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A Conversation With Avery Dennison's James Stafford

The tag maker's head of RFID adoption explains how companies like shirt manufacturer Seidensticker are benefiting from RFID, and describes the technology's past, present and future—as well as his own.
By Rhea Wessel
Sep 02, 2009Avery Dennison supplies a range of RFID tags and labels, including those for shipping containers, pallets and cartons, as well as for such items as clothing, jewelry or cosmetics. James Stafford, the company's head of RFID adoption since 2007, spoke with RFID Journal regarding the many RFID deployments his company has been involved with—including that of shirt maker Seidensticker. Stafford also discussed his long career in the radio frequency identification industry, along with his experiences at Marks & Spencer, where he led the retailer's RFID rollout.

Q: How did you first get involved in RFID, especially its use by retailers?

James Stafford
A: My father and grandfather owned a retail shop, so I was brought up in retail. In 2000, my job at Marks & Spencer was to look for retail innovation. We saw an electronics revolution coming that would impact the retail sector, and we began to look at RFID. I was in a lucky position because I had a good understanding of retail, and I learned about the opportunity for RFID. I was running a number of development projects in clothing and food, but RFID became the big cuckoo in the nest—the dominant project. We saw quickly that it was going to be a good opportunity.

Q: Marks & Spencer is seen as a leader in RFID. What was your role there?

A: Marks & Spencer started trials in 2003, and rolled out RFID in 2006. Today, the people working there don't see RFID as a new technology. Instead, they're interested in how it can be applied in new ways. In 2007, we got to a plateau, and I wanted to develop the technology in the field with a wider number of retailers. That's when I moved to Avery Dennison. Avery Dennison has supplied Marks & Spencer with millions of tags for its wholly owned stores. They are applied in the country of origin by the garment manufacturers for about 15 different merchandise departments. Tags are usually applied to those garments with complex sizes, such as bras and suits or jackets and trousers.

Q: What is your job at Avery Dennison?

A: My job is to support our local teams around the world as they develop business cases for retailers that want to use RFID. This means I systematically analyze the true value of the benefits of RFID, and compare this to the cost of the RFID equipment, systems and tags. Retailers need to know that they are going to get a good return on their investment from deploying RFID. I do everything from explaining the technology to working closely with clients to analyzing which business problems can be overcome. What I constantly emphasize when looking at business applications is that this is not really about the technology: It's much more about developing a compelling business case.

Q: How, then, should retailers approach RFID?

A: The starting point is to develop a business case on paper for using RFID. Many companies start with a technology trial and hope that a business case emerges. Today, companies can do most of the preparation using the knowledge available to work out a powerful business case before buying a single tag or reader. The purpose of the trial is to prove that what you have on paper holds up in reality. And if you have a specific business case, it's much easier to choose the right tags for the application.

Q: Avery Dennison is specialized in RFID labels for apparel. What gives you your edge?

A: We have a whole team of people in R&D developing tags. Much of the RFID industry is focused on tagging cartons and pallets in warehouses. Although we do some of that, our focus is item-level. Almost 90 percent of all trials done on apparel are done with Avery Dennison tags. Most are built to the EPC Gen 2 standard. We're also experienced in customizing the tags, and we produce tags around the world in locations that are close to the locations of garment manufacturers.

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