#10 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
"Never to cheap out on production costs"
My first year taking on the company I really could not pay myself: my monthly salary was zero. The second year, it was barely 100,000 yen (1000 dollars). My family's living expenses came from the stone company that my wife ran. This is only when I had quit the stone company, focused solely on the sake making company, and started making crafting “Dassai” that my salary exceeded 300,000 yen. Under my father’s leadership, the company staff salaries had not gone up for 10 years, so as soon as I became president, I decided to increase everybody’s salary – even if it tore me apart. But even after that, one of the old employees came to me and said, "Boss, how about raising our salaries? I was furious. It seemed as though they didn't know what I was going through.
Managing the company was really hard. I had invested about 10% of our sales in equipment and we are consistently overstaffed. From a management standpoint, we were losing money. But I was starting to believe that increasing the products’ manufacturing costs would eventually lead to an increase in sales. We could not be stingy with that. Instead, I have been extremely stingy with everything else. Since we were selling Dassai in Tokyo, it required a lot of business trips. The bullet train for Tokyo is expensive, so I would usually take an overnight bus. I would sleep on the bus so there would be no need for a hotel. I would take the overnight bus from Iwakuni to Yokohama, work all day, then take the overnight bus from Tokyo to Osaka again at night. I would change suits in a sauna near Umeda Station in Osaka and went to work again. At the time, I was alone in sales. I was young so it was not a real physical burden, it was actually rather fun. The bus ride home was a weight off my shoulders because I knew that each time I would go on these business trips, the sales for Dassai would increase. Although the birth of Dassai 23 was not on an overnight bus, but inside the bullet train from Tokyo.
It had been three years since we launched Dassai. At the time, in order to increase sales, companies would want to create a buzz in making their products “Japan’s best”. So, because “Japan’s best sake” was too hard of a goal, I decided to craft the most polished sake in the country. At the time, I had heard that 27% was the best rice polishing ratio in Japan, so I initially intended to make a sake with a 25% polishing ratio. I had my staff start polishing the rice and went to Tokyo. When I got there, a wholesaler told me that there was a sake with rice that had been polished down to 24%. That was it. It would stop us from being “Japan’s best”. So I thought about it overnight and made a decision. Back then, I still did not have a cell phone so I made a phone call from inside the bullet train on the way home and asked my staff to continue on polishing the rice, down to 23%. Two full days after my call, the rice was finished polishing: It took 144 hours in total. It takes less time now, but at that time we still did not have experience and were afraid to polish it too much, so it took a long time. If we polish the rice too much, there was a risk that the grains would crack under heat. But anyway, we had a number in mind so I asked to just keep on polishing until we got to 23%. The guy at the rice polishing factory could not take it anymore and was so exhausted that he even told me at one point, "If I write 23% on your invoice, could we just stop the polishing work?”. Anyway, he eventually finished the work and this is how “Dassai 23” came to birth.