Tfw can’t get anything done because of AMQ
#50: “The Meaning Behind the Numbers”
Published in 2015/12/31 issue
It’s the end of the year. I think this is going to be the final column for the year of 2015, but the end-of-year proceedings in the publishing industry are so mind-bogglingly complicated that I’m not actually sure. This time of year doesn’t hold any special significance for me, so things are the same as always, aside from an influx of dinner invitations and the flurry of game releases. However, back when I was a student, I worked part-time at a toy store, and this was always the busiest time of year for us (with the exception of Dragon Quest release dates, which were even worse).
I worked at that toy store for a year when I was living in Hakodate, after quitting the high school soccer team due to a hip injury. After that, I moved to Sapporo and continued to work part-time for 2 years while attending vocational school. Both times, it was a regional chain store managed by one of Hokkaido’s major toy wholesalers. The manager at the Hakodate location taught me a lot about the meaning of “work” and how to approach it.
That shop was a tenant of an Ito-Yokado, not an independent store, but it ranked #1 out of the stores in that chain for 7 years in a row (and of course, it was by far the #1 toy store in Hakodate). At first glance there was nothing special about it, so whenever managers from other stores came to observe, we got to watch them tilt their heads in confusion.
Ever since I was in fifth grade, I often went to that store to play. The manager at the time was a 19-year old part-timer, but he was skilled at making and repairing RC models and fixing up toys. Even though I was just a kid and wasn’t going to buy anything, him and the other staff were always very nice to me. I continued to visit even after becoming a high school student, which led to working there.
The young manager who had taken such good care of me had grown into a fine man by the time I was in high school. After work, he often drove me home in his little sports car. Our shop closed at 8 p.m., after which he would do the bookkeeping. One day, while I was waiting for him to finish, he asked me, “Yoshida, did you know that all numbers have a meaning behind them?” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “For example, take the sales numbers in this ledger. Everyone cares about whether the sums are calculated correctly, whether the cash in the register matches up, things like that. But that’s not what really matters. Look at Christmas—that’s the time of year when our sales are the highest. However, those sales numbers vary greatly depending on whether or not we stock what the customers are looking to buy.” “So, it’s our inventory that matters?” “No, not quite. What matters is how much you know about your customers.”
My manager remembered everything about our customers with unbelievable accuracy: what they bought, their family structure, what their children liked. In other words, the numbers in the ledger were more than just numbers; they represented the unique qualities of the store and its customers.
During the time that I worked there, there was only one instance of the manager yelling at an employee. It was Hinamatsuri season, and all of the toy stores were decorated with tiered doll stands. We had a wide assortment available, ranging from luxurious ones coming in at over ¥200,000 to more reasonably priced ones in the 5-digit range (although they were still quite pricey). The manager’s outburst happened when one of the staff was wrapping a 5-digit one that had been sold.
“You call that wrapping!? Bring me the feather duster! Put on some gloves! That doll stand you’re wrapping right now is a once-in-a-lifetime gift that Mr. ____ bought for his daughter! Do you understand!? I’m going to wrap this; pay close attention!”
The manager put on the white gloves he kept at his waist and dusted each of the dolls—so gently that I couldn’t tell if the duster was even touching them—before fully wrapping them in the paper. The employee who had been scolded watched him, put on his gloves, and then dusted the dolls the same way the manager did. That’s the kind of shop it was.
I was stationed at the game section because I was knowledgeable about games, and even though I was a part-timer, I was in charge of the inventory. I was told, “You know a lot about games, so observe the customers and decide what we should sell, and how much we should stock.” A lot of children came to our store, just like I did in the past. If they told me they couldn’t beat the game they bought, I’d sit down with them in the store and teach them how to win. If their dads also liked games, I’d recommend them titles like Romancing SaGa, knowing they’d find them interesting. But no matter what, I was no match for the manager’s skills…
“Yoshida, why did you stock one copy of Anpanman?” “Uh, it’s already been half a year since this came out, right? Anpanman is a year-round product though, so I figured we’d always keep it in stock…” “Make it three. They’ll sell out in three months.”
Indeed, three months later, all three Anpanman copies were sold out. We ordered additional stock, but this time, it was only one copy. The reason why they sold was because during that 3-month period, some of our frequent customers were buying birthday presents for their children. As for why we ordered one more: “It’s a year-round product, right? Our shop is like a last bastion for things that you can’t find in any other toy store in the city. The customer who wants to buy this will be overjoyed when they find it here,” my manager said with a laugh. How could anyone win against him?
After I moved to Sapporo, my manager referred me to a shop in an underground shopping centre in Odori Park. I was put in charge of inventory there as well, but I made a huge mistake: I stocked 60 copies of Shin Megami Tensei, but only 3 of them sold (including the one I bought)… This game would’ve been guaranteed to sell well in Hakodate, so why wasn’t it popular here? I desperately sought out the reason.
Upon looking at the ledger, I finally realized what I did wrong. This was an underground shopping centre in Odori Park, a place frequented mainly by tourists—people weren’t coming here to buy toys. Our customers consisted of people who happened to be passing by or came because the other stores were out of stock, so a game being popular all over Japan didn’t necessarily mean it’d sell well at our store. I finally understood what was meant by “the meaning behind the numbers” after moving to Sapporo.
This is what I always remember when it’s getting close to Christmas and the end of the year.
 TL note: Ito-Yokado is a Japanese superstore chain.