A Tale of Barcode Identity from Factory to Retail Fulfillment Center (EDI)

Written and contributed by: Carl E. Padovano

ItalianCobbler001My father is a shoemaker in Guardia San Framonde Italy, a kind man with a thick and ruffled mustache in the style of Victor Emmanuel II. His factory was a flat-topped building where the roof sustained his grapevines and cool autumn evenings were spent playing the mandolin and celebrating the days’ work with his artisans. Many believe that his world renowned success was due mainly by the talents of his 4 daughters, Antoinette, Clementina, Felicia, and Gianina (Nina). All are modern, intelligent, attractive, and cleverly attune to the latest trends from Milan, Paris and New York City. But Nina is the most scientific and practical of them all, and to her we owe our tale of life and experience.

I am Amelia, one pair of Papa’s “babies.” I am my father’s bellissima opera d’arte (beautiful work of art), I have style, color, and my own size to fit just the right person. Papa taught us from a very young age that we would have to share our boxes, and sometimes even our “soles”, with barcodes.

Papa says that we must endure the annoying and unflattering additions to our beauty until we find our new homes, when we are bought, in America. After tolerating the embellishment of woven labels proudly displaying Papa’s proud and strong brand name, printed clothing labels letting the Americans know our size and how to care for us and a beautiful custom hangtag detailing the history of Papa and his craftsmanship, we were wrapped in swaddling tissue and placed in our secure box. He whispered to all of us as we were placed in our shipping containers, that the carton barcode will help Uncle Felix at our warehouse in America.

Aunt Nina received orders from all of Papa’s customers on the computer. She said that by receiving the orders electronically (between computers) she could let the customers know what the prices were and when the shipment was expected to arrive. She called it EDI. Having the purchase orders electronically also helps Aunt Nina print and apply our barcodes at the factory.  She said, these fingers are made for making bread, not for re-typing a bunch of numbers I already have in the computer.”

Aunt Nina would explain to us that we would all be receiving a barcode label or tag. She said “there are many different types of barcodes all with different characteristics, in terms of size and in terms of the message that can be put within them.” Simply, Barcodes are license plates; they represent who you are and where you came from. Additionally, so Uncle Felix at the warehouse and the family that buys knows how to handle you and how much you cost.

Then again, when landed at the warehouse, Uncle Felix told us he used the barcodes so he knew where, when and how many of us where in the warehouse at any given time. At all times and all the time, Uncle Felix knew who we were, where we were, and more from the moment we arrived at his warehouse.

With that said, the mornings were a tough time for Uncle Felix. From where we sat we could hear him shouting Bafanabala! Bafanabala! Barfanabala! (Which literally meant “Go To Naples”) but when uncle Felix yelled it, and touched his fingers to his forehead, it meant things were changing and special situations had to be addressed.

You see, every morning at the warehouse was like triage, customer asking that we be sent immediately, sometimes with their own specific new and/or additional barcode labels or hangtags. ALL the time with their own specific carton labels, packing slips, routing, and EDI requirements. Macys and customers like them would delay, to the very last minute, their instructions of which stores we were supposed to be shipped to. Uncle Felix wouldn’t receive these distribution messages into his computer until moments before we actually landed in the warehouse. Because my cousins before us were barcoded and scanned when they were sold, (and not scanned when they weren’t sold) Macys knew where the pretty shoes were selling and not. They used all sorts of sales information, arithmetic and intuition, to guarantee that we were sent to the right place, at the right time. From old wine barrels, sticks, barcode scanners and twine Uncle Felix built a sortation system that would drop just the exact shoes into the exact barrels and off we would go to the needy stores.

But Macys delay and just in time distribution was by no means the end of triage and the “bafanabalas.” Uncles Tuggy, Spike and Tuddy were our salespeople.  Although they loved each other like brothers, they argued like 3 roosters in a 10 foot cage.

Tuggy would say, “I need the same style shoes for MY customer as Macys or else I won’t get the order.” Spike would demand, “My internet customers and my internet customer’s customers must know what Felix has in stock, 24X7, absolutely and positively!”  I can remember hearing Uncle Tut saying, “I have one customer that will buy a million pair if we change the existing barcodes and bag the pairs in two’s.”

In the fashion business stealing inventory from Paul to pay Peter is commonplace, and unless we had the computer to computer messages for standard communications, executing the special orders, special shipping instructions, and special packaging, triage would soon turn to mayhem and Uncle Felix would “bafa” himself to death.

As Papa said, “today we must sell to everyone. Merchants and sales channels have never been so diverse”.  If Papa had to anticipate customer requirements and reserve warehouse space for every variation of customer we very well would be lost along the way, orphans. So, because I am one of Papa’s bellissima opera d’arte’s  I will continue to smile at the the bafanabalas; tolerate re-tagging, over-labeling, re-bagging, and last minute re-routing in order to find perfect home where I will be loved and sparkled for the rest of my days.  ~ The End

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