With all the excitement and disappointment of last week, I didn’t get round to mentioning a development in my quest to find out how many ballpoint pens get used in Argos stores every year.

The other day, a comment was posted on my blog from someone who works at Argos. In order to protect the identity of the person who posted the comment, I have hidden it from public view. I have also decided to give this person a codename to further protect them, and so from now on will be referring to this person as Agent 396/0109 (this is the Argos catalogue number for something called Spykee The Spy Robot, a “WiFi spy robot to build that moves, sees, listens, takes pictures and videos”, comes supplied with a NiMH 9.6v battery and is suitable for children aged eight and over).

As I mentioned, Agent 396/0109 works for Argos and although he is not able to give a precise figure, he was able to offer this estimate:

I don’t know how many pens we go through, but I would estimate I order 6 boxes of 144 per month in my store, which is 10368 per year. There are 700 stores, so that’s 7,257,600.

Now, obviously, this is only a very rough estimate. I have no idea of the size or location of the store where Agent 396/0109 works. I have no idea of the store’s footfall; I don’t know if he works in a small high-street branch, or a larger Argos Extra store. I am unable to tell how typical his store is in comparison to other stores. I have no idea if there are regional differences in terms of how many pens each store gets through. This figure should only be considered as a very rough indicator of the number of ballpoint pens used in Argos stores each year. I cannot stress that enough.

As a further complicating factor, Agent 396/0109 points out that some stores use pencils, although he is quite critical of their suitability:

They are simply not up to the job. While they are possibly more environmentally friendly, they are not practical. The leads break easily and we cannot go around sharpening them. They cannot be used for signing credit card receipts, so an alternative source of pens is required. They are also MORE EXPENSIVE, therefore damaging my cost controls.

This issue of cost is very important to Agent 396/0109, who explains:

Pens come out of my stationery budget, which is part of my controllable costs (a secondary KPI) which goes towards my bonus. If you steal a pen, you are literally taking food from my mouth.

I will return the pen I stole to the New Oxford Street branch tomorrow.

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