This post was due to go up in May but then a bunch of stuff just happened (as it does) - all good stuff though like Anime Expo and a bunch of new license deals with Bandai Visual, Sunrise and more. Much has changed since we last had a look at Desk Diary - not just layout of the office, shop and home but also the equipment that I use which has in turn changed my workflow.
Running the business continues to be a challenge which I want to talk more about in depth - I think its going to be a long post as it will focus on helping other bosses out there who will be having similar challenges in terms of managing people, inventory, time, office logistics, workflows, marketing, profit & loss, trying to grow the business and more on top of the competition playing dirty.
I spend a lot of my time thinking - processing events that have happened and am constantly trying to seek new ideas on how to grow the business and optimise workflows for the current one.
Whenever I sit down and try to write something - because I've got so many ideas I want to share - I end up spending hours on a single section which I then end up copy and pasting into a text file to split off into another post because its just too long - this is another reason for the lack of Desk Diaries and A Week in Tokyo because they contain sections of my life.
Today I'm just going to run through the changes of late starting with my desk which is a reflection of a life project that I've been focusing on - "un-stuffocation" or "Danshari" (pronounced Dan - Shar - Ree and written as 断捨離) in Japanese.
Over the years, I've accumilated many things - some of it still useful - and some of it not so useful but I find that I'm having to find time to organise and clean possessions even though I don't use them.
Remember that the speed of time is relative to how long you have been alive - if you are 2 years old then 1 year will feel like half a life time where as if you are 45 years old (like me) then 1 year is just 1/45th of a lifetime which passes without you even noticing it.
Given that time is running out, I need to make sure that the rest of the time I have is spent on the important stuff - not on the stuff that won't make a difference in the remainder of my life.
This is another subject that I want to spend more time to talk about but for today I will just leave you with a thought.
I was tidying up the office one day and after getting fedup of doing the same thing over and over again, I said to myself - "none of this (stuff that I dont really need) is going to make a difference when I'm dead" and then made the decision to take a leap out of another comfort zone that I crawled into and started to throw or give away stuff that I knew was just using up precious time. Stuff needs places for them to be kept in. Stuff needs to be dusted down unless you like that Halloween cobweb look n feel - all this requires your time but is it worth it for stuff that you dont really need?
Owning more stuff means that it will take longer to find the other stuff that you really need - which is fine if you feel you have the time.
Getting rid of stuff however is a big sacrifice but once you realise that the reluctance to throw stuff out is related to the Comfort Zone then you will start to realise how holding on to stuff prevents you from moving forward. The "well I may need this someday" is related to self preservation that is built into our DNA - and in the society that we live in today that means that you don't feel like getting rid of something because you may need to pay for it again - pay with money that we need for self preservation - pay with your hard earned money.
But out of all the stuff that I've thrown out - there only has been 2 cases where I had to buy that item again - one was an iPhone holder (which fits on a tripod) and some cable - both of these items cost a couple of thousand yen but through the excersise of proactively throwing stuff out, I've probably saved gabillions of yen in terms of my time which I have been able to put to use by spending it on business deals, health and family - or I could have been spending my time (I repeat) to look for stuff, store stuff, clean stuff.
I look another leap out of my comfort zone and got myself a 12 inch retina MacBook - yes the one with a single USB-C port. This was one of the best decisions I ever made - ever.
Humans - if there is a flat surface they will put something on it - or in the case of reclaimed land - if there is no surface then they will make some to build on.
If there are boxes then humans will find stuff to put in them. If there are a ton of USB ports then humans will want to attach all their USB gadgets.
Working for many years on a MacBook Air - I did find it odd that the new MacBook 12 inch had only one port - at the same time I remember saying to myself how I hated the bazillions of wires coming out both sides of my previous MacBook Air.
All I really needed to do was to change my workflow to work with the new MacBook - its so light that I carry it to and from work which means that I don't need two computers to maintain. Being light is key for me as carrying a few kilos around everyday does in my spinal hernia.
