Well, I’ve done it. I was an exhibitor at the Speciality and Fine Food Show. For 3 days a 1 metre by 2 metre stand was my home. It had to be the face of my brand which is essentially me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I guess I should have been blogging about the prep, but really I didn’t have the time or the mental space to chronicle that part. Suffice to say, it involved many stickers, much backing and forthing and even a list! I never make lists because I think lists lull you into a false sense of security. I think if I have everything on the list, I am fine. But what if I forget to put something on the list. See what I mean? Anyway, me and the ever growing list managed to pull it together to pack everything I need for the show into two large Ikea bags. Of course I forgot to photograph that, but you can kind of guess what it might look like. Actually I haven’t unpacked yet, I can go get a photo now.
Not too bad, right? But keep in mind, my stand is only 1m x 2m. It’s just the blue bags by the way, not the boxes in the background. Saturday was set up. I arrived at Olympia and found my stand and here is what it looked like. For some reason, the photo refuses to upload so you’ll have to use your imaginations. Just think of the photo below, but with nothing in it but a gross white cabinet,
I wasn’t sure about the ice cream shoppe look to the stand but what can you do? I was very thankful for the large but very beat up cabinet. I probably could have bought one for as much money as it cost me to hire that one for 4 days but then I’d have to get it there and back. It’s nothing that a little decoration can’t fix. But it was big with lots of storage and it kinda sorta locked. So it was good.
I had my wonderful friend H helping me for the whole time, it would have been a very lonely thing to have to do alone. Everything is better with a friend. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, we stood in my stand smiling and trying to get people to sample Kinomi. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I was very happy with the positive feedback I received. Now of course lots of people could have just been polite but I saw enough changes of expression (in a good way) after they tried them to know that they genuinely thought it was good. My neighbours on both sides were first timers like me and we were in the small producers area which meant no big corporations. Just lots of people like me, trying to get our products out into the world. Everyone was really friendly and positive.
Visitors come in all shapes and attitudes. No one was horrible, but I did have some people who obviously aren’t trade but just in for a nosh. I don’t mind at all, I want as many people to try Kinomi whether or not they have the authority to stock them but if you know you’re just munching on free samples, at least make eye contact, smile and say hello. I don’t begrudge people tastes at all, it’s just not very pleasant when they do it silently without eye contact. On the opposite end were people who wanted to try them but felt they shouldn’t because they couldn’t buy from me. People are complicated.
Anyway, I’ve done my three days, I’m now doing my follow ups and only time will tell if any of the nice people I spoke with will stock Kinomi. I hope so but even if they don’t I had a great experience that I never dreamed of when I thought it might be a good idea to turn my snacks into a business.
I think next year I’ll do a bit more to the walls. Looking a bit bare I think.
I will leave you with a photo of H and H at my stand. Doesn’t it look like we had fun?
It’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten that I have a blog that I used to write pretty regularly. Life has been extremely busy and I haven’t had any time for introspection let alone writing anything down. I think that’s one of the hazards of having a blog that you write when you feel like it. Maybe it should be themed, I’ll have to think about that.
Anyway, for a quick recap on what’s been happening since my last post, I’m still juggling my cooking and nut business and have signed up to do my first trade show. I did a show last year with my distributor, but this time it’s all on me. I signed up for it without thinking that much about it as usual and have discovered that there are a million details to keep track of, many e mails to read through, forms to fill out etc. I want a minion but only if he looks like this.
But I digress. I went away on my annual summer holiday with the family. It was a nice holiday but also a bit of a reality check to discover how old and frail my dad is getting. He never recovered from his heart surgery 18 months ago and the doctors think he had a stroke during surgery. It is so sad to see him struggle with everyday tasks and for him to be bewildered and confused. This was a man who was up until the time of surgery, as sharp as a tack and still travelling domestically by himself. I’m trying hard to see the positive in this and failing. It’s not fair and it sucks.
