I’ve always dug on really showing  what products can do, it’s way more impressive than just saying they’re durable. Muting the audio may be preferable for those who are violently allergic to Fred Durst. The Symbol/Motorola (Symbolora? Motorymbol?) MC9000 is what you see doing price and inventory checks at big box stores like Target.

Big Pushes

April 4, 2008

Hey, so aside from one random post that took 3 weeks to publish, I’ve been pretty silent the past month or so. Near burnout. I don’t think I’m ready for big pushes for releases yet. We just unleashed a few new products on the site, complete systems for barcode label printing and inventory control. I’m pretty sure these were kind of thought up the week after I got back from Austin. So the kids kicking around the ideas had a few days to think about it and then the I was a zombie from late flights and early mornings at work the next day and went along with it. These systems come with a computer, monitor, the stuff you normally get when you buy a PC, as well as a barcode scanner, some sort of software, and other equipment that’ll get you doing advanced data capture or barcode labeling or other industry catchphrases that sound cool.

So yeah, the Barcode Printing systems are out there for people who may already have a point of sale setup, but it doesn’t print labels for them, or maybe they’re creating products and want to slap UPC’s on them for distribution. It’s also handy if you have twins and can’t tell them apart. The systems come in two flavors: Value and Preferred.

Value’s designed for people who just want to label their products. They may want some basic stuff but they’re not going to use a label bigger than 2″ wide. It’s got software that’s pretty easy to use and can make solid labels for whatever.

Preferred has a bigger printer, 4″ wide is pretty wide for label stock, and it can print in direct thermal or thermal transfer. Thermal transfer won’t fade or get discolored from heat. It also uses beefier software that provides more methods for hooking into pre-existing databases. Either way, you can label a ton of stuff with this gear.

As for Inventory Control Systems, that was all me. I spent about 3 weeks pouring over the products we sell, looking at the pros and cons of each mobile computer, every piece of software, until I could figure out a way to get a full rig set up that would do what customers want and not put them in the poor house. Three flavors there: Value, Basic, and Premium. I stayed away from Preferred or Essential or other terms that put a useful quality because these setups are all awesome for somebody. And, much like a parent, I’m not going to say I like one more than the other.

Value has all you need for light inventory control. The software is pretty laid back, and it comes with a cordless barcode scanner. The range on the scanner’s about 50 meters, so this is for a small to medium-sized single warehouse. A Costco was not the Value system’s intended target. Probably not a Target either.

Basic Inventory systems take the inventory control a step further, implementing a PalmOS based mobile computer, but using the same software as the Value System. So now you’re not tethered to RF ranges or PCs, so you’re set if you have multiple locations, or want to double check inventory while you’re at home or something.

Premium systems go a step further, using much beefier software that is designed specifically for multiple locations, vendors, and order systems. It has really advanced hooks to connect to pre-existing databases, and uses pretty rad mobile computers. The software scales a lot better than the Basic or Value software, and so you can rock huge databases without too much trouble.

In all, I would say the systems help fill a niche, and provide a solution for questions we tend to get fairly often. And at the very least, we can tell customers that we know this stuff works because we had to go through the learning process already. It’s not as ambiguous as “it should work fine” or “I guess you could do that.”

This is also the first time we’ve rolled stuff onto the front page that has its own style. I like it, it’s a departure from blue and green on white and really ties the promo together as a unique entity. Unfortunately for me, or fortunately for the company, if you know my photoshop skills, I did miniscule work for the promos and brochures for the systems. It was all the work of our new Marketeer. I don’t know what to call her title. She does a ton of design work for us, but she also does marketing bookkeeping and stuff. And Marketeer sounds cool, like she’s got a brass helmet and rocketpack or something.

So four of us worked on setting this up for the past… month and a half, with the past three weeks being taken up almost entirely by this one project. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I know these systems inside and out. And now I’m ready to take a week off and go watch cartoons in my pajamas.

The art of the SKU

April 4, 2008

Being Product Manager means I’m inundated with products that are all totally awesome and all do everything perfectly. I don’t mind that, it’s actually fun seeing people really excited about printers that also read checks. They’re either tremendous liars or insane. Regardless, it’s a great show.

Recently, I worked on getting a industrial barcode printer from Zebra up on our site. It’s the S4M, and rocks 6″ per second print speeds and looks like it can take a hit from a howitzer and keep printing. It’s also been in my “put it on the site” queue since July and I’d be remiss to put it off for a full year.

This would probably be as good a time as any to outline the process I take for listing a product. It’s just so efficient and rad that I feel I must share it with you. Before I even start full on content creation (read: overusing verbs like utilize and provide), I trawl the manufacturer’s site for their description, data sheets, drivers, and big images. Big images are important. Nobody likes to look at blurry stuff on the internet. It’s just not done. Once I find the info, I dump my haul out and start in on part number wrangling and pricing. For most products this is the easy part, just rote data entry on 3-10 part numbers.

Once that’s squared away, I pour over the data sheets and manufacturer’s description to pick out what I want the customer to know is most important about the product. And thus begins the fun of using my math education skills to write descriptions that tell the customer about the product and highlight the best parts of it. I haven’t created the equation yet, otherwise I’d just dump all the terms into excel and have it create the sentences for me. Finally, I format the imagery for our reqs and dump it all onto the site. An average product takes the better part of an afternoon to create, and about 40 minutes to list.

But sometimes there are products that throw a wrench in my system such that it takes 3 solid days to get everything together. The only images available are 20×20 thumbnails, the descriptions are single sentences of “This is a barcode scanner. buy it”, or there are so many variations on the product that 5 hours are eaten just in squaring away part numbers and pricing.

The S4M, with the 50 part numbers I’ve found so far, falls into this category. This is special territory, and puts it in ranks with the Symbol MC70 and Intermec CN3. It’s not bad that there is this much variance within a product line, oftentimes it prevents consumers from paying for features they neither need nor want. I can see where it could cause problems for newer or less immersed consumers. The last thing I like when I’m researching a relatively major purchase is to have 5,000 slightly different choices. And now, as a quasi-shiftless Product Manager, it turns a quick product listing into a 3 day job.

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