Thursday, June 07, 2012

My first job

I can still remember my first paid work - at my father's office supplies store. It's still going quite strongly at the moment.

Years ago, he would constantly talk about having a virtual inventory - he didn't use those terms, but he consistently described working with wholesalers and not even having the stock touch his shop floor.

I never really thought it was that doable. At the time (2000?), the internet did exist, but it was this slow, hulking thing which never quite seemed to work and required a whole phone line all of the time.

Even as time went on, I could see places like Amazon making the concept work, but I really did think it was out of reach of a small business like his.

Turns out I was wrong. I recently helped my dad shift 300 litres of UHT milk from A to B - he's selling anything and everything to his customers, direct from wholesalers to delivery point.

His business has shifted away from high end consumables, as Australians are finding the internet and catalogues. His primary business consists of walking in with an ipad, providing a guided tour of his product range (everything from toner to printers to paper to; as I mentioned; milk), and leaving an 'order here' mechanism in place.

Now you probably think it's a bit weird for anyone to be excited about toner, ink jet printers, or other printer consumables, but that's exactly the kind of family I grew up in. At the age of 10, I had my hands inside of Xerox photocopiers, fixing paper jams or replacing paper in the Canon printer. By 12, after school I was serving customers, hauling boxes of A4 Reflex paper up flights of stairs or travelling to someone's business place to deliver a new printer.
My dad would know the cost per page for printing work, and knew every ink jet consumable product (plus it's generic counterpart) back to front.

So you can probably guess that my dad was a little bit happy when I found him a toner wholesaler. He's seen a lot of change in that product line - there was a big interest in the generic versions of things like Epson Ink and refillable toners; and when I was studying he even suggested I start a proactive toner collection job (visit businesses, grab old cartridges, sell back to refillers). But now he's got a good steady feed of reliable products, aligned directly with that wholesale/virtual inventory model that he likes so much.

It does kind of make you wonder - what else can the internet sink it's teeth into and change? Something as simple and bland as office supplies has been nearly turned upside down just by removing that friction between customer and provider. As I was banging on about before, traditional software in boring backend roles (accounting, point of sale/web store systems) is getting replaced by a new generation of web oriented, integrated products. The catalogue is now an iPad. The physical store is more a very visible business card and contact mechanism than actual place for purchasing goods.
What's left to be uplifted?