A Chat with Barcoding, Inc. Founder Jay Steinmetz
The first thing you notice when getting on a call with Jay Steinmetz, founder of Maryland supply chain management company Barcoding, Inc., is the unmistakable, unmitigated passion that undoubtedly helped to earn him any number of prestigious titles, including a 2018 Baltimore Visionary honor. There’s also “the bottom line,” which punctuates a series of anecdotes and informative discourses which shine a light on how Steinmetz went from marketing middleman to the figurehead of a $100-million enterprise.
For Jay Steinmetz, “the bottom line” is this: business is good. Business is growing. And the key to creating a better future for everyone lies in creating better, more plentiful jobs.
Learning from the Best
“It was really interesting growing up,” says Steinmetz. His dad owned and operated a chain of women’s clothing stores. His mother was a financial planner. His grandfather was a Boston-based upholsterer who, at one time, worked on pieces for none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.
“I learned from them. They were all self-employed,” he says. “[Entrepreneurship] was definitely in my blood.”
Rolling the Dice on BIG Ideas
When Steinmetz was in college, he attempted to launch a $70-million hotel and casino. He received a letter of intent for $45 million.
It gets better: When the young entrepreneur went to meet with a Vegas casino owner to procure his investment, he wasn’t even old enough to gamble.
“That ended up being the business plan that got me into the entrepreneurship program at the University of Arizona,” he says, laughing. “I’ve got all sorts of stories.”
While the casino didn’t take root, a bigger player wandered into Steinmetz’s sights not long after – the Internet.
The World Wide Web was in its infancy, but Steinmetz immediately noticed its potential. He had been living in California and working for a barcoding company called AccuScan. When the company was acquired by a Maryland outfit, Steinmetz was relocated.
“I was in marketing. I wasn’t even doing sales,” says Steinmetz. “But the opportunity came up to sell barcoding technology online and no one was really doing it. I actually wanted to set up a website [for AccuScan]. But they were like, ‘I don’t know what this Internet thing is. That’s just not who we are.’” It was, however, who Steinmetz wanted to be. He quit his job and set out to fry bigger fish, explore greener pastures, and build a better powerhouse.
Barcoding, Inc. Begins
After a brief networking sojourn in India, Steinmetz returned to the states where he and a friend entered a 50/50 business partnership. The duo split the interests between Steinmetz’s brainchild CaptureTech – a promising barcoding reseller – and his friend’s valet service.
Things did not remain simpatico between the two.
“It took all of a second to realize that my business was the one with all of the growth potential,” Steinmetz says. When his partner fled their Fells Point home office with the company laptop, before fleeing the state with all of its earnings – a dissolution of their “gentlemen’s agreement” was imminent. And Steinmetz had to start from scratch.
“You live and you learn,” Steinmetz says.
In 1998, he started his dream again from scratch, and the (not-so-long) launch to the top.
In fact, the company became multinational pretty quickly, thanks to an office Steinmetz launched in the Netherlands with yet another business associate. When the dot com boom erupted, the American and Dutch offices parted ways, and the U.S. branch changed its name to Barcoding, Inc.
“I ended up letting [my partner] move on and do his own thing,” Steinmetz says. “We stayed very close, but it was going to be a long haul. I was too far removed to manage a European component.”
Instead, acquisition quickly became the name of the game stateside, and Barcoding, Inc. began growing by leaps and bounds, year after year.
Technology is consistently changing, says Steinmetz, and his company had the benefit of innovating during an epic convergence of technology. Its meteoric growth stems from the integration of new, emerging, and exciting developments spanning vision systems, radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth, satellite and terrestrial cellular network technology, and so much more.
In 2004, Barcoding, Inc. was named an Inc. 500 Company, as well as one of Forbes’ “10 Privately Held Technology Companies to Watch.” Another company on that particular watch list was an up-and-comer known as Google.
“I was in with Google in 2004,” Steinmetz laughs. “Which is CRAAAAAAZY. We didn’t follow the same trajectory, of course, but that’s ok.”
Barcoding, Inc. was charting its own path, acquiring tech outfits like Acuity ID and Turn 2 Technologies (2006) and Wi-Tech Data Systems (2008) left and right.
Countless accolades soon followed; Deloitte Fast 50 in 2007, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, and Baltimore’s Smart CEO Smart 100 in 2011.
In the mix, Barcoding, Inc. opened a West Coast office, as well as a Canadian extension, Barcoding Canada, while continuing to build a vast patent portfolio for unique solutions that have taken the market by storm.
