文／謝爾庭 Writer／Hsieh Er Ting
攝影／陳繼遠 Photographer／Chen Chi Yuan
Metalworking is a historic industry, with profound knowledge and ever-changing techniques. However, it has long been viewed as crafts or arts, far from people’s daily life. KINJO is one of the pioneer brands of metalworking experiential courses in Taiwan. KINJO initiated metalworking experiential courses in 2006, and successfully entered the Eslite Spectrum Songyang Store in 2013. For over 14 years, KINJO developed into a leading brand of metalworking experiential courses. Numerous customers have made their unique jewelry in KINJO and experienced the beauty of metalworking.
This interview invites Liu Guan Ling, founder of KINJO, to share the story of KINJO: how they thrived from a humble studio in Tianmu into a renowned brand with a series of branches. The case of KINJO also demonstrates standardization, scale-up, and brand-building regarding a skilled craft.
Where It Started: A Story Built Around the Space
Liu Guan-Ling graduated from the Institute of Applied Arts, TNNUA, and specialized in metalwork and design. After graduation, she briefly entered the workplace and taught part-time at Ming Chuan University. During that time, her colleagues and friends often showed interest in metalworking craftsmanship. She, therefore, started workshops among friends using the teaching plans in school.
For Guan-Ling, the kickstart of KINJO is quite ordinary. Conducting courses on the balcony forever is unpractical. When more and more friends appealed to metalworking, Guan-Ling started a tiny studio less than 20 square meters in Tianmu as a classroom, in 2006. As for the studio’s brand name, Guan-Ling picked “Cao shan (Grass Mountain),” the former name of Yangmingshan, while the English name “KINJO” came from the word “celebration” in Taiwanese.
Entering the Eslite Store: A Tough but Worthwhile Moment of Brand Transformation
At the early stage, KINJO operated entirely as a personal studio, concentrating on metalworking experiential courses. In the early 2010s, the Eslite Store was preparing a brand new branch focusing on Taiwanese craft brands. Luckily, Guan-Ling involved in the planning process very early, and KINJO successfully entered the Eslite Spectrum Songyang Store shortly after.
For KINJO, entering the Eslite Spectrum Songyang Store was not only a critical moment of transformation but also a big gamble. “There’s only NT.30,000 left in my bank account after that”. Guan-Ling said with a bitter smile. There’s a couple of reasons for doing so. On the one hand, Guan-Ling anticipated the synergistic effect between the brands in Eslite Store to thrive. On the other hand, KINJO hoped to attract more people interested in metalworking crafts. Lastly, the brand image of the Eslite Store matched with KINJO.
However, when a studio accustomed to one on one courses entered the big department store, organizing an adequate team became the primary issue. The Eslite Store emphasized that stationed brands must provide sufficient experiential courses, aside from selling products. As a result, KINJO had to re-organize the entire course arrangement and reallocate the staff. The traditional long-term courses were not suitable for hasty customers in a department store. KINJO had strived to condense a typical course into 4 hours. Even so, time control remained troubling for KINJO, and sometimes sessions were held over the store closing time. It also took much effort to optimize the course arrangement.
In the end, KINJO managed to regroup its customers. Short-term experiential courses occur in department stores, while the studio provides the long-term ones or products with higher unit prices, such as enamel and mokume-gane. The brand exposure came after entering the Eslite Store has elevated the KINJO’s reputation and brought many business cooperation opportunities.
Pricing the Experience: Core-Value as the Startpoint
“We had no one to learn from, nor a reference.” Metalworking experience was a whole new market in Taiwan bach then. As a pioneer, KINJO doesn’t have many established patterns to follow, especially regarding the pricing strategy, a crucial part of entrepreneurship. Guan-Ling once tried to hold free courses, hoping to build up an early reputation, only ended up as a total failure. The free courses lack time, and quota limitation continued to attract customers, wasting most of Guan-Ling’s energy and time.
In Guan-Ling’s view, an effective pricing strategy considers not only the costs but also the added value. Customers care more than price tags and value more on what a perfect experience can offer. A low price doesn’t guarantee more sales and may even damage the customer’s trust in the quality. The key is to set the right target customers to raise the added value attractive enough. If you don’t know your customer’s orientation, take it one step at a time and relentlessly collect feedbacks to adjust accordingly.
For KINJO, the current customer bases can be separated into two groups. One is the customer of wedding rings, pricing roughly NT.20000-30000, the other one aims for the regular products, pricing from NT.3000 to NT.6000. KINJO provides an original service called “KINJO Plus,” which includes special packaging, customized ring design, and little accessory gifts to choose from. Such service meets consumer psychology more accurately. The right pricing of courses is not set in the first place but is instead learned from years of customer feedback. Furthermore, the strategy is reviewed annually for modification and comes along with short-term campaigns.
Modularization and Standardization: The Only Way to Scale-up the Brand
Developing a business brand lends a novel perspective for Guan-Ling. Designing metalworking courses requires a clear definition of priority in production processes, contrasting with craft creation, which retains more freedom. Furthermore, the production process must be simplified and consider the time and costs required for research and development.
To help customers get started quickly, KINJO has also developed many metalworking equipment. For example, workbenches are designed according to ancient book guidance and provided with individual toolsets, enhancing the production efficiency of multi-people courses and help control the costs of opening new stores.
Customers appeal to the complete experience of production but avoid processes too complicated or dangerous. To deal with such a dilemma, KINJO finds its solution by using the most variable material. Guan-Ling mentioned that materials currently used in stores have less than five types, but can transform into more than thirty products. For example, the same kind of silver bullion can turn into various products like earrings and necklaces in different sizes.
From space planning to process design and product development, KINJO grasps every segment’s benefits under the concept of standardization and modularization. And grow to fifty people staff scale in fourteen years.
Create New Trends while Accompanying with Teams and Partners
As a brand director, Guan-Ling realizes that human resources management, however time-consuming, lies in every issue’s core. Entrepreneurs of a brand must avoid the mentality of “I can do it myself.” They must learn to put staff in the right place, cooperate with the team, and even lead business partners on the unknown road of entrepreneurship. Once retreat to the safe-zone at any critical moment, you miss the opportunity of successful branding for your business.
For Guan-Ling, directing a business brand is also a kind of “creation.” Whether designing the store’s space atmosphere or series of satisfying courses, to make things “more than that” is what creation means for her now. The metalworking experiential course is a unique innovation in Taiwan. Not until recently, does this ancient tradition gain a young, fashion image of delicacy. Stake-holders in various fields attribute to such accomplishment, including craft brands and sales channels like the department stores or exhibitons.
Looking into the future, KINJO is actively exploring the e-commerce field. For instance, the “7 Express” service allows customers to designate a product style with detailed requirements. Craftsmen will help fabricate the product and send it to their designated address even to friends or families abord. KINJO is also looking forward to having more collaboration with other brands. KINJO endlessly unholds the hand-made spirit: experiencing metalworking with one’s hand can deliver unique meanings to every ring. From wedding anniversaries, birthday to every date worth celebrating and remembering, linking with everyone’s life story may be the real value of craft experience.
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