#6 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
"Struggling to increase sales"
I think my father knew somehow that his life was coming to an end when he asked me to take over the company. I had no idea that my father would be gone so soon. I regret I refused him before he died. It was soon after the cancer was found in January 1984. My father stayed in bed and passed away in April. We held our grudges until the end. Even as he was dying, when he regained consciousness and looked at me, my father's face was tight. Then and there, I asked myself again: “Should I take over the company?”
I could not make my mind until the very end. It was during the funeral wake that I made up my mind. From the room where his body laid, I could see a tank of sake. If we would not have bottled this sake, it would have gone bad. The staff could not make the decision, so I told them that if my father were alive he would tell them to bottle it right away. This is when I became the president of the company. The next day, I started going to the sakagura.
My wife didn't object when I told her I would manage both the sakagura and the stone company. However, I think there was a backlash from the staff. After all, I had left and as soon as I got back I immediately became the president. It was like everybody was waiting to see what I have got. Our financial situation was not that bad. Sales were down about 85% from the previous year, but we hadn't increased the salary base or made any investments in 10 years. It was a balanced contraction. Nevertheless, at its peak, in 1973, the company was selling 200,000 bottles a year (1.8L bottles), but it was already down by a third. It was clear that the company would go out of business at this rate.
There were three salesmen, one man in charge of bottling, and my mother-in-law who was taking care of the clerical work. Including me, there were six of us. I asked them how we could do something about the sales, but all they talked about was why the sake would not sell. Anyway, as we talked, it was mentioned that we discounted less than other producers. So we started to give more attractive discounts. Then it seemed as other producers would sell their sake with extras, like plates and sake cups. So we started to give extras too. We tried it, and the next year sales did not decrease. But this time, our financial situation was worse. Of course, that's because of the discounts and adding extras.
I tried everything I could think of. Finally, I decided to try carton boxed sake. It sold well in the short term because it was still a novelty at that time. That is when the staff started to look at me differently. Of course, we went from not doing anything and not selling, to trying something and making money. Investing in carton boxes was cheap, but the machines and equipment would have cost about 10 million yen, and we couldn't afford it.
However, when I looked into it, I found out that the box was coated with resin, and when an aluminum lid was placed on it and pressed with heat, the resin melted and stuck to the aluminum. I just thought we might be able to get away with it by ironing the products. We tried it and it worked. I had some part-time workers iron the lids endlessly. Though it sold for a year or two, eventually, when a cheaper machine was developed, other manufacturers started doing it, and that was it for us.
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