Bar Codes Are Built for Speed
Streamline clients' tracking and information gathering while adding heft to your paycheck.
Say your customer wants to track his inventory as it moves through the chain of production, but all you have to offer are plain-old traditional forms. What do you do?
If you're smart you'll find a manufacturer who prints bar-coded labels and not only will you have a happy customer, you'll have a whole new product niche to explore.
Though it's been more than 30 years since the nearly ubiquitous product made its debut, bar codes are still often overlooked.
Perhaps this is because bar codes seem confusing or, in the past, only the very largest of end-user companies could afford the necessary scanning equipment and software used to manage bar-coded information.
Whatever the reason, the time for ignoring bar codes has passed.
"Why should distributors sell bar codes?" asked John Shanley, president, Labels West, Woodinville, Wash. "Let's put it this way: the demand is high for bar-coded products and it's an opportunity to make good money."
Naturally, where there is money to be made, there is a bit of work involved. But as Bill Raible, owner, St. Louis Business Forms, Fenton, Mo., pointed out, it's not so difficult as to be prohibitive.
"It does take some expertise," allowed Raible, "but the only real difficulty lies in whether a distributor will decide to make the economic commitment in both equipment and skilled personnel."
What Raible is referring to is the trend toward offering end-users not only bar-coded products, but also bar-coding equipment, training and service.
Offering traditional bar-coded products—such as labels and forms—can be extremely lucrative, yet many distributors have found that offering customers bar-coding equipment, sales and service can be an excellent way to improve revenue and profits.
Either way, because bar codes are demanded in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, distributors hesitant to risk getting involved in the bar code market should reconsider.
"There are so many industries that use bar coding," observed Michael Del Chiaro, senior vice president of sales and marketing Ward/Kraft, Fort Scott, Kan. "The transportation industry uses bar coding as does the medical industry, doctor's offices and hospitals."
Of course, in order to reap the benefits of selling bar-coded products, distributors need to con-
vince customers of their value.
By replacing vast amounts of information normally processed by workers with scannable bar-code symbologies, bar codes can help end-users cut back on both man-hours and transposition errors. Plus, because information is recorded in real-time, end-users end up with a more accurate picture of what's going on with their product than with manual methods.
That means customers can earn hard dollars through labor savings and soft dollars by providing their customers with quicker answers.
"I think you're going to see growth in this area," predicted Greg Hatches, senior vice president, Data Papers, Muncy, Pa., "A lot of end-users are looking at technology to help improve their handling of products and services. They want to reduce labor and increase profits, and bar codes are very useful for that."
Furthermore, by affixing bar codes to mature products such as traditional and sheeted forms, distributors can also provide themselves with a way to get a foot in the end-user's door.
Nevertheless, whether you decide to set up as a one-stop shop or stick with traditional bar-coded products, there's plenty of business to be had. The difference, as Shanley explained, is simply that, "You're much less likely to get bumped by a lower bid on a certain product if you're providing everything from sales through service, and the profit margins are wider too."
As for how to break into the business, Del Chiaro suggested targeting "anybody that has the need to track information from one point to another," while Shanley characterized the distributor's challenge as "finding a situation where you can tell them that by spending $10,000 they can save $15,000, as well as streamline their information gathering."
"The challenge for distributors is to be able to illustrate the cost savings," Shanley added.
Finally, for those distributors new to bar codes, both Hatches and Del Chiaro encouraged distributors to seek help from manufacturers. Both Ward/Kraft and Data Papers offer distributors interested in bar codes training to learn the ins-and-outs of these products.
But perhaps the best reason to offer bar code products and services is because it's a growing and profitable business.
"We've put our money where our mouth is by investing several hundred thousand dollars in bar coding equipment," declared Del Chiaro. "So yes, business is pretty good."
By Allan Martin Kemler