Fiona's Journey

My life at Advantia started in May 1996. I had left school and worked for a Gas company as a Sales Administrator for the previous 5 years and then went for an interview at Advantia (then called COSTS Consortium), for what I thought was a clothing company. In those days the internet was not widely available and the logo, which was a tag with “Making Quality Affordable” on it, did not say Stationery products to me, hence thinking it was clothing!

I got the job as Marketing Administrator and spent years being trained by the Marketing Manager to proofread the catalogue and mailers that we produced and maintain the database of products. Since then, I have seen the comings and goings of many staff, members, and suppliers. I have been through mergers, supply chain changes and seen big changes in the industry. I eventually became the Catalogue Manager and worked tirelessly to produce the catalogue each year, working with some great suppliers plus the marketing committee, which was made up of members and Head Office staff. We used to do product selection meetings and we would bring in the samples of the products which we had received from suppliers. To see grown men fighting over a sample of Air Freshener was hilarious!

Anyone who has worked on the production of catalogues knows that there is always a crucial (manic and crazy) time at the end to hit the print deadline. Our catalogue design agency was based in Southend on Sea, and every year me and the team would set off at the beginning of November for a 2 week stay down in Southend to sign off the catalogue artwork. We would arrive their premises in the dark of the morning and return to the hotel in the dark of night. It was such hard work but worth the effort once complete. We would then go to the printers to watch the catalogue physically being printed and colour check the first proofs that came off the printer. I have seen this process many times and still cannot believe the size of the huge roll of paper that goes into the printer and how it comes out at the end. Seeing the printed copy of the catalogue and receiving thanks from the members for all of our hard work was the best part.

In 2007 I got married and subsequently 2 children followed. I started to work part time as I loved my job but also wanted to look after my children. Advantia has always been a small team and when you play a pivotal role it can be quite hard juggling work and children, but they have always been so supportive and understanding of the issues of juggling the two.

In 2015, our e-commerce platform was born. By then we were modifying a wholesaler catalogue and not producing our own from scratch, so I was asked to work on the data side of the business.

I love data…….very sad I know! Data is KING, as was echoed at one of our member conferences. Without good data customers cannot buy the product. Data from suppliers can often be challenging, everyone seems to do it in a different way or style. Maintaining consistency is always going to be difficult but my job is to help the data that fuels Merlin be as good as it can be.

Working with data is also a bit of a thankless task. I cannot make it look pretty, that’s the designer’s job, so it’s just facts and making sure it says everything that the customer needs to know! Our saying at Advantia has always been “Can my granny buy this?” In other words, does the product contain all the information it needs to allow the customer to buy it? If Granny wants to buy a printer but it must fit on her coffee table, does the information tell her what the dimensions are? If not, Granny has already clicked away from the members website onto someone else’s that does tell her the dimensions.

As well as a love of data, I have a love of animals and wildlife. I have rescued so many rabbits and guinea pigs over the years and my dream is to have a smallholding and set up my own animal rescue.

Unfortunately for me (fortunately for Advantia), until I win the lottery………Data it is!! 😊