Peter Payne is the owner of J-List, which he describes as "a little company that brings thousands of fun things from Japan to people around the world." Since 1996, Peter's been using FileMaker to manage just about every aspect of the business -- everything from order processing to inventory management and customer returns. Read on to learn how Peter is using FileMaker to coordinate activities between the company's offices in Japan and the US, how FileMaker is vital to the business, and more.
Tell us about your company, J-List. How and why did you start the company?
Well, we're a company based in rural Japan that sells just about anything you can think of, from anime to DVDs to hard to find traditional Japanese items. We got started in 1996 selling JPOP CDs. There's a worldwide cult of Japanse music, but since new CDs are $30 or more, we were able to please a lot of customers by selling used discs to them.
How long have you been using FileMaker, and how did you get started with it?
We've been using Filemaker from day one. When we were spinning up, I knew I had to find a way to store all the data we were generating (our old way was to list it all in a giant Excel spreadsheet, filling in the names and addresses of customers as items sold). Happily, I got the idea to pick up Filemaker Pro for Dummies, the version for 2.0 even though 3.0 had just been announced. Using the Integrated Solution example (invoice, customers, products), we grew everything from there.
Are other members of your team also developing with FileMaker?
No, I'm really the main Filemaker Guru, even though I don't know that much and frequently have to ask for help from the excellent users that are out there. That's part of the value of Filemaker, of course. You know you couldn't find good help from kind users if this were Access we were talking about...
What role does FileMaker play in the day-to-day operations of J-List?
Everything is controlled with Filemaker -- all orders, sending of emails out to customers when they make an order, and updating our website when new products are added. There's no app that's more important to us, really.
What do you like best about your job?
I love it when young people ask me for advice on how they can live in Japan someday, and I'm always happy to help where I can.
What do you like least about your job?
Having to work until 2 am to get the email done. :(
You've also got a team out in San Diego. What unique challenges do you face having offices in Japan and the US?
We've got a great solution that helps our offices integrate, with shared Filemaker databases that we use to track RMAs, requests for products to be sent, and so on. We used to rely on email for a lot of this communication, but of course email has degraded in reliability over the past few years. The shared databases, which are hosted for us by www.davidhaney.com, work great. Although there's a downside, that the shared DBs tie both offices to Filemaker 6, since everything must be upgraded together. It's quite a pain...
So you haven't had a chance to upgrade to FileMaker 8?
No, we're still tied to FM6. Its like an old pair of shoes I can't seem to throw away. As we move past the shared database issue, we plan to upgrade one side of the Pacific, then the other, although some kind of word from Filemaker that there won't be a new file format for the Intel version of Filemaker would help us make the decision to move now or wait another year, to see if we'd need to do more porting to that new format.
What features would you like to see in FileMaker in the future?
Back in the mid 1990s computers started acting like web browsers, adding things like back buttons to Finder windows. Why, pray tell, have we never gotten this functionality in Filemaker? A way to do a search, work with the data, do another search, then hit a back button to return to the first search, would be outstanding.
What's your favorite tool, plugin, or technique for developing FileMaker databases?
I tend to keep it simple, and don't use plugins since it's one more thing you need to always worry about upgrading as you go forward. I do use USB Overdrive (to add mouse scrolling to Filemaker 6), and Quickeys to automate a lot of things like our image creation script for Photoshop, that kind of thing. Couldn't do it any other way.
What advice do you have for someone that is just getting started with FileMaker?
Join all the online groups, read a lot of books, and ask lots of questions. Also, make use of the many competent consultants that are out there, since paying someone some money to solve a problem you've got quickly is a great way to keep your project moving forward.
What technology has most changed your life?
It's hard to say for sure. Being an American living in rural Japan, the Internet in general has been awfully nice. When I first got here in 1991, I felt like I was cut off from the rest of the world, but now I can do anything without any handicap because of not being in the U.S. thanks to the network.
What are your favorite things to do that don't involve work?
I spend a lot of time with my kids, driving around the mountains where I live in my Miata.
On your personal blog (http://www.peterpayne.net/) you call J-List the "home of wacky things from Japan." What are some of the wackiest things that you've seen?
Oh, we've got a lot. We have so many products from Japan, some of which will look very strange to readers depending on how much you know about Japan -- the "loose socks" (extra baggy white socks worn by high school girls, which you actually have to glue to your ankles to keep them up). We sell Japanese snacks, some of which are quite popular, and which have weird names like Pocari Sweat, Asse, Crunky, you name it. It's fun to be able to bring these kinds of products to the world!
Visit J-List's Web site, located at www.jlist.com. And you can read Peter's personal blog, located at www.peterpayne.net.