The MacBook is certainly not as fast as my previous MacBook Air and can seem a bit sluggish when I do graphic stuff or photo processing - but this is a sacrifice I live with to be able to use a machine thats contributed more to my life than the MacBook Air ever did.
Many changes where introduced with the new machine - I chose a Korean keyboard as I just hated putting a rubber hangul keyboard sheet over the previous MacBook Air whenever I wanted to type Korean.
But, I had been using a Japanese keyboard for years and the lack of the English/Japanese key threw me off quite a bit and took my muscle memory quite a while to get used to switching between Japanese and English using the command+space combination.
Also, after using the same profile account and transferring it to and from all the macs that I used in the past ten years, I did a fresh install so managed to loose a load of weight when I did so.
My most used apps are Safari (oh yes I switched to Safari from Chrome), Keynote (for presentations) and Sketchapp which replaces Adobe Fireworks as they ditched support for that. Sketchapp is a joy to use! I just wish it had more featured heard for print out of the box.
Chrome eats up battery on a Mac like there is no tomorrow - I know its not Chrome's fault but I need longer lasting battery on a Mac which is the main reason I switched.
Have you heard the term "eating one's own dog food?" It refers to using your own products in particular to test it which I did for a while at work with a USB hub-ified Smart Doll - started off as just a marketing idea that ended up getting nearly 10,000 retweets and coverage on many news sites in and newspaper too ^^
This not only brought in a load of sales for the USB torso (that we actually sell) but also for the standard Smart Dolls that folks discovered through the USB news.
As for the iPhone - I sinned and went back to the dark side - I still use Android but iPhone is my main phone now - its a long story - too long for this post so I will talk about it another day ^^
This was my desk earlier on in the year - filled with crap. I got rid of the huge monitor - which I liked but felt it blocked my view mentally - the absence of it along with the wires is a refreshing sight now that my desk faces out the window looking over Meguro River.
I also stopped using a mouse so I save time recharging batteries, digging away grime from the mouse bottom, looking for a mouse pad when the table surface doesn't feel like playing nice *and* get to reduce an item that takes up space on the desk or in the luggage when travelling. To think - I used to look at folks who just used a touchpad thinking "how could you do that" - I still think that about folks who are skilled enough to use a trackball as their main pointing device - how do you do that?!
At first I thought this space under my standing desk was cool because I could put stuff there - which I did and didn't really think about what I was doing. It then dawned on me that if there is space to put something - I would unconsciously put stuff there ^^
I still have a few knick knacks in that area but am conscious of what goes in there and try to make sure it's just the bare minimum stuff that I use on a regular basis.
Having a clean desk helps me focus on the myriad of things that I need to deal with - running a company is probably the most challenging thing one would choose to do with their life. Every single day something happens that lures you to grab that towel and throw it in. Having clutter affects your well-being too and if I continued to have clutter then maybe that towel would have been at the bottom of Meguro River by now.
I have personally seen folks who are close to me (some family, some friends) who place precedence on the stuff that they own rather than on their lives or careers. It could be the case that their stuff makes them content but through conversations with them wanting to seek a better life, I can see very well that they need to make the decisions to get rid of stuff before they can expect to see changes to their life.
Just imagine you are sailing a big boat - a storm heads in - the lighter your boat is, the higher your chances are of being able to steer a nimble boat around the rocks and through the storm. However, the heavier your boat...
This what what half of the 2nd floor looked like back in March? Looks spacious because of the fisheye lens but in reality it started to get a wee bit cramped. Time to optimise.
Oh - those light boxes in the corner didn't work out - they just made our dolls look flat. Would probably work for gadgets though.
Our line of work requires a lot of equipment and supplies but among all of this is that dreaded "may-need-for-a-rainy-day" stuff. While I reorganise the layout, I work on throwing out stuff that I kept around for a rainy day but didn't use for the past few years.
The first thing to do was to move the tables against the wall again which saved a load of space.
I hate cables - while somethings can go wireless, most of the electrical stuff I use require some form of charging cable. The only solution I see here for now is to just start using less gadgets.
