I've been dealing with HobbyLink Japan for a while now, both as a customer and as a business. They've always been really great to work with and the staff has always been courteous and friendly.
During this latest trip to Tokyo the opportunity came up to visit HLJ and of course I could not refuse.
Unfortunately, like all good things, there was a catch - HLJ isn't exactly in Tokyo. In fact, HLJ is located almost two hours out of the city in a small town called Sano, in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan. It's not a trip that you take on a whim - it's an all day affair. If you are staying in Tokyo, it's a 90 minute bus ride to the outlet malls in Sano, and then you have to take a cab from the bus station to HLJ. The HLJ Warehouse is generally not open to the public, so it is best to contact them via their website if you want to visit.
My first impression of the HobbyLink Japan warehouse is that it is well.. huge! The business is much larger than it seems like from the website. There's ample parking, a beautiful sign, and the striking modern warehouse contrasts starkly with the Japanese countryside.
I entered the building through a large automatic sliding glass door where I was greeted by Joseph, an employee and my main man at HLJ. We went up to the lobby where I was introduced to the man himself, Scott Hards.
Scott is the founder and owner of HLJ, and we got to sit down and chat about the origins and direction of HobbyLink Japan. You can listen to the 30 minute interview here.
Following that, I got a tour of the facilities. On the top floor is the business offices. Here is where all the orders are processed, items are cataloged, and customer service issues dealt with. I was surprised to see that a good portion of the staff here were western. In this area were shelves filled with the latest items, waiting to be weighed, photographed and cataloged.
From there we went to a room that I can only describe as heaven. It is the main warehouse of HobbyLink Japan.
On your right are the new items, some still in their shipping boxes - that are currently in high demand. These items will stay here until sales die down a bit and then they are moved over to the left side of the warehouse.
It is here that most of the live stock is held. The shelves are stocked by category - Gundam kits, pvc figures, chogokin and super robots etc line the walls. It is essentially the best toy store ever. I mean, they have a whole Macross aisle!
Check out the video tour!
In the next section of the warehouse are the plastic kits and prize items. HLJ was founded on plastic model kits, and their commitment to them remains strong.
It is up here on this floor that the initial orders are picked. Workers fill bins up with items from order sheets - scanning both the shelf and the item requested. These bins are then placed on small elevators and sent downstairs to be organized by customer order.
Downstairs the warehouse feels more like a warehouse. Pallets of flat cardboard shipping boxes and packing materials are stacked high.
Items that have just come off the truck are here, as well as unopened cases of items that are on the shelves upstairs.
You know those cool air-filled bags that cushion your order? Those are filled right here in the factory. Open one up, and you are breathing Japanese air from the HLJ warehouse. From here your orders are collated, packed and shipped out twice a day.
There's also a shelf with damaged goods - either items that have been returned from customers or damaged from the factory. These items are kept here in case replacement parts are needed on future orders.
From the shipping and receiving area we go into an area that looks like it could be a showroom, with polished wood floors and ambient lighting. This room leads to the dining area. Here employees can eat lunch brought from home or bento that's delivered from a meal service. There are a few vending machines here, one of them free! A widescreen TV is also in here so staff can keep abreast of the latest baseball scores (as everyone was fixated on the day I was there).
Scott really spared no expense in making the new HLJ warehouse a really fantastic building. In addition to the great work environment, there is a climate-controlled data center, backup generators, and the building even has a water reservoir in the foundation.
I was also really impressed with just how nice everyone was. Everyone bent over backward to give me all access, and show me the inner workings of the business. And after the tour was over, I got to go SHOPPING!
All in all, it was a great trip, and well worth it to meet everyone and see where all of these wonderful packages come from. Special thanks to Scott and Joseph for taking the time and showing me around.
Of course, make sure to visit http://www.hlj.com and tell them CollectionDX sent you!