Over the past few months the real estate office on the first floor below my school has been converted into a crepe shop. ”L’air du Temps” is the name which seems to mean “The Air of Time” in French. Such off-the-wall names in French seem to be popular these days as we already had a cake shop a block down the street named “Ca Sent Bon”, “It smells good”. Maybe I should come up with a catchy off-the-wall saying in French to describe my school. (Well that’s a topic for another day.) Oh, I just discovered that “L’air du Temps” is the name of a perfume by Nina Ricci. Now the name makes sense…it is likely to be a popular fragrance well known to the Konan Women’s University students who pass the shop in droves every day during the school year. A few days ago, one of my students and I tried out the Banana-Chocolate Crepe and sat inside the shop while we ate our crepes. They tasted pretty good but were a little difficult to eat without ending up wearing them on your hands and clothes. Although customers can also purchase the crepes at the front order window of the shop, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to struggle to eat a crepe while walking down the street, especially not the fashion-conscious girls in their Givenchy jeans. As with any new business, it takes time to sort out what works and what doesn’t, so it is quite interesting to watch how this new business in my “front yard” evolves. So far I have seen it go from two workers occupying a tight space at the front of the shop where the crepes are made, stuffed and wrapped to just one person doing all steps. It seems that the two workers were running into each other and one plus one was not adding up to two.
My students, one by one as they try out the crepes, are reporting to me their impression of the shop and the crepes. So far their reports are more negative than positive: “The crepes do not taste like they are cooked well enough, they seem a little raw”. “The creme is too heavy, more fruit and less creme would be better.” “The shop seems too tight with all those narrow counters along the walls. Since the shop cannot produce the crepes so fast they should have fewer places to sit to make it customers more comfortable.” “They give out a plastic chip with a number and call out the number when the crepe is ready. Even when I was the only one in the shop, the girl did not even bother to bring my crepe to me at my table.” I am collecting these comments and may offer them to the owner so that they can make some improvements. However, I am a little concerned with the fact that I have not been able to put my normal Smith’s sign out where it was before since the shop seems to have taken over the small walking area in front of the building. So I want to collect this information and wait for the right time to negotiate a more fair usage of the space in front of the building for our signs.
The real test of the shop will come in early October with the 1500-2000 university students from Konan Women’s University start passing by in the afternoons. Those girls can make or break a business since there are so many of them. At this point I think they may try a crepe but will soon choose to spend their money and time at DECO, the cafe in the same building next to the crepe shop below my school. After all a nice piece of cake is only 315 Yen which is only 15 Yen more than the discounted price of the crepes and the cafe is much more comfortable to sit and talk.
I think that this new shop is giving me a lot of potential material to use in the lessons. When students have comments about the shop, I can coach them on how to make such comments in English. It is a very useful situation. Also, the potential to gather several potential students in front of the building could eventually pay off for me with more students taking trial lessons and joining my school.
But just the chance to see a business that is trying to get started is a good opportunity for me as it gives me the chance to study and learn from the lessons that the new owner is experiencing. After all, an English School is a business, just like a crepe shop, it needs to be adapted to it’s potential customers a little while maintaining a good quality product and a stable process. This is what Smith’s provides us – proven system with good support and an established name. From this firm foundation, we have a chance to promote our schools and to establish a loyal student body. The fun and learning experience continues!
Al Bartle (Smith’s School of English – Okamoto-Kobe)