By understanding how we manage production runs, pre-orders and release date announcements, consumers can make an informed decision as to whether our philosophy matches their ideals before they decide to invest in Smart Doll.
Our small team of 25 humans can only produce a limited amount of products every month as we prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity. More quantity means more effort needed to maintain the quality meaning longer hours in the office, overworked employees, and more electricity consumption meaning more carbon emissions.
Even if we can make more through the continuous improvements to workflow, we will still limit production quantity as we don't want to increase our impact on the environment. We only need a certain amount of income to continue operating the business and we are not going to sell our souls for more money ;-)
When we feel the products are ready, we release them without warning - no release date announcements - no pre-orders.
Release date deadlines don't benefit our employees due to associated extended working hours, nor do deadlines benefit the product in terms of quality sacrifice. The customer does not benefit as they would end up with a half-finished Smart Doll that would haunt them at night because an overworked walking dead employee made it.
The work culture in Japan is notorious for long work hours, so much so that there is even a word to describe dying from overwork - Karoshi [過労死]. Some of these deaths derive from health conditions that deteriorate from overworking and then some of it is due to suicide.
On December 17th 2015, a young lady called Takahashi who was working for one of the biggest advertising agencies in Japan, posted on twitter "Being in the office 20 hours a day, I have no idea what the purpose of life is - it's such a joke."
A few days later on Christmas day, she jumped to her death.
Dying from overwork in Japan is a major problem. Do a search for 自殺 [jisatsu] (suicide) and 過労死 [karoshi] (death from overwork) and you will find reports by the Japanese government on the subject.
When I first came to Japan to work, I experienced something that I will never forget.
It was late in the evening and some colleagues were still in the office. I was relatively new learning the ropes, so I asked them, "why don't you go home?" to which they replied, "well, the boss is still here."
I then asked the boss, "why are you still here" to which he replied, "well my staff are still here..."
I put on my jackie-chan-mind-blown mask and went home.
One of the reasons why there is continued opposition against having transport running 24/7 in Tokyo is because employees would not be able to use the "boss, I need to catch the last midnight train so please pardon me for leaving before you" excuse.
I've been working in the Japanese creative industry for over a decade and have many peers working in anime, game and hobby companies. Most of them would be lucky to leave work between 8 and 10 PM but many stay until the last train leaves. If they try to leave at 6 PM, colleagues would say "what? you leaving already?" [え？もう帰るの？] - such a common phrase in the Japanese workplace that it has over 100 million results on Google.
Just imagine being able to leave work at 9 PM - Tokyo commute average time 1 hour. Get home at 10 PM. Have dinner, poo and a shower. How much personal time is left before you have to sleep and get up for the next day of work?
As an employee previously working in Japanese corporate life, I know what it feels like not getting enough time to relax outside of work. Now that I have employees, my first and foremost priority is to ensure that the team gets enough of their own time to relax, play games, study, or work on their side gigs - even if it means less income for the company.
You would often hear in the news a CEO or VP talk about revenue targets or how many shops they want to open this year and that they aim to be the biggest and best in the industry.
But why do they need so much money? To make more stuff and open more shops to make more money to do the same over and over again? Is it because the founder needs the money to build a house on Mars?
As for me - I prefer Earth - especially after seeing so much of its beautiful nature. It does not make sense to spend my most precious commodity (time) chasing more money that I can't spend in my remaining lifetime.
I need Earth to be around to make a house on it one day - meaning that I will not be pumping more carbon into the atmosphere by creating more than I need.
Money is important to keep the company running, but it will never be important enough for me to trade it for time. Not unless I can buy a DeLorean with a built-in flux capacitor.
All our products are hand-made by humans. We want the product to be shipped in the same condition that we would want for ourselves and our families. For this reason, we always prioritize quality over meeting release date deadlines. This is the reason why we do not announce release dates.
Many moons ago, we took pre-orders for some licensed products with a release date set in stone. Production issues were abundant which lead to not-so-healthy stress for all involved.
Problems will always crop up during production - creative industries such as film and game experience it and our industry is no different.
For example, a slush cast mold can shrink or stretch too much during the electroforming process - this is something that only mother nature can decide. When a slush cast mold goes kaput, it cant be tooled like an injection mold - the electroforming process has to start again.
Other things that only mother nature decides are things like natural disasters and pandemics - both of which have affected our business. In 2019 a typhoon decided to pass through our inventory area destroying much of our components. The 2020 pandemic has so far made bankrupt one of our vinyl casting vendors and very recently one of our paint vendors.
Many of these unforeseen problems can eventually be fixed with more time on the job. Other manufacturers can meet deadlines, so why can't we? You already know the answer - our team members will never be asked to stay behind to work longer hours - not for the consumer, not for me, not for anybody.
Most manufacturers take pre-orders based on prototype photos which I refuse to do. The reason is that the process to fabricate a prototype is usually completely different from the final production process.
Prototypes are usually made using a 3D printer where the results look very much like the original 3D data. This is not the case for production which has many complications that derive from the need to create a mold. This means that the final product always looks different than the prototype.
I remember many moons ago pre-ordering a very cute figurine of Ringo from the Japanese manga comic called Air Gear. Six months later, Ringo arrived looking not even remotely like the product photos. Disappointed was an understatement.
I don't want folks to experience the same with Smart Doll, so we only take orders when the final product is ready. This does mean that folks don't have to wait months on end after making payment.
There are over 100 products on the Smart Doll online store, some of which have had constant availability for years.
Our business has always been focused on ensuring product availability for newbies who have just discovered Smart Doll, especially parents buying for children. These products are called "Frontline."
I have always intended that Smart Doll be a creative platform for our team which is why they get to experiment on their original ideas and work on licensed characters. These experimental projects are released in limited quantities.
Frontline products will always get higher priority than limited ones. We could shift our focus to increasing the volume of the more lucrative limited products - but we would end up sacrificing the availability of Frontline products for newbies.
Depending on the popularity, Frontline product availability can be scarce at launch, but we do eventually make more.
As our product count increases, we need to send some Smart Dolls to the chopping block which is never an easy thing to do - especially when they are looking at you with their big anime eyes. But keeping our product count to a minimum is important to maintain a healthy team and planet.
One day out of the blue, a customer showed up at our store waving a credit card in our face asking us to take payment on the spot and pass them a Smart Doll immediately.
We told them that we had been closed since the beginning of the pandemic and that communication about our closure is on our website and on Google Maps together with our address which they used to locate us.
I told the customer that even if we did have the components to make the Smart Doll, they would have to wait a few days after payment was made online.
The customer didn't want to leave without a doll and said we should be more professional as a company and do everything to meet their needs.
I mentioned that I could ask the team to stay behind after hours to assemble the product. The customer seemed to be OK with this.
I removed my jackie-chan-mind-blown face and replaced it with a troll-face and told them I had no intention of asking the team to stay behind and that the customer should leave immediately.
If such entitled consumers don't care about our people, we don't care about their money. Money does not buy a ticket to entitlement in Smart Doll Land.
So, where did our "professionalism" go? It wasn't there in the first place.
We will continue to limit the number of Smart Dolls we make per month - regardless of whether people turn up at our shop making demands on our team.
Some entitled consumers think we do this is to increase profit from scarcity. Ironically, real profiting is manufacturing more by overworking the employee and pumping more carbon into the atmosphere just so that these entitled consumers can get what they want.
While there are certainly many greedy companies out there, the greed of the entitled consumer is what ultimately causes many companies to abuse their people and the environment - it takes two to tango. But I'm not dancing.