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!
Story #463, November 9, 2014