It's midmorning on a Monday and Ron Goade is talking with some of his employees who are tending a manufacturing line that's spitting out plastic postcards with punch-out free and discounted food coupons for Papa Murphy's pizza stores.
“These claim mailers have a 17 percent redemption rate by recipients because of their perceived value,” said Goade, ticking off direct mail statistics and holding up a sample card.
Meanwhile, retailers love the mailers because the bar codes printed on them carry variable customer data that can be tracked individually, he said.
Goade said such claim mailers now bring in half the business of SSI Technologies, a company he founded 44 years ago and with which the first gift card is credited.
Gift cards and plastic key tags, like the ones pharmacies hand out to its members, round out SSI's remaining sales.
Goade said SSI has some 5,000 customers, annual revenues of about $11 million and employs roughly 100, including an Iranian engineer, British production manager and several Vietnamese workers on the production lines.
The average service time for his workers is 18 years, according to the company's human resources director.
From his 40,000-square-foot facility at 1027 Waterwood Parkway in Edmond, Goade, 76, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I was born in Kansas City, Mo., and have a brother 14 months older, and sister five years younger who both live in California.
Our mother was a homemaker, and father a WWII combat engineer who was at war during my 7th- through 11th-grade years. It was a tough time. We bounced around, and I went to a different school for five straight years. But I learned to stand on my own, and think for myself.
My mother instilled in me that I was special; that anything less than perfect wasn't good enough for me. And my fifth-grade teacher inspired me never to accept anything less than straight As.
My father, who struggled with alcoholism and depression after the war, and mother split up when I was in 12th grade. She later remarried a former beau to whom she was engaged before she met my dad.
Q: Where did you work before you started your own company?
A: In the late '50s, I worked for “Oklahoma Business News.” I'd come in at 5 a.m. and get the “intents to drill,” and then consolidate, mimeograph and deliver them to some 70 people around town who worked at oil companies, law offices or other newspapers.
Then I worked for a sporting goods store in Warr Acres while I attended OCU. In the late '60s, I worked for Magnavox, trying to bring the fax machine to the market. But that only lasted a year and a half, because nobody wanted faxes then.
A headhunter hired me away to General Binding Corp., where I sold laminating and bookbinding machines. For three years, I was a top salesman.
Q: And your inspiration for founding SSI?
A: SSI doesn't stand for anything now, but when I founded the company in 1969, it stood for Stik/Strip Inc. We manufactured a two-sided tape on carbonless copy paper for use at hospitals. We made our first plastic card for IBM. Versus a magnetic stripe, it bore small holes and was used to open gates at hospitals.
From there, we sold bar-coded library cards and student I.D. cards to Central State and other colleges and libraries across Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, and then won a contract with the federal government to print high-security I.D. cards for military bases across the U.S. and eventually Europe. We hold 13 patents.
One of our most memorable projects was printing voter I.D. cards for the state of Baja, Mexico, and then 55 million for the entire national government. We wrote the software so that once the cards were scanned, they didn't exist, which kept votes from being counted twice. The Mexico job led to deals with a bunch of nations, including Iran, Austria and Latvia. We also did phone cards for AT&T, Sprint and others.
Q: You say SSI originated the first gift card. Tell us about that.
A: Yes, for Blockbuster in 1995. They were using a paper gift certificate, which was ineffective because recipients of a $100 gift certificate, for example, might come in the stores and buy a $5 movie and then be reimbursed the remainder. That's when we brainstormed the bar-coded card, which could hold the remaining value. They sold 500,000 a week.
Q: I understand you at one point sold SSI and then bought it back. What happened there?
A: That's right. We in 1998 sold to a spinoff of Rand McNally for $9 million, but we never received the full sales price.
Within 18 months, the buyer was $40 million in debt and facing bankruptcy, which he alleged I brought on. I spent $200,000 defending that charge, for which I was cleared, and another $5 million to buy back the assets of the company upon the plea of many longtime employees.
Then 9/11 and the ensuing downturn came, which were further challenges to the business, which once employed as many as 500.
Q: Now that you're quasi-retired, do you like to travel?
A: No. I traveled so much for the company — some 3 million miles — that I can hardly bring myself to get on a plane. We used to have a plant in Holland, did lots of international business, and had offices in Washington, San Francisco and L.A. I was gone for weeks at a time.
Q: What's your role at SSI today?
A: I'm primarily a research and development guy for new products or unusual projects. I've made so many mistakes over the years, I usually know whether something can or can't be done.
One new product on tap is a PhotoPog, a charm bracelet of sorts for which kids can upload images, design online and then hang the printed pop-out plastic photo charms on their backpacks or other stuff.
All of our other products have been business-to-business. This will be the first that's business-to-consumer.