JFG: Who is your typical customer and what do you think your product means to them?
JM: I get all sorts of customers. When I first started, I was really involved with the ordering process, often answering messages on Instagram and talking to my customers about my artwork. Those customers were really involved and genuinely really loved my artwork, because they got to choose every single piece that went on their phone case, down to the smallest detail. However, I found that I was not charging enough for the amount of time, customer service and effort I put into every individual case. I felt that whenever I agreed upon a certain design or cabochon, I wasn’t actually doing what I loved to do, which was design. I felt more like a factory worker, bringing other people’s ideas to fruition without any of my own. Although my old customer service process was more engaging, and might mean that the product means more to the customer, I changed my designs and ordering process to reflect my own artwork and my own designs.
Every year, I now release a new line of cabochons that people can pick to have on their phone cases. They get to choose the colour and if they want a sprinkle border. I only answer customer service questions through email now and I do not answer Instagram order inquiries. I feel that this way, people are actually looking at my website and connecting with my artwork and sculptures they want on their cases. I do not engage with my customers on a more personal level, nor do I contact them outside of the ordering parameters. My goal is to make their phone more fun to use and I think that’s what my phone cases are to my customers.
When I was doing things the old way, I would often spend five hours discussing with each customer how they would like their case. I never charged for the consultation time, but in hindsight it was a lot more work than what I was charging for.
JFG: What was a major challenge you faced and what did you learn from it?
JM: One of the major challenges I faced while running Kawaii events is that not all stakeholders are compliant with my wishes. All of my events come out of my own pocket and my own budgeting skills. To exhibit at one of my events, one must first qualify to be an exhibitor and invest in a table if they wish to sell any products. If there are any performers, I try to honour them by at least covering their travel or providing them with a free table.
A major challenge I had running the Kawaii Cafe was that I did not hand out contracts and it gave people the idea that their opinions of my own event were more important than my own. I had to learn how to say no to people, explain that there were costs involved in running an event, and that some people will say whatever they want about me or my events online, without really understanding the scope of the event itself and the price tag attached to an event. I received backlash for refusing to have Japanese maids at my last event. For me, this was a taste of Orientalism that I could not handle and I would probably even refuse to let my parents come to the event. There is a time and a place for maid cafes, but not at my events. I also received backlash when I had to explain to some artists that I could no longer offer them a free table at my event due to budgetary reasons. At the end of the day, I learned that I need to say no to people when things do not sit right with me, especially if I run these events out of my own pocket.
JFG: Any advice for people who want to start their own business?
JM: I have experience coding in HTML, CSS, and Java, so I always had a head start in making my online store. If you start your own business, I think you should first invest in a point-and-shoot camera that gives you pictures that aren’t blurry. I find that people’s first mistake is taking poor photos of their work. If you take good photos in natural lighting and brighten up your photos, your products can go a long way.
JFG: Thank you for your time! Arigatou gozaimasu!