February 8th, 2022

Stephanie Faulkner introduces herself

20 years ago I ran a Post Office in rural Oxfordshire

If you had asked me 20 years ago what I’d be doing ‘when I grow up’ I would never have guessed it would be this.

20 years ago I ran a Post Office in rural Oxfordshire and the journey from there to Fortoak has been a mystery and an adventure.

Losing my Dad to bone marrow cancer in 2005 was the catalyst and I packed up my young son and life to move home and be with my mum in Nottinghamshire.

I was incredibly fortunate to start working at The Barcode Warehouse, one of the largest Barcode equipment suppliers in the UK and the Lead supplier of logistics equipment and labels into Royal Mail, and started my AIDC adventure. At that time I had no idea what Automated Industrial Data Capture, Barcodes, QR codes, RFID or supply chain were, but I’ve since found out they are a lot of science and a little bit of magic.

I learned everything I know from everything our sales team didn’t know

I started in this industry in customer services, and I learned everything I know from everything our sales team didn’t know. If there was a problem, I would work out the solution and ‘save’ the customer. Everything from out of registration labels to software glitches; the fault-finding list was enormous. I developed relationships with all the hardware manufacturers, learned product portfolios, trained on label software and within weeks the returns rate dropped because swapping a cable or reflashing the software was all that was needed.

After a few years at TBW one of the Directors set up his own business and asked me to come and work for him. I always say “it was 3 of us in an old farm cottage with some laptops and a whole lot of bravado” and that was pretty much it. We had one hardware distributor when we started and no customers. I spent months on the phone building one customer at a time. A young student came and built our website and after a couple of years of back breaking work we started to get big projects for household brands. I remember signing the contracts to supply RFID to Apple and although it was the smallest run rate and low annual revenue it felt like the biggest thing at the time. I look back at my 8 years with Kev Bryan and Global Auto ID Ltd fondly, but I needed a change and the only way is up.

Working your way up the food chain in AIDC eventually leads to working for a hardware manufacturer and that’s what brought me to SATO.

SATO are the second largest thermal printer manufacturer in the world. Where Zebra has the market share on the western side of the Globe SATO have market share in the east. Every TV, pair of trainers, Cosmetic item or car component that comes out of Asia has a SATO label on it which went through a SATO printer. You probably have 30 SATO labels in your home and you don’t even realise. They are a deeply ethical company who promote the core values of Kotouri (synergy in partnerships) & Genbaryoku (determinedly completing a task) but they are very Japanese and there where forms for their forms… provided you had completed the right form to get that form.

Kev used to always say to me small ships turn faster in storms and the UK AIDC sector is nothing but one big storm!

What SATO excelled at was planned supply chain, longevity of quality contracts and full life maintenance of hardware; some of the printers the engineers were maintaining where 20+ years old and they where having to fabricate parts to keep them going. Anyone else would have scrapped it way before then and sold you a new one! (which would have been cheaper.) It was one of the most powerful long term strategies I have ever seen. But it was frustrating working in that corporate and restrictive culture which has ultimately led me to Fortoak.

So what can I say about Fortoak; I’ve been here 2 weeks. It feels like a family and home.

When I was 10 my dad planted an acorn in the garden with me. He said it would take a while to grow but it would be there for the rest of my life if I looked after it. He taught me everything I know about engineering; he was an Engineer and Soldier. I’m looking at that tree now from my office window as I type this.

Fortoak is my new acorn and I’m here to help it grow.

I am absolutely blown away by the drive and energy that Alex, Craig and Laura have. The strength of Colin, Peter and the office teams in keeping our roots strong and grounded. The foresight they all share in developing and delivering environmentally sustainable label and packaging. And the future they are looking to build through strong partnerships and solutions.

My Journey from A to B has not been a smooth one but I can’t wait for the journey from Fort-acorn to Fortoak.

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