Growth strategies at Fortis Solutions Group

John Wynne, Fortis CEO and President, discusses acquisition strategy with Label and Labeling Editor, Chelsea McDougall. Read the article in Issue 1, 2021 of Labels & Labeling.

John Wynne hates the word ‘corporate’ as it doesn’t speak to Fortis Solution Group’s entrepreneurial, growth-oriented spirit. It’s still surprising to the Fortis Solutions Group president and CEO that the company grew from a single manufacturing plant just a decade ago, to a nationally focused company with 14 facilities across the US today. 

Wynne first entered label manufacturing in 2010 with the acquisition of Labels Unlimited after a career in finance. The company made its first acquisition, A&M Label in Wixom, Michigan and Memphis, Tennessee, in 2014. In 2015, the company rebranded as Fortis Solutions Group and, with the backing of private equity firm Main Post Partners since 2017, has since pursued a high growth and an active acquisition strategy. Today, Fortis has an annual revenue in excess of 200m USD and employs 850 people.

From its headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Wynne is running a multi-facility company with multi-million-dollar resources but with the same competitive, customerfocused mentality he had when he entered the printing industry ten years ago. 

‘I don’t see Fortis as this big company, or dots on a map with 14 facilities,’ Wynne says. ‘It’s how those dots are connected that is important. At the end of the day, we want empowered people in each of those facilities leading the charge. I still want us to have that entrepreneurial spirit at our core.’

He continues: ‘I don’t feel like we’re one of the bigger companies. I feel like we’re out there scratching and clawing and fighting every day. I never want to be considered a slow and stodgy big company.’ 

Acquisition strategy 
Fortis frequently grabs headlines for its high-profile acquisitions. Since 2014, the company has acquired 11 companies, often taking over family-owned companies while keeping the same teams in place and focusing on being excellent stewards of the acquired businesses. Fortis focuses on acquisitions that can further expand the company in three core areas: geography, product and end-market diversification.

‘We still believe that this business is a local and regional one, and we need to be in our client’s backyard to best support their needs,’ Wynne says. ‘When you look at the benefits that a multi-site platform can bring to bear for our customers with redundancy and the ability to scale their brands, it’s compelling to look at acquisitions to accelerate their opportunity set.’

The company’s most recent acquisition came with Orem, Utah-based Kala Packaging, an early adopter of HP Indigo 20000 and 6000 series digital presses and a dominant player in the short-run flexible packaging and label market. Kala not only adds to Fortis’ portfolio of pressuresensitive labels and flexible packaging products, but it’s just the type of acquisition Wynne finds attractive: one in which Fortis can grow and scale with its customers.

We love the approach of being able to scale with these brands and businesses over time with from digital to our wider flexographic assets,’ Wynne says.

On finding synergy between the 14 facilities Wynne, simply put, doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Local talent is maintained, and oftentimes the former owners of the companies stay on.

‘With any acquisition, you need time to understand who does what, the culture, and the systems and processes that are in place. As our head of sales always likes to say: “No one has a monopoly on good ideas.”

Greenfield operations
Not all growth at Fortis is happening through acquisition, however.

‘People see the headlines about our acquisitions, but the reality is, we’ve got 30-plus business development people that are working their tails off every day to stimulate organic growth,’ says Wynne.

In 2019, the company started a greenfield operation in Napa Valley that caters to the wine and spirits industries. Fortis brought on label industry veterans Brendan Kinzie as president for wine and spirits and James Stone as a director. Both have a long history in both printing and wine.

The company also invested in top-ofthe-line printing equipment with an HP Indigo digital press and a Gallus RCS 430 to further expand its ability to execute intricate wine and spirits label designs.

‘If we’re going to be in it, we were going to be in it in earnest,’ Wynne says. ‘We’ve certainly invested in that business and feel great about the momentum that exists.’

Fortis hit pause on its acquisition pursuits as the pandemic took hold in early 2020, taking time instead to focus on its current business offerings that center on five core products: pressure-sensitive labels, flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, folding cartons and label applicators. 

‘We’re not all things to all people. Frankly, if we’re in it, we’re going to be really good at, we going to excel at it,’ Wynne says. ’We’re not going to be able to do everything that’s out there, nor do we want to. We’re going to stay focused, stay in our lane, and not stray from that. We’ll continue to invest in those five areas and stay true to that. I don’t see us expanding past our core offerings.’

Fortis primarily serves the food, nutraceutical, health and beauty, household chemical, automotive, retail and e-commerce industries.

‘There’s nothing like a pandemic to focus you on where you’re playing to win,’ he says. ‘It made us think about the future of our economy and what markets are going to increase, what markets are going down, and where we need to position ourselves. In our case, it’s nice to be diversified in that regard.’

‘Food is our foundation and when times are tough, people really hunker down and they go to the grocery store, and that’s where you can find our labels,’ he continues. ‘You have to have that foundation, but also other growth markets that allow you to outperform over time. 

‘Going into 2021, we remain focused on keeping our employees safe and our One Fortis culture strong while continuing to outperform the needs of our customers. We have tremendous momentum in the business and are excited to see how the year unfolds.’