Unisto celebrates its rich history of 90 years.
Throughout the 90 years Unisto has been in business it has been a creator of industrial and business solutions across a broad swathe of different sectors. The energy that drives the Unisto business on comes from customers, their everyday challenges and operational issues, explains Donald Miller their UK Sales & Marketing Director. “No two days are the same in our business and almost every day brings new and exciting opportunities, coming to work is actually fun and it has kept me here for the last 30 years!”
Security sealing and brand profiling are a core part of Unisto’s UK business and the Transport Industry in all its guises forms a major part of that. Back when Unisto was founded in the mid 1920’s the world was a very different place but some things remain the same. The once flourishing Swiss embroidery and textile industry located mainly in eastern Switzerland with its centre in St. Gallen suffered a collapse, a harbinger of an upcoming worldwide economic crisis. Coinciding as it did with a newly qualified textile engineer, Hans Felix Stoffel giving-up embroidery production at his factory in Horn, a small village by Lake Constance in Switzerland. He had recognized the growing importance of securing transported goods and together with his son Franz Leo put his new business idea into action founding the company of Stoffel & Sohn – forerunner of Unisto.
Starting as a cottage industry with traded products and packaging materials they soon began developing their own sealing and application solutions and employing local families working in their homes, making products by hand or with simple hand operated machines. The many patents of the 1930’s illustrate the development and continuous improvement of security seals. The two founders soon recognised that innovation and manufacturing were a symbiotic pair and in 1936 focused their energies on tooling, engineering and production, founding a separate company Stoba AG at the same location.
The company was building up a reputation and presence in Europe establishing agents and distributors. A chance meeting in a blizzard on the railway platform of Grenoble / France in 1936 brought Ivor Spry, a London businessman in the process of developing an agency business for consumable industrial products, into contact with Franz Leo Stoffel. As a consequence the company’s first overseas office was incorporated in 1937 at Milk Street, City of London. An immediate success only stifled by the onset of World War II.
Railway systems, Postal services and Customs together with the food sector were all key customers, then mainly for metal seals and closures, many of which persist to this day. It was a meat factory near Zurich with a colourful logo that pushed the company’s development team to link their strong promotional message to the seal – a metal seal body with a printed cardboard disc locked together on a string – thus the Stoffel Prestige Seal was born, opening the door to enhanced security sealing combining the benefits logistical brand identification. An exciting new direction was in place to enter other business sectors as well as returning to the firms foundations, the textile industry.
The years both during and after the war called for products that were clearly identified in terms of their quality and authenticity. Swiss manufactured products were identified and sealed with a crossbow, the symbol for “Made in Switzerland”. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of this symbol in 1981, the Prestige seal with crossbow became immortalised on the 40c postage stamp.
The early 1950’s brought about further expansion, as Stoffel & Fils S.A. was founded in Saint-Louis, France, and Stoffel & Sohn GmbH in Konstanz, Germany, both manufacturing security seals and brand identification articles for their growing post-war national markets. It was also the time when collaboration started with a partner in Italy that would endure to this day. These fledgling companies found quick success supplying prestigious and innovative solutions to major organisations in each country. The company continued to build expertise for both high volume printing on cardboard and metal for automated processing as well as for the automatic and semi-automatic application of the seals to customers’ products using machines built in-house. All this gave the company a defined niche in the market and a real competitive edge.
The 1960’s and early 70’s were an unsettled period with the Vietnam War, student unrest in Europe and an oil crisis. This was not the time to expand further abroad, but to consolidate and grow the markets already established by innovation. Also at this time the company dived into the world of plastics which was the start of another transformational phase in development. The company’s plastics R&D team was established, managing the small proprietary plastic moulding machines to make branded seals, quickly finding a market in the textile piece goods sector, highlighting the textile brand on the tailors shop shelves. Success thereafter came with the Swiss watch industry. It took 8 years of sales effort to convince Omega to apply a branded plastic price tag holder to their prestigious watches.
Franz L Stoffel gave way to his son, Mario Felix Stoffel in 1978; Mario having joined the family firm some years earlier.
Production of plastic moulding machines ceased in the late 1980’s as the company focused more on efficient tool design and manufacture. Flexible plastic materials started to bring new innovation opportunities for security seals and the company gave birth to the first pull tight seal which was developed in conjunction with a major airline. The UK, once more, was a pioneer market for the new security seals. Up until then, by far the majority of seals on the market were metal, lead, steel strip or clip seals. Those were pretty tough on the hands, air travel was exclusive and modern, and flight attendants needed an easier, altogether more user-friendly method of sealing duty-free trolleys against pilfering.
It was during this period that great strides were made, extending the product range with a number of creative security and control solutions. The early 1970s brought an innovative step, and Unisto’s first plastic pull-tight seal was developed in conjunction with a major airline. Up until then, by far the majority of seals on the market were metal – lead, steel strip or clip seals. Those were pretty tough on the hands, air travel was exclusive and modern, and flight attendants needed an easier, altogether more user-friendly method of sealing duty-free trolleys against pilfering.
Expansion and development brought the need for improved identification of the products and of the company itself. It was time for a new dynamic brand name, with the result that “United Stoffel” companies were condensed into “Unisto” in 1968, whilst the change of the company name in the UK came some years later in 1984.
As the individual national markets in Europe previously protected by all kinds of import restrictions and duties unified into the tariff free European Union providing the opportunity for the Unisto group of companies to change their organisation and strategic focus on Security seals and brand profiling.
During the 1980’s, 90’s and into the new millennium Unisto has continued to grow, establishing both sales and a sourcing presence in Asia supported by a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Malaysia. However, the company did not forget innovation - many of their famous products meanwhile have been copied by competitors – a true compliment.
Following years of sales cooperation transport security innovators Encrypta Electronics were acquired by Unisto in 2002, and as a result reusable electronic seals became part of a comprehensive range of cutting-edge products on offer to the transport industry. Their modern appearance, easy-to-read LED display and simple intuitive operation have made C2K and Manta the reusable seals of choice for many operators of closed-loop distribution systems in the UK, Europe and Asia.
Most extraordinary of all, Unisto has had great success supplying their German manufactured products in Hong Kong, and Swiss manufactured plastic security seals to leading organisations in mainland China, successes of which the whole Unisto group can be justly proud.
Meanwhile, the fourth generation has taken over with Dr Peter Stoffel now caring for this value driven family business, still focusing on the idea of the seal within market driven local business units.