Whenever I do spring cleaning and optimisations - either at home or the office, a bunch of spare electrical taps always surface themselves - this is obviously due to the fact that when we are running, we don't stop to clean up or optimize often enough.
Looking a bit better but its not going to be completely optimised overnight so I try to do cleaning up every morning and on weekends.
I thought that we had to move out soon due to the increasing amount of staff - but that was before optimising the office layout and now that we have done so we can probably stay on for a wee bit longer.
This lounge area is most likely going to be turned into the apparel development area which has become an increasingly important part of our business now that we are developing outfits for licensed anime, game and movie characters.
This is the photo booth just after the space optimization - at that time I used the back of posters to bounce light onto the subject. Flash direct on the dolls didn't produce great results - still lots to learn in this area.
These IKEA containers continue to serve us well and enables us to create islands in the office without being restricted to shelving. We may go the shelve route if we come across a scalable product.
Here is where we stock bodies of all sort - some ready to be shipped out, some awaiting clinical treatment.
The face is the most important part of our product and is also the most costly - on average only 1 out of 5 heads that we make are good enough for products for various reasons. Heads can be rejected at various stages including just before shipping. I approve blemishes which look like birthmarks as long as they don't show up in places that affect the overall appearance.
Previously we used to outsource wax cloning but through trail and error we have learned how to do this in-house. Doing this in-house does not necessarily save on costs but we have greater control over the final product.
The gray hand parts are 3D printed where the surface has been cleaned up through sanding and treating with surfacer. The green parts are wax copies of the 3D parts and will be used in the electromolding process to make the mass production molds.
The illustrations are notes showing where there are are bubbles or bumps which needs to be fixed before electromolding.
We use Shopify to run our online store which has been serving us well for the past two years. It does have a few quirks but does a great job overall. How many of you have or are using it?
Tamashii Nations Ranma get. For folks who are familiar with Ranma - I guess she (he) is one of the first ever traps?
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For over a year the default apparel for Smart Doll were jeans and a tee. The jeans look great but for first timers can be a bit challenging to deal with. For starters there is a risk of staining - some folks reported staining which can be remedied by washing a couple of times but I felt it was wrong to ship Smart Doll with an item of clothing knowing that there was a rick of staining.
Another thing about the jeans is that while they look great when Smart Doll stands up - because the material is a bit thick, it can prevent them from sitting down properly.
For these reasons, I changed the default trousers to flared corduroy which is much thinner and easier to maintain - it also looks just as good.
The orange device is a metal detector to check apparel items and wigs for broken needles.
Many folks get the wrong idea that we only hire folks who are into dolls - on the contrary - if we did then we wouldn't be able to create products or market to folks who have not discovered the world of fashion dolls.
Folks who follow our brand will notice that we create and market beyond the doll crowd - and because we have been doing so, 80% of our customers are first time doll owners. This is achieved through the exact reason why we have a balance in the type of people who work for us.
Folks with backgrounds in design, advertising agencies, IT and the hobby field are notable customers who I get to chat with about their background when they come to the shop.
IKEA to the rescue again - this KALLAX does wonders for Smart Doll storage just before they are shipped out. We left out a few dividers so that we could fit as many bags as possible. We tried to put it together without any dividers at all but it just ended up being wobbly.
The turn around rate is quick - a full shelf could empty out within a day or two depending on number of orders.
Mirai doing some pull-ups with the new option hands. Mirai has a cute botty.
Time to unstuffocate - this bunch of 3D prints were done as part of trying to get a decent finish. Not all prints turn out good and sometimes we don't always get the shrinkage ratio correct. In all plastic manufacturing, the shrinkage ratio has to be taken into consideration when making holds but this changed depending on the shape and size too.
This box was taking up space but we kept it around for a rainy day - that rainy day didn't end up coming so it was time to throw it out.
Good Smile figures! I get first dibs but most of the time it all goes to staff. Anything here tickle your fancy?
Goodies from Megahouse arrive from time to time too - this one being "fighter" from their Bikini Warrior series. Warriors in bikini's always made sense to me - the key is to distract the enemy.