On a happier note, my kids really pitched in and helped out during the holiday, I don’t think I could have done it if without them. My 80 year old mother, who can barely use a mobile and had absolutely no interest in the computer has gotten herself an iPad. My sister and I each have one and she discovered that she could do things with them. So she went out and got one and we installed Skype on it. I wish I had taped her introduction to Skype, it was a classic. She couldn’t believe she could see me (I was in a different room skyping her) and talk to me. She woke my dad up who was napping on the couch to show him what she could do. I just hope she remembers when she gets home. She’s had no trouble accessing the games we downloaded for her, but the internet remains a bit of a mystery. I think you should be able to relabel the icons so instead of Safari, I could just label it internet, what does she know from Safari?
Where was the hubby in all of this? He has been in New York on a consulting gig. He did a whirlwind visit on our holiday but really I haven’t seen him since he went away at the end of May. As this is likely to continue for some time I am planning a visit out to see him. It’s been a wonderful experience for him, catching up with friends and living again in the city that he loves.
Now that I’ve written it down, it doesn’t sound like I’ve done much, but I swear I’ve been really busy. I must get back to it now, I have more arrangements to make for the show and I need to place orders to get my Christmas products in place.
I’ll try not to let another 3 months go by, talk soon.
I have started using Twitter as a way to connect with the outside world for business. It’s been a slow process but I think I’m starting to understand it a bit now. There are all these how to’s out there, but nothing works like trying it yourself.
In the beginning, it is very strange. You have this vague idea that you’re supposed to follow people and they follow you back, but how does that happen actually? Following celebrities and news agencies seems safe and anonymous. But then, it gets trickier. There are real people out there who are doing and talking about things that you are interested in. Do you follow them? What if they don’t follow back? Do you comment on a tweet? Will they think it’s weird getting a comment from someone they’ve never met? Who are these people who are following you and how did they find you? Twitter is not for the paranoid. You just have to embrace the experience. Don’t be self conscious, you can always delete a tweet if you change your mind. It is possible someone may have read it before you delete it, but hey, you probably don’t know them anyway.
So slowly and tentatively, I started following people. Then you find someone saying exactly what you think and how exciting is that? It’s easy to tweet back enthusiastically about something you agree with wholeheartedly. This is where the kindness kicks in. I have become connected to many people who are skilled at what they do and are also very generous with their knowledge and advice. It’s great to feel supported by people who know what they are talking about and in some cases, have been through the same experience. Running your own business can be very lonely, especially when it’s still tiny. There are times when it all seems futile and you’re tempted to just let it slide. But then I go on Twitter and read about all the things my tweeps are doing, the projects they are involved in, the new ideas they are working on and it gives me energy. I’ve even met some of them in person and they’ve been just as lovely as they are on Twitter. It’s just been a great tool professionally.
So while I am very much a novice and still trying to figure it all out, if you have a small business or a project you are trying to get off the ground, I recommend Twitter highly.
You can start by following me – @KinomiLondon.
People have long bought into the notion that youth is good and ageing is bad. Some alter their outward appearance to maintain an image of themselves when they were younger. But while you may reach your physical peak in your 20′s and 30′s, is that when you should peak as a human being? Because if you do, it’s only down hill from there, right? That’s many decades of a slow decline because most of us will live into our 70′s or 80′s if not longer. Do you want to keep looking back reliving what was, instead of looking ahead to see what the future holds?
But what if you embrace the idea that you only improve with age? Then every year brings new adventures, new confidence, new skills. They weren’t kidding about this wise woman/man stuff. I find as I get older, things that mattered desperately when I was younger are no longer that important and I am able to put things in better perspective. It is a truly liberating feeling to follow your heart and not really care what other people think. I just saw a trailer for a wonderful new film called Advanced Style. These are some wonderful women who are following their hearts and expressing themselves through fashion. I hope to be like them when I grow up although I have a sneaking suspicion they may always have been like that. All of us have a desire for self expression and growing older has given me the courage to act on it. My current form of self expression is trying to build and juggle two businesses. I did not plan for this to happen. I didn’t sit down and think, “I want a business, what should it be?” They evolved organically and although it took a lot of work to get them started, they are both growing. Growing slowly, because that’s something else I’ve learned along the way, it doesn’t have to happen in an instant for it to count as a success. A major lesson for someone so impatient that I read the ending of the book first and then fill in the middle bits. What I bring to the table now is the experience from many decades of life lived. I’ve been fortunate enough to have very interesting life experiences and they have all shaped my outlook. And so most days I am happy. I procrastinate a fair amount but also gets lots done. I can’t remember what I did before I became this busy. Sure I have days where something sets me off and I have a good rant about it as well as the days of self doubt where I wonder if I’m just crazy to be doing what I do. But I have a wonderful family and friends who will very patiently listen to me and support me.
