Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Yokohama African Festival 2011

WOW! Our first trade festival in Japan with over 2 years in preparation to launch the business that is Sheepdog Global Project in Japan and it finally happens at the Yokohama African festival http://africanfestyokohama.com, in the Yokohama Akarenga Warehouse.

We would be forgiven, over the last five months, if we had thought that this launch of our business was not going to happen. We came to Japan in November of 2010 to live and to launch our business, Sheepdog Global Project and as we are getting everything set up, we have a close bereavement in the family and had to travel to two different countries to attend the funeral. This led to us missing a month out of preparation.

We get back to Japan and as we get into the full flow of setting up once again, we have a massive catastrophe on our hands; namely the Japanese earthquake mostly in the North East of Japan which was 9.3 on the Richter scale. This was followed up by the main cause of all the losses and damage, the devastating tsunami.

According to Japan National Police Agency, to date there are over 11,938 people confirmed dead, while 15,478 people are feared missing or dead. A total of 168,568 households are without electricity and 220,000 people without running water. More than 164,200 people are living in shelters on high ground above vast plains of mud covered debris.

Then if this is not bad enough, the tsunami severely disrupts the 4 nuclear power plants with another 2 on edge. The nuclear fallout from the Fukushima power plant has been reported by many experts to be on the scale of Chernobyl and could even dwarf Chernobyl. As you can imagine, this proves to be very scary as you have an enemy that is unseen, unheard and out of sight. Estimated cost of damage so far is over $300 Billion so far. I personally suspect that this will rise considerably.
When you see problems such as these unfold in front of you, it puts into perspective your own problems which are rather infinitesimal.

So you can see why we thought that this festival would not get off the ground.
BUT, the Japanese people, I am slowly coming to realise are resourceful and strong minded people. In all of this chaos there has not been any of the panicky negative behaviour that is part and parcel of such catastrophe. Therefore, in general no knee jerk reaction, no panic, no looting or fighting just patience and getting on with it. Instead there has been co-operation across many fronts of many ordinary Japanese people. Very inspirational to witness.

We believe that the Yokohama African festival may well have turned out to be a welcome distraction in the face of such challenges and the Japanese public turned out in droves on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but especially so on Saturday.
Like most newbies to trade festivals where a risk has been taken, we were nervous on the first day as our booth was not as well positioned as we would have liked and zero sales went through in the first 3 hrs.

Then we sold our first item which was the stylish Congo Rose Mini dress bought by Hiroko Tomiyama, secretary at the Mozambican embassy. The photo is available on the website.
After that we gained more confidence and enjoyed the occasion a bit more. I could not help having a big smile on my face with the words’ Eigo-ga wakarimasuka’ which is do you understand English? And this was by far my biggest frustration because people who know me, know that I love talking to people. Yuko was off and away chatting and showing the products to clients with both of us constantly changing the decor and display around in our efforts to get the optimum display.

By the end of the day we had sold 12 items and our brand Sheepdog Global Project plus the brand of our manufacturers had developed little legs of their own. The Congo Rose brand proved to be very popular on the day and made up 50% of the sales. The lovely Mielie pencil case developed a life of their own and started walking out ad leaving some money behind and speaking of legs, Woo-Men were not far behind either, They received all kinds of responses from almost anyone that saw them with the word ‘Kawaii’ meaning cute/pretty, being mentioned all the time. A large township pattern bag was also sold and a beautiful green African baby Carrier.

The second day was even better as the Congo Rose Items, dresses and handbags, proved to be very popular once again. The Woo-men characters picked up the pace and all the other products followed suit in one form or the other. By the end of the day, we had sold 21 products. Once again, due to the position of our stall, we did not have a lot of customers but when anyone came around we demonstrated what we had and why they were of such good value. Some people liked us and our products and bought from us.

Sunday was the warm down day with the only fly in the ointment being a return of a high tariff product 10 minutes after it was bought. It was due to the fact that the product was bought impulsively and no time was invested in showing how valuable the product was. It is still a high value product and will be sold but it was a lesson learned. Our first return....we know that this will happen from time to time.....Prepare for the worst and expect the best aye?

At 5pm on Sunday when it was all over, I was a bit sad to see the end of the festival because despite the hard work, it had been a lot of fun, Yuko and I had worked very well together and many positive comments had been made regarding Sheepdog Global Project and our business partners.

We met many new people along the way, clients and stall holders alike. Most of all we had tentative requests to supply a few of our products and those lines of enquiry we intend to pursue with vigour.
We are already planning the next trade festival we will go to but more to come on that....

The other side of our business is acting as agents for English colleges in Cape Town and also a college in London. We specifically created leaflets geared towards spreading the message and we got plenty of interest from people interested in taking time out in environs different to the one they are use to. The one thing we learned though is that this is a slow but steady burner which will take some time to get going as people require more thought on an issue that big. So patience is key.

Having gone through this experience, we now know that there are many things that we will do differently in the future that will make us more streamlined and more cost effective while enabling us to give more value to the customer.

We have some selected photos that we will be putting on the website to show what it all looked like. Our facebook page will have more information and more photos on the festival. Anyone who is interested, should befriend us on facebook so as to develop more friendship and more business partners and hopefully more clients.
More to come........