Oh and speaking of the Ttransformer in the background. I was hooked on the mobile Transformers Earth Wars game for a while - until all the campaigns ran out and I didn't see any point to the game anymore. I did spend about 1,000 yen on in app purchases and do so to support the developers and if I think it was worth it. Brought back a load of nostalgia but then it looks like they left the game running on auto pilot.
How many of you pay for in app purchases for games - which games and why do you do so?
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The office on a weekend - especially on a sunny day is so tranquil.
Reading the Howard Schultz book on how he started his Starbucks empire, I relate to how he went through tough times building his company. There is one particular entry where he talks about in regards to having a lack of a mentor and how he needed one during those wanting-to-throw-in-the-towel moments.
There have been a few days this year where brown stuff hit the fan too many times and I guess I broke down. When this happened, I felt like I was physically and mentally beaten up and left in a dark alley for me to decide whether to get up or stay there and loose consciousness forever.
I know it will be worth it in the end - "discover and live your passion and the rest will always follow - it always does" is something that I need to keep reminding myself even though I preach it to others.
Throughout my career I've had to tell myself that line quite a number of times when things became bleak - especially when I was working out of home for so many years - and in the end everything always worked out and was always worth it.
But I don't want live with the thought that "it will be worth it in the end" - I need to be enjoying the "now" instead of "enduring" the now but its difficult when shite hits the fan left right and centre.
I'm running a growing company of 20 now - its my first time and I'm still learning. I don't know what the ultimate formula is but I try to figure it out every single day. One of the formula I figured out is that anything bad that happens is a blessing and an opportunity to change and fix things. I know this - but telling it to ones self every time crap happens can be difficult to remember - especially given situations that I encounter.
Once I figure out the ultimate formula I will let you know but in the time being I will share what I discover on my travels through the lonesome road of running-a-company-dom. If there are any bosses out there who has something to share please do! I don't mind continuing being a mentor for everybody but I kinda need one myself ^^
Ok its time to take a look at the first floor where the shop is located. This was taken quite a while back in March-ish? Comparing to what it looks like now - it looked quite bad back then. The shop never really had a champion so I decided to take ownership and since then sales has improved and the customer experience has become a more pleasant one.
Our shop is called Mirai Store and is the face of our brand so its vital that the first time experience for customers is a pleasant one.
All components of our dolls have blemishes due to the nature of the traditional manufacturing processes involved. I approve blemeshes as long as the imperfections are in balance with Wabi-Sabi.
Sometimes however, the blemishes go slightly beyond Wabi-Sabi meaning we can't sell those parts which is problematic to say the least. Sometimes, up to 80% of the parts would be unsellable.
I had to remedy this issue or we would soon go bankrupt. I came up with the idea of a workshop where customers would choose the parts themselves and decide whether that birthmark on the torso (for example) was acceptable - after choosing, they would then proceed to assemble the doll themselves and be given the choice to customise what eyes, hairstyle and bust size tickled their fancy. Some parts (depending on the size and shape) hardly have any blemishes so we use product parts.
And because the customer does QA of the parts and does assembly themselves, they get to own a Smart Doll at a discounted rate - currently 37,000 yen.
Workshop customers also get to purchase any apparel & accessories at 10% off on the day of the workshop.
The workshop was a great success which became one of our best selling products. This Chitose freshly made by a workshop customer.
Apparel items used to be on a shelf which soon got messy to the increasing numbers so I put them on a table like so. This became unscalable pretty soon and also looked like a mess.
After a load of research, the idea of using these perforated boards [有孔ボード[ゆうこうぼーど]] came up which enables us to make good use of the wall space and have a decent looking practical display of the apparel items.
I spend much time visiting various shops studying their lighting, flooring, displays and how the shop design guides the customer around the products.
The main display in the shop are on IKEA FJÄLKINGE shelves - 3 of them to separate the shop and the apparel development area. The problem was that customers could see what the apparel team were making - was not a problem until we started to work on licensed stuff.
For months I racked my brain for an idea to enable the apparel team to see into the shop but not for customers to see what was being worked on. Then I came up with the idea of blinds which I ordered from Rakuten and fastened to the FJÄLKINGE using cable ties.
The lighting back then were IKEA ones which we used to death since the first time we bought them for an event at Wonder Festival back in Feb 2014. There are also some Hobby Light spotlights in the photo too but dem cables......
I then discovered that Hobby Light did track lighting and now the whole shop is illuminated by them - its much neater this way as previously I needed one cable per light but the track lighting also enables daisy chaining so I can power many LEDs from one power source.
This is what the main display looks like now - not too shabby.
Our sales volume continues to grow but before looking to increase staff numbers to handle the extra load, its important to look at what processes are taking time and continue to optimise workflow and layout.
The picking and packing area is also on the first floor and for a long time was in desperate need of optimisation.
We now have 3 staff on the apparel dev team. Workflow seems solid so the next step is to optimise their space before getting more hands on deck.
We started off with just Mirai and before we knew it, within two years we now have 10 character dolls and a few hundred SKUs. This is the picking n packing area just before a revamp. To minimise mistakes, the person picking is not allowed to do the packing so there are at least two sets of eyes checking the contents - even with this check in place, mistakes do occasionally happen so I'm trying to figure out more checks.
IKEA to the rescue again with their 5 x 5 KALLAX which we use for doll storage. This frees up some space but the picking is still taking too much time as items are kept in those plastic containers.
Perforated board to the rescue!
Picking times have been reduced by 80 - 90% now that most items are right in front of our face. It's important to note that while the extra space can be used to store more stuff, I want to keep enough negative space to maintain a pleasant working environment.
Some apparel items are more popular than others. Previously I had the mindset that I would prefer everything to be available all the time. While this still holds true for our Smart Dolls - doing the same for apparel items is not practical. The more SKU's there are, the more complicated and costly logistics and inventory management becomes for us.
For this reason, I will start to discontinue items which move slower than others and try to keep the amount of SKU's down to a certain number.
Stuff ordered on our online store can be processed as quick as the same day but we do ask for 2 - 5 business days. The post office folks come to our store a few times a day to collection.
Mirai Store Tokyo accounts for 20 - 30% of our total revenue. On a busy day, the shop is packed making it awkward for customers to move about. We moved the partitioning display to make more space for customers but that was before the apparel team grew.
What I will probably do is reduce the amount of display dolls in the shop and use signage to inspire what sort of fashion wear folks may fancy.
At one point the shop looked like this - to me it looked like a pig sty - I'm to blame as I'm the one who decides where everything goes.
Now the shop is looking a tad better. I'm still not fond of the ceiling or carpet but the first floor was initially designed to be an office. I'm still not sure how long we will be in this building and am always looking for low hanging fruit ways of making the shop look decent.
Ideally the shop ceiling would be a skeleton which is one of the factors I consider as I keep an eye out on shop properties - I kinda like the wabi-sabiness.
I was thinking of white cardboard cut into shapes of waves which would slot vertically along the ceiling. Kinda do want to change that carpet though.
The bunch of cables below the tables kinda look bad but this office is not equipped with in floor power points - will think of a way to clean up that mess later.
The tables in the middle of the shop flip vertically and horizontally depending on my observations of how customers move around the shop.
The workshop area is now against the wall and looks much more neater with all the parts stored in containers in a KALLAX.
The workshop is a great product. Many folks don't choose the workshop because its cheaper but do so because they get the experience of making their own Smart Doll.
This is a very recent snap of the shop by night which will be illuminated up like this in the evenings starting this month. I notice many folks stopping by two take photos from outside which gave me the idea to keep it lit up after closing hours.
Here is another snap of our building. Still not too sure whether to take the 3rd floor too if they move out or to move elsewhere. Having the shop right below our offices where everything is built does not only logistically makes sense but also saves on various costs too.
Kotobukiya has build their own huge building in Tachikawa which opened this year and they have the same setup.
And as for home where everything started - we did a little bit of revamping too which I will save for A Week in Tokyo that I will start to prepare right after this!