More recently, Barcoding, Inc. was named the Maryland Technology Company of the Year in 2017. That same year, it delved into digital display technology with the acquisition of the company Power Up, creators of the first USA made rapid cell phone charging station. In addition to providing cell phone charging tables and lockers that are on display at locales such as Ravens Stadium, Camden Yards, and more, Power Up specializes in UVC sterilizing cabinets for iPads and other surfaces. Today, Barcoding, Inc. employs more than 175 people in 16 offices across the U.S. and three in Canada (Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto) and provides advanced technology for some of the largest Tier 1 retailers and wholesalers in North America.
“The bottom line is our company helps other companies become more efficient, accurate, and connected,” says Steinmetz. “We do that through the use of Automatic identification technology, and in some cases just business process.”
Making Things Work in Maryland
Barcoding, Inc. moved into its new headquarters in Highlandtown last year.
“We outgrew our facilities and I wanted to invest in Baltimore,” Steinmetz says, while stressing that the city is not the easiest of places to do business.
Of his two published articles in the Wall Street Journal, Steinmetz’s first, “My Baltimore Business Problem,” explored the challenges inherent with operating in one of Maryland’s most heralded cities.
“There are a lot of things that the State of Maryland makes difficult [for business owners],” says Steinmetz, a strong Democrat. “And Baltimore is just an extension of that.”
If, for instance, his nondescript office building is graffitied by vandals – and he does not clean the scrawl within a certain amount of time, he can be fined.
“When you get called into court to deal with criminal activity that your camera picked up outside of your building… things like that really beat you down.”
Steinmetz is no stranger to the innerworkings of state politics. Over the years, he has become so familiar and vested in the issues facing Maryland businesses that former Governor O’Malley assigned him to the small business commission.
“I was prolific enough to get legislation passed, and Governor Hogan – a Republican governor – also put me on his commission. And I did that all without donations. This wasn’t a pay-to-play thing, this was purely based on my competence and what I can do as an individual.”
The overwhelming complexities of Maryland law – from workers’ compensation to sales tax minutiae to unemployment and disability and so much more – creates real struggle for business owners, Steinmetz says.
“It’s really hard to compete or grow effectively and invest in technology and build better mousetraps when you have to show up for all these hearings and legal issues. In Maryland, it’s doubly hard. It’s a real issue and it impacts us every day… We have to start thinking about these things.”
The move into Barcoding’s new headquarters was eye-opening, he continues.
“It really educated me on the bifurcation of why the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he says. “The environment in Baltimore and Maryland is like an ecosystem. Let’s call it a ‘garden.’ What I mean by that is in a garden you have to have good soil, good water, and good sun. If you’re missing any of those components, things get stunted. In Baltimore and Maryland, we have some very good ecosystems, and others that are [rotten]. In many ways, our economy is artificially propped up by our proximity to D.C., so that masks a lot of the issues that we’re having, you know? But those issues are there nonetheless.”
“You don’t see – pretty much ever – businesses moving to Maryland,” Steinmetz continues. “It happens very rarely. There’s a reason the money is walking out of Maryland and especially Baltimore. Here in the city, the deadly combination of high crime, very high taxes, and low educational attainment are almost too much to overcome, and that garden we mentioned just wilts away. And when you have a poor ecosystem that doesn’t work, places like Baltimore have to put government tax breaks in place to keep businesses around. Only the rich can afford to understand these complicated instruments and they are the only ones that exploit them and get even richer.”
Giving Idle Hands a Leg Up
Job creation remains a driving force for Steinmetz, his company, and his political aims.
“Fundamentally, more than welfare, more than housing improvements, more than a good police force… jobs, in my mind, are as critical to the success of our country as they have always been. It’s the reason that our economy has worked so well over the course of so many years.”
Jobs create a sense of identity and self-worth, he continues, and are essential to helping upcoming generations understand how societies thrive.
“When a child watches his mom or dad go to work and earn an income, and then take that money and do something productive with it, they understand that’s how society is supposed to work. But when we create a society where people have expectations of the government, that throws off the concept and it confuses the children who are … looking for social cues.”
Steinmetz believes businesses like his will play a critical role in mitigating the social struggles of Baltimore, and the country at large.
“If you need medical attention, go to a doctor. If you want an education, speak to a teacher. If you want to understand how to create jobs for your community, talk to the people who create them. Business owners create jobs. The more successful these engines of our democracy are, the more they expand, the better we all are.”