Keeping The Human Touch In Finding New Markets For 2-D Bar Code Solutions
Who needs the Web? For 20 years, bar code VAR G.S.D. Associates has relied on a strong commitment to its customers for increasing new business. Are you getting as many referrals as you would like?
My dad is an impulse buyer. You know, the kind of guy that goes to the store for a gallon of milk and comes home with $20 worth of groceries. "They were a good deal!" he would exclaim when questioned about the sardines that would then reside in our freezer for the next three months. But dad's perception of a "good deal" was more than likely based upon his sardine craving, rather than his knowledge of prices at competing stores.
Nowadays we "shop around" more than ever but not in stores. We use the Web to search for the best deals on everything from car insurance to aluminum siding. In fact, just about every business that offers a service or product has a Web site for enticing e-commerce. According to IT industry guru Robin Bloor of Bloor Research, "A Web-based version of your company will use the Internet to be faster and cheaper. When that company takes off, if you don't [have a Web site] then you are too late." Despite such industry predictions, Gary DeCamp, president of G.S.D. Associates, Inc. (Eugene, OR), has resisted creating a Web site for his company. G.S.D. Associates is a company that specializes in bar coding solutions. DeCamp prefers to rely on the old-fashioned way of drumming up business customer service and word of mouth.
When asked to define his company, DeCamp is unwavering in his response "a pure VAR." "I think the definition of ‘VAR' has changed over the years," he explained. "As products become viewed as commodity items, some people who are merely hardware peddlers are calling themselves VARs. They aren't adding any value, like system integration or training. We almost need a new term for VAR."
Bigger Isn't Always Better
This trend of viewing products as commodities is the basis for DeCamp's choice to not have a Web site. He doesn't want to spend his time sifting through hits that equate to someone only trying to get the best price for a product. Although he admits that this lack of a Web presence probably hurts his company's image, it hasn't hurt G.S.D.'s growth. For the first six months of 2000, G.S.D.'s sales have increased by 15%. Prior to 1997, the company's growth rate exceeded 15%, but DeCamp feels that rate may have been too much. "I think when you grow too fast you become a different type of company you get pressured to just move numbers. We want to remain a relationship-based company."
DeCamp's business philosophies are based upon his 20 years of experience in the AIDC industry. After working for the Burroughs Corp. (now Unisys) in the mid-1970s, DeCamp decided to go into business for himself. In 1977, he founded Western Computer Systems Inc. with his present partner, Geoff Malecha. Focusing on the wholesale distribution marketplace, the company provided multiuser solutions for users of some of the first microcomputers. Then, in 1978, the two partners encountered a problem that would forever change the direction of their company.
At the time, many wholesalers were hand sorting and manually tracking merchandise returned from a retailer. DeCamp and Malecha proposed using bar code scanners to track returned merchandise, since the items already had a bar code. The result was a solution that provided more accurate reporting and increased time efficiencies for the wholesalers. Between 1978 and 1982, Western Computer Systems became more involved in bar code projects. Then, in 1982, PCs began to flood the market. "With the introduction of the PC, suddenly customers didn't want to pay for software, training, or customization. Revenues per sale dropped dramatically," DeCamp explained. In 1982 he left Western Computer Systems and started G.S.D. Associates in order to focus exclusively on bar code data collection and labeling. In 1991, after Western Computer Systems was bought by another company, Malecha rejoined DeCamp at G.S.D. Associates.
Having Patience For Profits
According to DeCamp, one of the biggest challenges facing his company today could be an opportunity. He explained that WMSs (warehouse management systems) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems often consume better than half of a company's budget and resources. Consequently, the initial AIDC component of these installations is frequently postponed or cancelled. However, these types of companies offer AIDC VARs an opportunity for future installations. "Many ERP systems haven't achieved the customer's desired results because the data going in is not accurate and timely," he said. "That's where an AIDC VAR can walk in and really save the day."
Expanding Into New Markets With 2-D And RF
The introduction of 2-D (PDF-417) bar codes has thrust G.S.D. into new markets like government and healthcare. For example, the company recently implemented a 2-D bar code solution for the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). OHP attached 2-D bar codes containing confidential demographic and medical information to potential new clients' paperwork. Over 100 Intermec ScanPlus 1800 PDF CCD (charge coupled device) scanners were installed to read the data and speed up the data entry and verification processes. Another 2-D installation occurred at a biotechnology research company. 2-D bar codes were attached to small vials and bottles containing complex chemicals with long names. The 2-D bar code allowed the company to put the chemical's item number in a small space on the vial/bottle. Using a handheld Intermec 1470 Imager, a lab technician could scan a vial or bottle and accurately track its contents. This eliminated the need for the operator to turn the curved vial/bottle (with costly contents) in order to read the code.
DeCamp encourages VARs to take a hard look at the healthcare field. 2-D is especially pertinent in the medical field because bar codes must contain so much information. Furthermore, DeCamp feels there is a great potential for RF (radio frequency) systems in the healthcare market. One of G.S.D.'s RF installations occurred in a diagnostic lab that was conducting 3,000 tests a day on blood, urine, and tissue samples. The lab had to track the location of any sample as it made its way around the facility. Occasionally, a sample was lost or misplaced and couldn't be found in a timely fashion. This meant the patient had to give another sample. With the new system, scanning devices were attached to all test equipment throughout the lab. Now any specimen could be accounted for in real time. "People don't believe how easy it is to implement a wireless solution," DeCamp explained. "In fact, many hospitals already have the Ethernet cabling that's needed for an RF install."
DeCamp attributes his company's success to understanding the concerns and fears of the end user. He stresses that application knowledge can be the difference between being a lifelong resource, or simply a hardware provider. "E-commerce, WMS, ERP these are all just tools, not an end result. We need to find the best way to use technology without losing personal contact and service. After all, it takes more than a hammer to build a house."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at DanS@corrypub.com.