But most of all, I am proud of who I have become. It’s been a very long time coming but I think I can truly say that I am comfortable in my own skin and with the place I occupy in the world. Okay some of us learn a bit more slowly than others. But who cares as long as you get there in the end. It’s not a race, it’s your life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
My life these days is one big juggling act. I have so many demands on my time that I don’t have any down time mentally. The cooking classes have really taken off this time and every class is full. Plus I am now getting requests to do private classes which is lots of fun. The famous foodie blogger Ms Marmite Lover came to a class and wrote about it. You can readher post here. This has led to new enquiries about classes and more followers on Twitter. All very exciting. So I spend a fair amount of my time thinking recipes and menus. It’s almost two years since I started teaching and I am finally comfortable enough to not be in a panic before. But I’m also thinking of restructuring the class schedule so more thinking, more planning.
Then there’s the Kinomi business. In hindsight it was probably foolhardy to begin this not too long after launching a cooking class business but ignorance is bliss, right? I have added a new flavour, Spicy Chilli Nuts and reformulated the Sweet Miso Nuts and I am really happy with all three flavours. So now I have to go out and sell them. It’s scary, nerve racking and hard not to take the nos’ personally but I have made some small attempts. It is so much easier to advise other people what to do. Lead by example is not one of my strong points, I am discovering.
I also have a translation due at the end of April. It is a continuation of the last one I did so I know the story, I know the format. But it still needs to be done. Fortunately I have plenty of time, just have to get down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the book (really a manga).
So these are the three balls that I have up in the air at the moment. I do plenty of procrastinating during the day but I don’t know that I’ve ever worked this hard. When you do your own thing, it’s hard to not always think about it.
My mental sanctuary is the gym. When I am there doing a class, I don’t have time to think about anything else. For one hour, sometimes two, all thought beyond how to survive the class gets put on hold.
I wonder when I come out the other side, will I still have friends? I haven’t seen anyone for lunch in I don’t know how long. But I am content in a chaotic, panicked, each day is a roller coaster kind of way. Is it time for a holiday yet?
Happy New Year. This is a post I meant to write at the end of last year, but in true procrastination form, never quite got around to it.
2011 was a very eventful year for me and the world. The world you know about, but here are some highlights from my year, good and bad.
The year did not start off great with my dad in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I learned that Japanese medicine is crap at telling you worst cast scenarios, so he went in thinking that this was a routine procedure (triple bypass) and came out not knowing his PIN number. I couldn’t make it to the surgery due to the masses of snow on the ground, so arrived to find my dad in ICU post op, completely disoriented, hallucinating and looking ancient. A bit of a shock when no one has prepared you for it. Anyway, a year on, he is making slow but steady progress to the point where he is starting to make more sense and according to my mom, his eyes are regaining their focus. I’ll be home next week so I can see for myself but it did really make me think about existing as opposed to living. He was a vibrant, vigorous man who at 85 had a very active social life and was out on his own all the time. Maybe it would have been better for him to have had a couple more years on medication but maintaining his lifestyle as opposed to having a surgery that will probably rob him of maybe two years of his life. He made the decision so this is the way it turned out but it does make you think. My kids came out to help and they were wonderful, they took turns so my mom would have support for an extended time as opposed to everyone turning up for 2 weeks and disappearing. My son, who was on his gap year stayed for a month taking his grandpa for walks everyday even if it was to the end of the condo building and back.
Back in London, I resumed my cooking classes and pursued the opportunity to turn the roasted nuts I serve in class into a product. Working with a distributor, Kinomi was born. I had never done anything like this before and I know if it wasn’t for J, I would have given up. By the end of May, I had a product that I could actually start selling. I had really good feedback at the first show I did and there is nothing like having someone who isn’t your friend like what you are selling and actually pay money for it. The next step beyond that is having people who haven’t even met you buy your product. Obviously we all do it all the time but when you’re on the producing end, it’s surreal in a good way. By the end of October I was selling in Harvey Nichols. Hopefully they are selling well enough so that the store is willing to keep stocking me. I even got a little write up on their website http://www.harveynichols.com/hnedit/food-and-wine/whats-in-food-wine/kinomi-nuts-by-hiromi-stone-at-harvey-nichols/. I have also started selling in some local shops and hope to grow the stores I supply in 2012. Any suggestions or leads are most welcome.
