From file "100_pss" entitled "PS07VWPT.qxd" page 01
From file "100_pss" entitled "PS07VWPT.qxd" page 01

Don't touch that dial—the construction supply industry is on a radio wave that looks to be gaining momentum with diverse applications that go way beyond the dispatch desk. Already leveraged for pro dealer communication, inventory, and even manufacturing processes, radio frequency is suddenly becoming an affordable technology—and thus a hot commodity—among corporate market mavens who see next-generation applications that include imbedding sound bites and jingles into point-of-purchase displays and even product packaging.

According to “The New Sounds of Selling,” an article by Thomas Mucha on leveraging radio frequency technology for marketing success in the May 2005 issue of Business 2.0, the latest concept is called “sonic tagging,” a method by which companies distill their brand image information into 10-second or less sound clips (think of Intel's four-note “Intel Inside,” the Yahoo! yodel, or IBM's boot-up sounds for ThinkPad notebook computers) and then imbed the result into all manners of products and services.

More than just glorified jingles, sonic tags may represent a new threshold in marketing and customer services for industries already embracing radio frequency technology, eventually enabling companies to use radio ID tags not just to store inventory location and customer data, but also to communicate selling points and product features. “Cheaper chip technology means you can play the sound on retail shelves, you can imbed it in the packaging—you can even put it in a car horn,” Lor Gold, chief creative officer at Chicago direct-marketing agency Draft, tells Mucha. “It's most effective where you least expect it.”

Think a yard full of talking 2x4s is a bit unbelievable? While the concept may read like science fiction, the technology behind it is not as far-flung as it may seem—lumberyards already are utilizing radio frequency for more than just scanning inventory. Scarborough, Maine–based Simply Computing, for example, is already using next-generation capabilities to bolster its suite of radio frequency inventory and timber scaling software solutions. “[Standard radio frequency inventory tracking] is already so old,” says Simply Computing office manager Kimberly Haven. “The things we are working on now go far beyond that, especially with voice recognition systems.”

Searsmont, Maine–based Robbins Lumber, for example, is using Simply Computing's voice recognition system for log scaling and mill operations that allow users to report a wide range of receivables data—from species to unit count—into a Talkman headset and voice terminal that converts speech into ASCII text, which is then sent via radio wave to accounting software on the company's mainframe. According to a case study on Robbins by Simply Computing, the software has increased data entry accuracy to 100 percent, and the hands-free, eyes-free interface has contributed to greater safety among yard workers who are no longer burdened with filling out paper slips or punching keypads.

As an industry that already uses radio frequency technology to kiln-dry lumber, bond plywood, and track receivables—not to mention communicate with handheld two-way radios—residential construction supply is already primed to leverage the efficiencies and productivities that radio waves promise. Not bad for a group that is consistently characterized as being behind the ball when it comes to technology. While radio tag–imbedded smart products that provide audio packing instructions to load builders or even installation instructions to contractors may still be a couple years away, Robbins and other yards and dealers picking up on the frequency are great examples of the ingenuity and creativity bringing us forward into the 21st century. To that I say 10-4.

Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 415.552.4154 E-mail: