Opening Week ...

It seems impossible to believe that it's Sunday already. I did the previous 'A Story A Week' episode just a couple of days ago, didn't I?

Well, it seems not. The calendar on my computer doesn't lie, and there on my spreadsheet are the numbers from our first week of activity in Asakusa, verifying that yes indeed, we have been open that long.

It has been - as you might expect - a very interesting week. A number of our assumptions about what business here on this street would be like have been turned upside down, while some other aspects of our operation have gone exactly as planned.

First, and most importantly, our Print Parties are clearly going to be a hit. We've had four or five of them so far, some via internet booking pre-arranged weeks ago, one with a person browsing the internet in their hotel room looking for 'something to do in Tokyo today', and some with people who just randomly dropped in. Whatever the instigation, the results have been identical - groups of people who have a great time, and who say things like, "This is the best, most fun thing we've done in the whole five weeks we have been in Japan!"

The Japanese tourism industry is very weak in just the area where we can be strong. Japan has temples galore, plenty of nice scenery, of course wonderful food everywhere, but it doesn't have interesting things to do! And that's what we bring to the table, a fun experience, wrapped up with a connection to traditional crafts, to woodblock prints (an all-time favourite item among travellers to Japan), and in the best location in town! Give us a bit of time to get the word out, and we're going to need traffic cops in the street outside to keep order.

Now this was our plan from the beginning, and it's gratifying to see it coming to life. But I mentioned above something about 'upside down', and the print sales part of the business has not gone as planned. When I prepared spreadsheets trying to work out whether or not we could 'make our rent' here every month (along with covering all our other expenses of course), I tried this assumption:

"Let's figure on most of the Print Party attendees taking a look in the shop after their party. Some will not buy anything, some will take a print (or prints) home with them. We have items priced from 3,000 yen at the bottom end, up to 80,000 yen at the top. Let's be conservative, and assume that only half of the people buy something, and that they choose the least expensive items."

Based on that assumption, I calculated that if we can get 12 people per day coming through for a Print Party, with half of them also buying a 3,000 yen print, we will be able to 'survive'.

Well, we haven't reached 12 Party attendees per day yet, but considering that we haven't done a stick of publicity yet, I'm not bothered about that at all; we'll get there. But the shopping ... I could not have been more wrong. Those 3,000 yen prints? It seems almost nobody wants them! After this first week, with dozens of people having come through, the average sale is in five figures (in yen), with the first digit of those five being neither 1 ... nor 2.

Beginner's luck? Quite possibly I suppose, and we are kind of hoping that this is the case, and that it will settle down a bit. Because if it doesn't, then we are going to be faced with a major - and I mean major - problem. There is simply no way that we can produce prints at that rate, meaning that our shelves will soon be stripped bare.

Hire more printers? They don't exist. Ask our own printers to work harder? They are already working at maximum output (for their experience level). I can only see one solution. I know a guy who - given uninterrupted time at his workbench - can really pump 'em out at a good rate, and with pretty good quality too. Problem is ... he's kinda busy these days ...

C'mon science guys ... get that cloning thing worked out. We're running out of time!


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Marc Kahn

Ahh...! The sweet smell of success. What a great start! Congratulations.

Posted by: Franz Rogar

Maybe you can contact Itakura Hidetsugu in Tokyo. He (or she, I'm never sure with the Japanese names... sorry!) did a marvelous work for Paul Binnie. Though, probably you had him/her already checked...

Posted by: Jakub Makalowski

It's funny how in a couple of years things shifting from a big danger of not enough business to now with more than can be processed. I truly hope things can balance out really soon. And if we are lucky maybe it will start creating more buzz for woodblock prints and more people will start wanting to become professional printers.

Posted by: Albert A

Hi Dave,

I'm not too surprised you've had such success on the shop sales. My experience has been that most print shops in Japan are actually pretty intimidating to foreign tourists. Either most of the prints are behind the counter and you have to ask for a stack to look through (Watanabe), or the quantity to sift through is huge, sorted in drawers according to some unknown scheme in a scarily quiet room (Jimbocho), or the prices end up seeming very high (Yoseido), or all the prints look kind of old and ratty (the place on Teramachi in Kyoto), or are modern reprints of the same half-dozen Hiroshige and Hokusai designs (most other sources). All of these things have stopped me, in the store, from actually buying anything.

Even before you opened a shop, your online web presence busted through all of those barriers, and more. You present an opportunity to make a connection with the person who makes these prints, to get /involved/ in Japanese prints in a way that just going shopping on ebay or at a normal Japanese gallery doesn't provide. And now, with an actual shop where customers can see how great the prints are, and having built a strong personal connection with the creator and the craft itself by having made one themselves? What is a few hundred dollars of art collecting/souvenir money compared to that!

(Also, your prices are really very good compared to many other shops, especially for the quality of the work. I don't doubt that if yours was the second or third print shop a tourist had been to on their trip, they would look at what they could buy and feel like it's a bargain)

Posted by: julio rodriguez

Happy birthday Dave, I can't imagine a better birthday gift than the quick success you are having with the shop. Sounds like is time to take some of those old blocks from storage and getting busy making reprints. Make sure you take care of your health, all the best !!!!

Posted by: LM

I'm thrilled to read about people's enthusiasm for buying prints.

I have one idea to sell more of your lower-priced prints: Promote a souvenir delivery service. Essentially, you would help customers send a very high-end postcard to their friends and family.

For 4000 (or whatever) yen, here's what you get:
- Customer chooses a small print to send to a friend or relative.
- Customer is provided with paper to write a message while still in your store.
- You pack this print, message, and your usual material in your beautiful envelope. I'd also include information about your shop so that people may want to keep a business card for the next time they're in Tokyo.
- You can either post this for the customer, or give it to them to post themselves.

This would save people from having to buy and transport souvenirs back home. It's a great gift, and it's packaged in a very Japanese way. I'd buy a couple.

Of course, you could also get actual postcards printed as well, but I think this would cheapen the brand a little... unless they were simple hand-made designs.

I also agree with Albert. Shopping for prints in Japan is intimidating. Aside from the language barrier there is definitely snobbery happening at shops in the Kanda district. They're nice enough people there, but no matter how much I buy, they always give me the impression that I'm wasting their time.

Congratulations on getting the shop up and running. I'll be sure to drop by whenever I'm in town.

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