My husband came home after a year in Prague and so the whole family went to Hawaii on our summer holiday, including my parents. My niece got married, the first of the nieces and nephews to do so. We became empty nesters in the autumn when my son went off to university. He and his sister are at opposite ends of the country having very different experiences, but they are both enjoying themselves so my day to day obligations as a mom no longer exist. I now enjoy them when they come home and know that the chaos in the house won’t last. They are kind, smart, thoughtful young people and I am very proud of them. And did I mention funny, some of the best times are when we all sit around after a meal and just “banter” as my kids call it.
2011 turned into an unbelievable year for meeting new and wonderful people. I guess it is because I am now doing something specific that I can tell people about, I have met some really interesting people. People have been so supportive and kind, I really appreciate it and hope to do the same for anyone else who might need a hand. I am also settling into the neighbourhood and making new friends. It’s great to feel connected to a neighbourhood and see people you know in the street to have a quick chat. This is probably the friendliest place we’ve lived in, we are very lucky to have found it.
This is definitely turning into a novel so I will sign off. But you can’t look back on 2011 and not mention the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit my country. The people who live in that region are used to natural disasters, they had training days and scenarios worked out for what to do when a tsunami hit. This one exceeded everyone’s expectations and just wiped the area out. As tragic and horrible as it was, they can rebuild. But the man made disaster of a nuclear meltdown, the effects are so long lasting I worry about the future of the region and Japan. As a Japanese person living overseas, I was very proud of the way the Japanese people reacted in the face of the tragedy. I was also touched by the outpouring of support globally The last time I gave any thought to Japan in the world was the 80′s, when Japanese cars were being smashed in Detroit and Japan bashing articles were fairly common in the American press. I guess a lot has changed in 30 years.
Okay, I’m really done now. I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I’m not that great at reflection or forward planning. I hope that 2012 is a wonderful year for all and may we take a step closer to peace.
This week I participated in a trade show. I’ve done markets and I’ve run my own fairs but this was my first time at a trade only show. My lovely distributor invited me to come along and help sell my products at their stand. It was three days of being on my feet all day and meeting and talking to many many people. I enjoyed the experience tremendously, it was great getting direct feedback as people tried the products. I guess if I had to do many of them, the novelty would wear off, but since it was my first, it was much fun.
From spending three days with them, I know much more about what my distributors do and the kinds of products they carry. They are such hard working fun people and the lines they carry are so delicious that our stand was constantly mobbed with people. The first day I didn’t have time for lunch. Thank goodness I was standing behind bowls of nuts all day so I didn’t perish. There were five of us on the stand; me, my two distributors, another producer who makes cheese and a helper. We all got on well and managed not to bump into each other too much.
The people were definitely the highlight and it was fascinating to see the attitudes and the personalities that stopped and sampled my products. It was really gratifying that most people were very complimentary. I had some nice chats with pub owners, hotel food and beverage people and even met a man who is opening a gluten free, dairy free restaurant. How great is that?
Now that the show is over, the follow up begins and only then can the success of the show be gauged. I hope that I managed to inspire people enough so that they place an order and Kinomi can make its way out into the world. It’s fun to think of people I have never seen enjoying my products.
I leave you with a photo of my stand. The photo with me in it, wasn’t great so I’m not using it.
I wrote this last night and edited this morning.
Well today was the day. Last night, all the components of my little Kinomi boxes were finally assembled in my flat. 10,000 boxes, 10,000 cellophane bags (okay I could only carry home 1,000 the other 9,000 arrived today), stickers, ribbon and of course my many kilos of nuts.
I did an event this evening at Craft Central with Creative Clerkenwell called New View of Clerkenwell roof party and market. My friend Amanda Li Hope has a studio there and I have supplied her with nuts for the last 2 open studios. The organizer of this show liked them enough to want me to participate despite the fact that I am not a designer maker. As this would be a show full of designers and creative people, I wanted my Kinomi nuts to look their very best. My gap year student bagged and boxed many nuts for me this morning so that I could bring them along to the market.
