Grocery Manufacturer Briefing Agenda

IBM Briefings for Grocery Manufacturers

In Raleigh I soon returned to the track of considering how we could contribute to increasing the presence of source marked product in grocery stores. With all the energy and excitement about supermarket executive briefing visits to Raleigh, I decided that it was time to have a briefing designed for grocery product manufacturers. In early November we initiated a briefing to cover the U.P.C. Symbol background information and expand on how scanners would be used in Grocery Chains. To get attendees we contacted the IBM Grocery Manufacturing Industry Marketing team in White Plains and let them spread the word. Soon we were at capacity in our briefing room with about 35 different companies. In our acknowledgement correspondence to them about attending the briefing, we made it clear that they were going to see a real U.P.C. Symbol checkout scanner and we encouraged them to bring any products of their own that they wanted to test scan. We would demonstrate to them that their product scanned successfully or help them understand what was wrong, if there was a problem.

This proved to be a highlight of their visit. In the fall of 1973 there really were no test beds or U.P.C. scanners in any stores. Grocery manufacturers feared those detailed instructions in the Distribution Number Bank or DNB, (their name was later changed to Distribution Codes Incorporated or DCIwhen Dunn and Bradstreet decided DNB was too close to their trademarked name) handbook that you got with your assigned U.P.C. vendor code. I wanted to put together a briefing that would educate the industry on the technology, reduce or remove the fears, and be an incentive for them to source mark. And separately over the next few months we acquired a lot of additional products for our Grocery Executive demonstrations from manufacturers only too happy to leave their working sample products behind.

Unlike the briefings for supermarket chains, these guests were not traveling altogether in a group. When they signed up we booked individual rooms in their name at the Sheraton Crabtree the night prior. I put together a full page form letter that detailed the day: start times, driving directions, end times, driving time back to the airport, a complete description of what to expect and when to be where. My southern secretary, Sylvia, had an IBM Magtape-Selectric typewriter and this was more or less a form letter, but looked fairly personalized and not much trouble to run out with the name and address list I provided.

The agenda was straight forward. For the first briefing I got several of the key engineering players to present the material, but in later sessions I took over making most of the presentations. For the first one or two I used the real engineers who had invented the U.P.C. and proved its efficacy. Here were some standard briefing elements:

