Symbol Technologies: Takes A Licking

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

Durability certainly matters—whether it's a handheld device that can withstand a four-foot drop onto concrete, or the reputation of a company suddenly facing intense SEC scrutiny.

1 Symbol Plaza
Holtsville, NY 11742
(631) 738-2400



Jerome Swartz

Chairman, Chief Scientist

Credited with more than 150 patents, he cofounded the company in 1975. Was a program manager on a key NASA Apollo project in the 1960s.

Ron Goldman

SVP, Mobile Computing and Scanning

Previously an intellectual-property lawyer, he joined in 1991.


Handhelds, running on Palm, Pocket PC or Windows CE, include the PDT 8000 and the PPT 8800, which perform bar-code scanning and wireless communication; also offers mobile peripherals such as scanners and printers. View the PDF -- Turn off pop-up blockers!

Takes a Licking

Durability certainly matters—whether it's a handheld device that can withstand a four-foot drop onto concrete, or the reputation of a company suddenly facing intense SEC scrutiny.

Symbol's devices are renowned for their rugged construction, which makes them well-suited for the rough-and-tumble world of the direct-store-delivery model. (That's how they're employed by PepsiCo—see Case Dissection, p. 34.) Still, when a former exec is sued by the SEC for fraudulently pumping up sales revenues—Symbol is restating its results from 1999 to 2002—customers might be forgiven for having a few doubts.

Rob McClellan, for one, of TaylorMade-adidas Golf, says he's "not overly concerned" about the SEC flap. "The technology is stable; one way or another, that will continue to live." It's no wonder McClellan has strong feelings: his recent deployment has had sales reps realizing a 50% reduction in time spent on customer calls, and a 25% increase overall in productivity.

Similarly, Millstone's Dave Ziegler says his company has tabulated the benefits of its 350 Symbol units (mostly the 1700 model), "but not on a hard number basis." Instead, "we're really focused on reliability: less downtime for the sales associates, more time to focus on their delivering and selling responsibilities." About 20% of Millstone's units are the 1800 model, which, with a later operating system and expanded memory, was necessary "where we have very heavy usage of a large volume of data, and needed heavier processing power."

Buying rival Telxon, in 2000, gave Symbol an expanded client base—and gave some Telxon users a few headaches. "The Telxon acquisition had its downsides," says Giant Eagle's Robert P. Garrity, including confusion over billing issues and key contacts.

Last year, Totes Isotoner switched 35 of its 100 Symbol units from handhelds to wrist-mounted devices—and director of distribution Doug Baker estimates it brought a 20% increase in productivity, giving workers "two hands to work with instead of one." But product satisfaction isn't the same as a strong personal relationship—consultant Manhattan Associates managed the deployment. "We don't work directly with Symbol," Baker says, beyond warranty and repairs. For the U.S. Postal Service's Robert Otto, that was the rough patch. "The quality and turnaround time for parts' repair [was] not the best," he says, but Symbol's continuous enhancements to the product compensated.

Most importantly, TaylorMade's McClellan says, his sales reps "love the thing—it fits in your hand when it's open, and straps on the side so you don't lose it; you drop it, and it's undamaged." Durable, maybe—but not irreplaceable. "There are products of equal capabilities available," says Giant Eagle's Garrity. But nothing, he says, can touch "the innovation that Symbol brings to the industry."

This article was originally published on 2003-05-01
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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