Hey everyone! As I promised way back when I started this blog I have interviews from other vendors. I’ve chosen 6 people to interview to give you a small cross section of the vendor community. Now not everyone’s experience is typical so bear in mind that everyone runs their businesses differently and has different experiences.
Sakura Sisters: I just want to stay first off thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me.
Ohio Kimono: It is not a biggie. Your post seemed interesting, and perked my curiosity.
How long have you been working for yourself?: As Ohio Kimono? Since 2009. However I got my first job at the age of 10 selling door-to-door stationary to open my first bank account. At only 10 I figured out really fast what it is like to work for yourself.
That is amazing. How many self employment gigs have you done since you were ten?: I was never given an allowance, or much from my parents in the way of money. As a result, if I wanted money to spent I had to earn it. I did everything from babysitting, to selling stationary. All along the way I thankfully also had the guidance and insight to save what I made toward college.
How long did it take you to build the Ohio Kimono business?: Many years. There were no other businesses like mine for hundreds of miles around. A lot of it was trial and error, trailblazing style. Given the unique business model, it wasn’t like I had a mentor to lean on or another business to look to for ideas.
When did your business start being able to pay you?: Initially my business was as a professional speaker and educator. I would travel to tea rooms, libraries, and the likes and present and show off kimono. Those were paying jobs, so I started making money right away.
What made you choose to start your own business?: Foremost a passion and love for kimono, and Japanese arts. Second the desire to share that passion. After that? It was a natural evolution with a touch of desperation. The change from speaking to selling was a perfect storm of many elements. I was in college working on my business degree, and could not find a internship. It was the the height of the recession, and it was really rough where I live. Most plays wanted me to pay them to work as an intern! Rather than shell out money and pay some company for the ‘privilege’ of working for them I borrowed $400 from my husband and began doing research into the market and kimono supply chains
Why did you choose the product you sell?: If you truly want to be a good sales person and stay motivated in your work, you should sell what you are passionate about. For me it’s kimono.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to start their own business?: Do you research foremost before you put a single penny into place. Even if you don’t like what you see, it is better to do the research than lose a lot of money and waste time. Second, plan on having to do almost all of the work yourself: finances, and more. Third, obey the law and don’t play games with the IRS ever. Last? Stand out. By that I mean do not copy another company or business. Too many people look to another similar business and just copy that one, which puts them in a position to simply follow and never lead in the industry. I’ve dealt with other businesses copying my own, and the result is that they are left struggling while I am embracing innovation and stay ahead of their curve.
Do you ever worry that you’ll lose your business?: Nope. I have not structured my business in a manner that would allow for something like an aggressive shareholder move, or a forced buy out.
And you are confident that your business structure will stand the test of economic downturns such as the one that happened in December of 2007?: Yes, all though I suspect the real big threat is the convention bubble.
That’s a topic many new convention vendors have never considered. What do you think of the Convention bubble and its ramifications for anyone looking to start a business vending at conventions?: The reality is that disposable income is not unlimited. The consumer market has only so much to give. The vendor room is the last spot where disposable income goes after: admission, hotel, transport costs, and food. As there becomes more and more cons, and the costs of those cons increases the disposable income of the consumer market will be spread even further making it harder for consumers to have much spending power in the vendor room. As for new vendors, well…..plan for weaker consumer spending for the foreseeable future.
Do you see the Con Bubble collapsing any time soon and do you think that will have a negative or a positive effect on the industry?: We are starting to see the shake out starting to happen now with several big shows reporting net profits dropping from around 40% to 9%. Vendors across the board report a decrease in sales and purchasing power even at staple shows. However this industry is a meat grinder, and as long as someone wants to front the money for a con there will always be saturation issues.
This is a topic we could do a whole other interview on but for now let’s finish the first one lol. How did you fund your business?: I took $400 from my husband at income tax time. I dislike debt and avoid ever owing money and always run in the black. If I can’t pay for something, I don’t get to buy it. When possible I suggest starting a business without going into debt. I repaid my husband btw lol.
Sakura Sisters: Always Important.
Do you have kids and is this something you hope to pass on to your kids?: I do not have my own children. However, I have stepchildren. The kids have gone with me to many shows and enjoyed helping out as a family over the years. However the passion and knowledge base for this kind of business is such that I see the business not being likely to be passed on, so much as sold.
How far do you travel to get to cons?: Last year I recorded around 35,000 miles. This year I am travelling even more. My longest trip is coming up this October, where I am flying out to Portland, Or for a show there. I have just opened a warehouse on the west coast and will be travelling from NW Ohio out there at least twice a year. Portland is 2,355 miles one way from where I live. To be fair, I’m a travel junkie and love life on the road.
Sakura Sisters: That is impressive, I love the traveling myself.
Ohio Kimono: There’s always an adventure on the road. I stand by the Tolkien phrase, “Not all who wander are lost.” I have it on my car as a decal even.
Do you have a brick and mortar store or do you sell solely at cons?: I experimented with having one. I was a part of a tea room, it didn’t work out. There’s simply not enough demand in NW Ohio to support it. Cons are the way to go for me, and online sales.
Where would you like to see yourself and your business in ten years?: I hope to be largely online and selling there to both retail and wholesale outlets. Life on the road is pretty rough and it’s not something I can see myself doing as an old lady. I am looking at a long term sustainable platform that I can continue to use even through advancing age.
If you had to do this all over again what would you change about your business? And Why?: I would have started sooner, and expanded faster. Better profit. Having a more diverse offering and range of prices makes the business more profitable.
How do you feel about the number of Cons in your region?: If I recall, Ohio has around 16 anime cons a year alone. It’s a bit much.
What improvements would you like to see in Cons?: Quality to quantity. More is not always better. Even as an attendee I sooner have a great 1 day con, than a weak 3 day con.
What do you look for in a convention?: As a vendor: healthy advertising, attendance, social media activity, hashtag presence and trends, and more critically vendor to attendee ratio and how the vendor room is judged.
What is your dream Con?: As a vendor or attendee? As a vendor it’s easy – one that makes tons of money and is low cost, and has low overhead.
Both: I don’t know if cons are personally for me anymore. I have enjoyed going to cons for many years, and even been a GenCon VIP as a persona of the con and am even in GenCon lore. These days I prefer something more educational and find myself drawn to cultural festivals and events where I can further expand my exposure to other cultures while staying close to home. I really love learning experiences and art.
As you know I’m doing these interviews to garner advice for new business owners, what would you have most wished to hear back when you started?: That is a tough question. I think the #1 key to this industry is that you have to think for yourself, there are no real clear cut guides. These kinds of businesses feel like one of the last ‘frontiers of the wild west’ in the business world. Think for yourself, and research everything you do.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, do you have any parting remarks?: Have fun, and don’t let competitors bother you. Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting several other kimono dealers who were fantastic people and very professional: Kimono USA and Wolfsong Adventures come to mind. Just because a business is in competition to yours does not mean it has to be ugly.
To see what this vendor is selling go to: www.OhioKimono.com