The following events were reported in "What You See Is What You Get," Think June 1972, pp. 46-48.
Sometimes you should bring the mountain to Mansfield. In this case, the "mountain" is IBM's smallest computer -- a System/3 Model 6 -- and it's conveyed in a 27-foot long motor van, complete with crisp demonstrations and videos. The idea: bring the computer right to customers' doorways as a convenient way to showcase its capabilities and benefits.
On Monday, the van rolls into Mansfield, Ohio, a city of 50,000 people about 90 minutes drive from Cleveland. On the lineup that day are 30 people who have accepted invitations to see the System/3 in action.
Inside the van, George Yoakam, IBM's marketing representative in Mansfield, and Bill Walchli, an assistant salesman, are getting acquainted with their mobile work environment. Walchli, at 6' 3" and 235 pounds, is one of IBM's larger computer operators. Jim Smith -- the man behind the traveling show, and often in front as driving instructor, mechanic and general van handyman -- has arrived from Cleveland to help the two men get their show on the road. Smith is the basic systems marketing manager for an IBM territory covering Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Says Smith: "The Model 6 is a perfect machine. It's inexpensive -- you can rent one for slightly under $1,100 a month -- and easy to operate. It's tough, simple to maintain, and just great to demonstrate."
The first visitor is John Cook, secretary of H. L. Reed Co., a large department store. He watches the System/3 speed through a payroll application and makes a date to see Yoakam later in the week.
The van moves out of the parking lot, turns right, and seven or eight blocks later pulls into the parking lot of a construction company. First in the van is a big man in a brown raincoat, an estimator. "I haven't much time," he says, "What do you want to tell me?"
"We want to show you how you can save time and money," says Yoakam, gray-haired, a veteran salesman before he joined IBM in his native Mansfield four years ago. He explains how the program now being run can help estimate the cost of typical model homes, how it will give a new total each time an item is changed -- and in seconds.
As the printer moves right and left, trailing statistics behind it, an IBM 2265 terminal to its left flashes the same data. The estimator, George Warner, is intrigued now. He starts asking what-if questions: "What if you wanted a gabled roof instead of a flat one? What if I wanted to double the number of windows?"
The changes are typed into the system by Walchli (a proponent of the two-finger method), and new costs appear. "I'm estimating a house right now," says Warner. "Can we try some real figures on your computer?" "Sure," says Yoakam. "We'll do it Wednesday." He arranges for someone from the branch to visit the construction firm to gather data that will be fed into the System/3.
George Warner (right), an estimator with a Mansfield construction firm, takes a look at what a System/3 can do in figuring the costs of various model homes. Seated is Bill Walchli and behind him is George Yoakam, both IBM Mansfield branch salesmen. At left is Jim Smith, the territory's basic systems marketing manager.
The next visitor is Robert Gimbel, the company president. He is friendly, interested, full of questions. He acknowledges that last year his company had great difficulty in estimating certain jobs. Can the computer really help? The printer is moving again, right and left, numbers and letters following on behind. "Fantastic," he exclaims.
It is late afternoon when Smith leaves Mansfield for Cleveland, driving north on Route 71. He will stop by the district office there before he goes home. Next week the System/3 is scheduled to be in Canton, Ohio, home of the Football Hall of Fame, and Smith will be on hand to get the show moving.
The van, he says, seems to bring out a certain derring-do quality in those who use it. He recalls Dan Doran's lofty solution to a problem. Doran, from the IBM branch office in Youngstown, Ohio,was on his way with the van to a customer in Salem, Ohio, when horrible noises from somewhere below told him he had either run over a brass band or his vehicle was coming apart. He pulled into a gas station, got the mechanic's verdict (sheared bolts on one of the wheels), called his customer, and ran the System/3 demo while the van was high on a rack being repaired. "The customer kidded me some about the reliability of the van," says Doran, "but not about the System/3. He thought it was great, and ordered one a month later."
So, in Ohio and elsewhere in the United States, if the customer can't come to the computer, IBM can bring the computer to the customer.
A man who knows when he is on to a good thing, Jim Smith poses with a larger, jazzier van (it also contains a System/7) that replaced the vehicle that visited Mansfield. That first van has since moved on to St. Louis and Kansas City.