia and Dirk and we stopped at Sambar, which remains one of my favorite little not-so-secret spots in Ballard. Sunday morning I went with Kazue and an out-of-town visitor of hers to the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and we stopped at Le Fournil for lunch on the way to Bumbershoot. We saw Quasi Nada after some fumbled attempts to find stages which had active performances, which was definitely a good find. Kazue and her friend headed off to Zinzanni and I later met up with Jennifer, who arrived as I was listening to the Crooked Fingers show, and we found ourselves snacking on Bumbershoot food just in time to watch Soulive, which had occasional guest vocals from Reggie Watts of Maktub fame and some cameos from a couple of east coast hip hop artists who ended their appearance with a few crowd-pleasing get-out-the-vote-and-get-Bush-out jabs. Later I met up with Kazue and her frend Yukiko again and we tried to make another stop at Sambar, but I didn't realize it was closed Sunday, so we ended up at the Chinese-apothecary themed Fu Kun Wu and each had a drink concocted with some potentially medicinal herbs. Even Monday, when I was running a demo at the Bellevue Uwajimaya, I skipped cooking and had a light meal at the I.D.'s Maekawa, and much later made a quick stop at Triple Door to say goodbye to Kazue's friend.

The fact that I'm able to plug so many spots visited over a two day timespan is probably a bad sign for my wallet, but I'll try not to wallow in regret.

On the business side, I need to head out to the San Francisco area is getting more urgent, so I think I'll head off later in the week or very early next week. I will hit a half dozen spots down there and do my best to get some initial orders. I had intended to meet up with my sales broker today, but when I arrived, I realized that Labor Day weekend extended through Tuesday for most of the showrooms down there, so I'm going to make better use of time this afternoon.

After wasting way too much time on web code for my yuzumura.com store, and I'm more inclined than ever to buy a partial solution so that I can get something up faster. I've lost a good four weeks trying to spin my own, and although I've got an almost usable solution, I just don't think I'll be able to afford the investment in time required for the harder work. I certainly predicted this as a possibility, but I guess my geeky stubbornness did me more harm than good. I've been writing code and simultaneously evaluating some off-the-shelf solutions that get me 99% of the way there and have hopefully been tested better. I remind myself again I shouldn't be wasting time on things that aren't going to be direct revenue drivers unless there's a bigger strategic purpose for doing so. Even when there is a big strategic purpose, the lost time isn't necessarily worth it at this stage.


August 29, 2004, 7:08 PM

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

August 25, 2004, 12:09 PM

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!

August 19, 2004, 8:11 PM

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...


August 15, 2004, 9:32 PM

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

August 9, 2004, 11:09 AM

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.

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