Measuring Source Marking

Estimating U.P.C. Source Marking Time Table

Before leaving Chicago, I went over to the Time, Inc offices overlooking the Chicago River. I was given a 2400 foot reel of magnetic tape with national item movement summary data by manufacturer, by brand, and by size on it along with the data format to be able to pick out the movement information I needed. I think I also had to keep the fact that I had been given the tape a secret for a reasonable time. On the trip back to Raleigh I drafted a short APL program that would sum up all the sizes into brands and brands into manufacturers if I needed that. I wasn’t a programmer and probably could no longer have programmed the task in Cobol or PL/1, but I found APL to be mentally stimulating, funky, and fun.

APL is a very unique and special language developed by Ken Iverson. It used a lot of special characters, italicized Greek alphabetical letters each of which represented highly functional commands. We used to joke that you could write a single line just a few inches long in APL and re-create the operating system.

We didn’t have any computers in our building that I knew about except the IBM 1130s still being used as store controllers and development machines, but we did have IBM 3270 terminals connected to mainframes at Research Triangle Park and to the HONE system. HONE was IBM’s continent wide network for field personnel. Someone took the tape and had the data put up on some computer that I could access from a terminal in Building 602. I keyed in my APL program into my own workspace on the same machine.

With this data I had the ranking by unit volume of every product from all major Grocery Manufacturers. Procter & Gamble was the largest in the country with about 2.5% of all item movement out of chain warehouses. I remember calling my brother, Dick, who worked in P&G’s Package Soap and Detergent Division’s advertising department to find out “How can I get P&G to implement the U.P.C.? “You know” he responded with a little incredulity, “make a business case to the advertising people.” Years later I was to learn that my brother had a central role in adding the U.P.C. to P&G products since he was responsible for changing packaging to reflect P&G’s reformulations to bio-degradable chemistry going on at the same time.
I identified the top 87 grocery manufacturers and where they were located. Eighty-seven may sound like an strange number of manufacturers to select, but it resulted from picking the manufacturers that had a product among the fastest moving products according to the SAMI information. We had a very good estimate on the movement of all their brands. I called the Supermarket Store Systems Marketing Manager covering each manufacturer’s headquarter location and, if they hadn’t already, I asked the manager to send someone from his staff to talk with each manufacturer to see if they had a date that they would be adding a source marked U.P.C. to each of their packages and currently where each brand-size was in the implementation process. This required listing out each brand-size for all the products that the manufacturer made.
From the many conversations with the grocery manufacturing people coming to our U.P.C. education briefings, we had already developed a credible time schedule for how long it would take before products appeared in the store by knowing where it was in the sequence of events required to change packaging. We listened to many manufacturers discuss the average wait in the manufacturer’s warehouse, the average time for receiving new packaging materials to get into the packing process, the time to get material printed after being approved, the time to get art work done, test printing and management sign-offs, the time to clear out existing inventory, the time in the chain’s warehouse, etc. We needed to know the start time for doing artwork. The whole process sequence might take 6 months to complete, but it was generally tied into something else the manufacturer needed to change on the packaging and no manufacturer would just start changing all their packaging at the same time.

Store Systems salesman were not so super busy that they couldn’t go talk with packaging people in these companies and identify where each brand-size stood in the process. This worked well even at companies like Procter & Gamble who asked, “Which King Size Tide? We have five King Size Tides, one for each water type in the USA and there is a small mark on each box to identify which water type it is. So there are 5 different packages for each brand size with the only difference being a discreet identification of the water characteristics.” We collected 5 answers for each brand-size at P&G and other places where that occurred.

Reports came back about some manufacturers that considered this information as too privileged to share. Our possibly incorrect presumption was that they didn’t have a good story to tell and therefore decided not to provide information. For those companies we positioned them at the longest lead time which would only make our final summary more conservative than real life. The preliminary results of those responding looked like source marking was running ahead of where the original industry time-table would have put it.
Source Marking Significance
Getting the U.P.C.symbol to be part of the retail packaging was critical to the success of the program. It was much, much more costly to put on a label in the store. In initial tests, stores spent many labor dollars putting adhesive U.P.C. labels on products to see what happened at the checkout, but it was much more costly than simple price marking:
the label was physically larger,
it required larger applicators than price marks,
it required more discipline to do it without error,
and when the label was put on, it typically covered up some message on the package that either the customer or the manufacturer did not want covered up.
Added to that was the fact that the location where the label was applied would change from one labeling session to the next which impacted the productivity of learning how to scan them most productively.

Early U.P.C. scanning tests required much additional labor to put adhesive labels on items so that they could be scanned. Note the number of people.  Without source marking there could not be a successful conversion to U.P.C. scanning checkouts.