Writer’s Note: Portfolio: Dumper’s Depot was published originally as a Subscriber Exclusive on March 14, 2018.
“Everything’s valuable to someone!”
This motto is known across the Empire thanks to ads for the popular scrap and trade store, Dumper’s Depot, that air frequently across the spectrum. Credit for coining the phrase goes to “Burner Zeke,” the eccentric founder and face of the franchise. But for Zeke, the slogan is more than a gimmick to get customers into the store, it’s a way of life.
THE BIRTH OF BURNER
Separating the man from the persona can be difficult. Zeke might sound like a slang-spewing space junker, but he was raised in a middle-class family in Fujin City, Saisei, Centauri system.
Born in 2875, Ezekiel Chikamoto was the youngest of three siblings. His parents both worked long hours and kept a strict budget in order to maintain their family’s standard of living on the notoriously expensive Saisei. Ezekiel grew up wearing his brothers’ hand-me-down clothes and playing with their last generation sim-games, though according to family members, he actually spent more time tinkering with appliances around their apartment than playing traditional games. His mother even had to go so far as to ban him from ever touching the cleaning unit again after an attempted ‘customization’ left every surface in their home covered in centimeters of dust. Eventually, Ezekiel’s adventurous mind and natural skill with technology earned him a full scholarship to an elite private school, an experience that helped shape him into the entrepreneur he is today.
As a teenager, Ezekiel discovered that he didn’t fit the elite private school mold, as his second-hand uniforms and lack of fashionable gadgets ostracized him socially. He constantly begged his parents for a top-of-the-line datapad, but they refused, patiently explaining why they couldn’t afford it. They suggested he get a job to earn credits to spend on whatever he wanted.
ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE
One day, Ezekiel watched a classmate casually toss away a malfunctioning datapad. Stunned by the complete disregard for its value, he quickly grabbed it from the trash and spent the weekend fixing it. No longer needing his old unit, he took it to a second-hand shop and sold it. He pocketed some of the profits and bought more tools with the rest. Ezekiel later called the experience a revelation and wondered what else classmates were willing to discard due to minor issues.
Word soon spread that Ezekiel would buy old electronics regardless of their condition. He fixed and sold what he could, and held onto any excess parts for future fixes. Soon, his bedroom resembled a scrapyard and it wasn’t long before it spilled out into the rest of the apartment. His parents loved his initiative but hated the clutter, insisting that he get rid of it. Unfortunately, when he tried to offload the bulk of it, he found that secondhand shops near the landing zone consistently offered him less than he thought he should be getting. It was only when he happened to overhear two of the shop workers making fun of him after he left that he realized why. To the people who lived and worked down by the port, he came across as a wealthy prep-school kid, despite being considered the opposite by his classmates. And just like at school, if he wanted to be treated as an equal, he was going to have to find a way to adapt.
For his next visit, Ezekiel put on some old coveralls from his dad and adopted a strange, made-up accent paired with an off-kilter attitude. He saw the results immediately and landed a much better deal. From then on, whenever Ezekiel traded, he remained in character as “Burner Zeke,” his new hardened and crafty persona.
Upon achieving his equivalency, Ezekiel shocked his parents by turning down university scholarships to focus on his burgeoning scrap business. He went against their wishes and used the credits they had saved for university to rent a small storefront near his old school. He named it Dumper’s Depot and started working as Zeke full time.
By 2894, the store was up and running, but Zeke soon realized that his shop was just one of many. To stand out, he decided that he would have to do things a bit differently.
One of the things Zeke had always hated about going into a shop to sell scrap was walking out with half of it still in tow. It was such a long process — the sorting, the evaluating, the haggling. So instead, Dumper’s Depot would simplify everything. He set base prices for common items relating to their current functionality and damage level. He even offered bulk scrap options for people who wanted to sell large quantities at once. Sure, people could maybe get a bit more money waiting for someone to appraise it all, but if you sold at Dumper’s Depot you could get in and out with a fair amount of credits in significantly less time. Plus, anything he lost on the bulk sales, he more than made up for by reselling repaired items or valuable parts he found among the piles of junk.
Still, the tweaked business model alone wasn’t enough. Having spent all his money on the store itself, Zeke decided to gamble and borrow heavily in order to start advertising on the spectrum. Zeke even starred in the store’s first commercial as a cost-saving measure. His pitch was a simple summation of his newfound approach: “Everything’s valuable to someone!”
Soon, his shop was the busiest in the area. Before long, he had to bring in extra help to handle all the sorting and repairs. The following year, his staff doubled in size again. Their reputation grew to the point that local refineries and construction companies began to specifically contract with Dumper’s for supplies, bringing even more revenue to the store. Soon other shops in the area were mimicking Dumper’s setup, but thanks to the focus on advertising and the eccentric character at the center of it, customers would still seek out Burner Zeke to do business with.
In 2902, Zeke’s first employee, Dayton Farro, needing to move back home to Yar for family reasons, approached Zeke about opening a store there. Zeke had never considered expanding beyond his one store, but since he trusted the employee, he gave permission for him to use the brand as long as Dayton agreed to continue to use the same practices as the original. More franchises quickly followed.
Instructional materials on the basics of operating a Dumper’s Depot and handling customers were all done by Burner Zeke himself. After welcoming new franchise owners into the fold with an enthusiastic, “Hell, if I can make this work, then so can you,” he stressed the importance of trusting their own instincts to run the shop. Since they were handling day-to-day operations, he figured that the owners were in a better position to make decisions than somebody stuck back at the main headquarters. Many cite this decentralized organizational structure as a key element for Dumper’s Depot stores staying open and functioning where many other businesses have failed.
In the mind of the franchisee, not only is everything valuable to someone, but owning a successful Dumper’s Depot is a goal achievable by anyone. They are invested in the store’s success because they are empowered to run it as they see fit. Few would have guessed that a man named Burner Zeke would inspire the level of dedication and loyalty from both customers and employees to make a simple scrap store into a titan of trade.
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