  1. An introduction and welcome with an overview of the program status by Bill Carey kicked it off at 8:30 am for about 15 – 30 minutes. Bill usually did the welcome for Supermarket chain visits and could weave in non-privileged items from discussions he had had with executives in major supermarket chains on how important they viewed the U.P.C. initiative.
  2. Introduction to the Universal Product Code technology, projections about things to come, and what the Grocery Manufacturers and printers should focus on to make the program as successful as possible. This was initially presented by Joe Woodland, but I took the module over at the third or fourth briefing. I think we embarrassed Joe the first time since unknown to him we introduced him with a short slide show which included the patent application for the bulls-eye product ID symbol he had filed in 1949 and was subsequently used by RCA in their Cincinnati Kroger store test in 1972. Joe apparently had invented the concept of a symbolic identification mark while considering a character code like the Morse code, making representative marks in sand and then pulling them around into a circle. Joe was given 45 minutes to an hour to cover his introduction to the technology.
  3. Overview of the U.P.C. Symbol and how it works by George Laurer. George was the actual inventor of the U.P.C. symbol and discussed details on its self checking features, alternative formats and more. George also got 45 minutes to cover this. With Joe’s assistance, I presented this information in the third session. I really enjoyed bringing in people like George. It amazed the grocery manufacturing people in the room that they were meeting the guy who actually invented the U.P.C., but George had other things to do and probably only sort of enjoyed standing in front of a group of printers and grocery manufacturers. The U.P.C. was paramount, but when you went to George’s office he had plaques all over the wall for different inventions he had made while working at IBM.
  4. A mathematical description of the optics and human factors of a scanning checkout by David Savir, the same person who had presented this to the Symbol Selection Committee a year or more earlier. This material proved to be a little too technical for the packaging and printing people who attended the briefing and we dropped this after the first session. David took 30 minutes for this.
  5. I demonstrated the scanning system with our collected grocery products most of which had adhesively attached U.P.C. labels. The curtain between the briefing room and the lab was drawn back and a highly choreographed checkout demonstration performed, e.g. when I mentioned how small products with small symbols were no problem, Jan Mosser, our guest services coordinator, checkout model, and general girl Friday, would be scanning a package of gum or if I mentioned curved surfaces, she would be scanning a tomato soup can. The demonstration only took about 10 minutes. This same presentation was done for supermarket executives.
  6. This was followed by having everyone come into the lab with any package samples they brought and try the checkout themselves. We did this is in shifts. Normal supermarket chain visits usually were no more than 5-10 people but 30 people was more than the twenty foot by twenty foot demonstration room could handle at one time since it also had checkstands and supermarket style display cases. Each of the guests tried scanning a few of our products and of course any package of their own that they had brought with them. The guests played with our products in a regular checkout mode, but since our IBM 1130 that acted as the store controller was not loaded with their specific products and U.P.C. codes, we’d put the scanner in a diagnostic mode where they would scan their product and see their full U.P.C. code on the checkout display. They really got into this trying to find any angle that worked less well crossing the window, talking and kibitzing with each other about printing challenges and lastly being pretty amazed that everything went as smoothly as it did. We spent 45 minutes to an hour letting them have their way with the equipment.
  7. By now it’s time for lunch. They were treated just like the supermarket chain executive prospects. We took them out to the Flying Cloud sea food restaurant for a formal lunch except we didn’t have limos for transportation but simply car pooled the mile to the restaurant. Over the hour and a half allowed for lunch there was a lot of conversation and congratulations among the attendees about how successfully their packages had performed on a real scanner. Maybe even more important were the war stories that were being exchanged about how each succeeded, only tried, or failed to get their management’s commitment and attention to implementing the U.P.C. symbol on packaging. I kept track of some of the more interesting ones and shared them with the direct marketing people talking more frequently with chain store executives.
  8. After lunch we presented the supermarket’s position. IBM had saved the information worked upon years earlier to determine if a U.P.C. symbol was cost justified. Larry Goodwin had produced a slide presentation detailing the projected benefits of scanning checkout systems. It documented savings of many tens of thousands of dollars a year in a typical $60,000 a week supermarket store. The people in the room had never seen information like this before and we frequently were requested to provide hardcopy of the slides which we were happy to do under NDA. We wanted the grocery manufacturer’s management to see the information, but we didn’t want it to go outside their company unless we provided it. It’s a marketing thing! We wanted the recognition that went with doing this work. Certainly we didn’t want the information or the recognition to go to a competitor.
  9. Lastly, we had a wide open question and answer session. Even though we had encouraged questions all along, there were still more questions which we tried to answer directly or in a rare instance commit to getting back to them with an answer. The only questions we ducked had to do with our sales and installation projections and IBM’s costs. IBM does not discuss business volumes outside the company and certainly didn’t discuss its cost structure. If interested we’d let them go back into our mock store we called a lab and play with the scanner some more if they had the time. The program generally wrapped up around 3:00 pm, but often they stayed till 4:00 if they went back to play with the scanner.

I still have vivid memories of that first session on November 13, 1973. I could sit at the back of the room and observe since the IBM engineers provided the content that day. In the back of the Red room with me was the Packaging Director from Hunt’s. (Actually the following day I would be in New York City attending an American Management Association sponsored seminar on U.P.C. Symbol marking which he was chairing.) He was sitting next to the packaging manager from Delmonte.

Near the start of his part in the briefing Joe Woodland pointed out that one of the things the grocery manufacturers could do “for the good of the industry” would be to standardize the location of the U.P.C. symbol in each category of products. Then checkout clerks would quickly learn the proper face of the package to put toward the scanner making the checkout process even more productive. The Delmonte and Hunt’s packaging representatives immediately conferred as to which location on a ketchup bottle would cause the most grief for Heinz. Ya gotta luv human nature! They suggested that to put it adjacent to the front label would simply trash Heinz’ keystone label. In the first few months of source marked ketchup distribution, the ketchup from Hunt’s and Del Monte did have the U.P.C. symbol on the front label. But in a show of real marketing force, Heinz never followed, put the symbol up on the collar label, and within a year all manufacturers had the U.P.C. symbol on the collar label.

As David Savir was getting deep into the probability distribution of “T4” errors occurring while collecting bright and dim portions of the light reflected from the scanner, one of the other packaging attendees sitting near the back, swiveled his chair around and just rolled his eyes back into his head. Most likely doctorate level math was not his thing. I made a note to myself to reconsider including this in the briefing since it probably raised more fear in the packaging people and this briefing was about reducing fear.