Getting Assigned to Spread the Bar Code.

 Sections reprinted from "Spreading the Barcode"
How I became responsible for encouraging the Grocery Manufacturing and packaging industry to implement the U.P.C. Bar Code:
Chapter 6 IBM Supermarket System Announced
The IBM 3660 Supermarket System was announced on Thursday, October 11, 1973 and by all accounts it was spectacular. I wasn’t at the main announcement, which would have been fun, but I now had a regional responsibility to the west. The specific date of the announcement was timed to coincide with the Executive Session meeting of the National Association of Food Chains, NAFC, which was to be held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. I still remember watching Bill Carey, the Supermarket Product Manager, walk back into our area of the 602 building a few mornings later after the end of the NAFC session with a smile from one ear to the other. I asked him how it went and he replied, “couldn’t have been better. The top executives at the National Association of Food Chains’ Executive Session skipped the bar to bring their wives back down to the demonstration area and watch Jimmy Lightner throw a bar of Camay soap the length of the checkstand (as if it were an air hockey puck) over the scanner window and then hear the register ring up the item. Everyone was astounded and asked for repeat performances.”
Raising the Source Marking Issue
Bill and I made some small talk about details and then I made the single most significant comment I made all the time I was in Raleigh declaring, “I’d feel a whole lot better about the program, if there were a few more source marked symbols out there to scan.” At the time you could walk into a store selling 20,000 to 25,000 different products and maybe 3 or 5 of them would have a U.P.C. barcode symbol as part of its package labeling.
Bill Carey’s eyes enlarged slightly and staring at me he said, “Why don’t you see what you can do about that!” It was typical of IBM’s confidence that it would announce a product into a new market place which depended on tens of thousands of independent decisions to include a U.P.C. symbol on their retail package. What an incredible step. But, IBM was bold. IBM was accustomed to changing the world and accustomed to having to create the infrastructure to make new products function. The difference here was the decision to implement the infrastructure was in the hands of hundreds of grocery manufacturers who had no directly related economic connection to IBM.
And that response from Bill Carey defined about a third of my work life for the next 24 to 36 months and moreover I’d just picked up a marketing task. It inserted me right into the middle of what was to become recognized as one of the biggest obstacles to the IBM 3660’s initial success. IBM had no install base of point-of-sale non-scanning systems to which grocery chains could be told “Just add scanners” when the symbols appeared. Our product was not targeted to compete against key only supermarket systems. Almost everything about the IBM marketing and product design was dependent on scanning U.P.C. symbols. Of course that required that there be U.P.C. symbols to scan. And there weren’t U.P.C. Symbols to scan. This would become a much larger obstacle than the price, but up to that point it had been pretty much ignored, much like that crazy aunt in the basement.