Ready for market
Now London has had the driest spring for some time and they are talking of water shortages. You certainly couldn’t tell that today when the skies opened up and the rain just came pouring down. So much for the roof party, the event was very wisely moved to the basement of Craft Central.
I had a wonderful time introducing Kinomi to a new audience and getting some enthusiastic feedback. The little boxes were well received, people thought it was a great look, very high praise coming from people in the design industry. The highlight of the evening was when one of the designers came back after purchasing 2 to buy 6 more to send to parents and in laws in Japan. Kinomi is going home, how fun is that?
Thank you Charlene from Creative Clerkenwell, it was a great evening.
So in part 1, I told you about how the Kinomi nuts came about. Now let me tell you a little bit about what it took for me to make a little cellophane bag of nuts into an actual product.
I could not have done any of this on my own. You know it takes a village to raise a child, it’s a bit like that. You can’t do everything by yourself and do it well especially if it is a new venture. I have gotten to this point thanks to the support of many people who very patiently held my hand. So thank you.
As for the details, first there’s the spreadsheet. It appears to be an essential tool for all product development. What did people do before them? I remember back when I had a corporate job, we had spreadsheets. Or should I say, we had blank copies and we filled the data in by hand, calculated it in pencil and when we made changes, we would have to erase each cell and recalculate the entire thing by hand. Thank goodness the calculator had been invented or I’d still be at it 22 years later. Back then, only the department secretary had a computer so she would only input the final copy. She couldn’t be running spreadsheets for 5 different people with the same deadline. But I digress. So the only spreadsheet I had to work from was a template for running a cafe which is kind of the right idea in terms of it being food, but entirely wrong for what I need. But I used this until last night actually when wonderful husband made me a custom one that actually reflects what I’m doing. Yaay!
So I start calling wholesalers to try and see if I can get prices to plug into my spreadsheet. Run into snag number one. Hard to ask for prices when you don’t know how much you need. Kind of figure it out and run into snag number two. They will only do business with a real company. Which leads me to incorporating and opening a business account. The business account was a nightmare to open because even though it is with the bank we do our regular banking, they hadn’t gotten our change of address so I couldn’t open the account until the addresses matched. Why are banker’s phone numbers such a huge secret? I don’t have a direct number for the man responsible for my account. And I say responsible in the loosest way possible. But there I go again.
Anyway, after more stuff like above, I finally get to the point where I can go buy the first of my ingredients. Here is what I own now.
approximately 70kg of nuts
I also bought a ridiculously large cookie sheet and the world’s largest bowl. The spatula is for scale.
Armed with these new toys oh and did I mention the vaccuum sealer? I am ready to start producing. This is what the finished product will look like.
I will let you know when they are available for retail purchase. Fingers crossed, that happens soon.
I’ve been running my cooking classes for about a year now. Sometimes I have students, sometimes I don’t, but I figure it’s important to keep doing it so I do. But a very interesting thing has happened as a result of my classes.
I have hinted in past blog posts about the flavoured nuts I do for my students being very popular. Well, it’s official. It’s now it’s own product called Kinomi which is Japanese for tree nuts. How did I get here? Let me backtrack a bit. In December when I participated in the last Underground Market, I took part in a Dragon’s Den like panel which gave feedback on new products. My flavoured nuts were very favourably received and a distributor saw real potential in them. So we started working together to see if they could really be a product. I discovered very quickly that my brain is not set up to process spread sheets. I can read them (sort of) once they are done, but no way could I put one together. Thank goodness for inhouse help in the form of my wonderful husband whose brain is structured that way. I realized I could spend 2 days working it out for myself or I could ask him and have it done in 5 minutes. Knowing when to ask for help is a humbling but essential part of setting up a business.
So many times, I thought the project had reached a dead end, the numbers didn’t add up and I was ready to give up. But J from the distributor wouldn’t give up, showing me how to look at a problem from different angles. Ultimately, we came up with a product that is very cool looking and will hopefully appeal to people.
I wish I had a photo to post of the actual product, but I am still waiting for all my supplies to arrive. I’ll write more about it later as this could easily turn into something too long to read. Watch this space.