Caia Baker is a list-maker. Like many of us, she has a to-do list but perhaps more importantly, she has a list of goals that she routinely sets — and accomplishes. In under two weeks, she’s crossed off six of her 14 goals for this month alone.
“I have a whiteboard in my office and I write down the goals that I need to get done. And this list is completely separate from my to-do list,” she shares. “It’s important to me that I’m continually learning and evolving. I never want to become fully comfortable in the space I’m in because…well, there’s always room for growth.”
Baker’s office is in Fasteners Direct’s Webster, New York facility, a wholesale fastener supplier to the manufacturing, industrial, automotive, and construction sectors. She’s currently the company’s VP of Procurement, a role she helped develop — based on one of her goals to keep evolving.
“I began with Fasteners Direct in June of 2013 as a purchasing agent, which was a big shift for me,” she says. “Before that I was a project manager for a Fortune 500 company where there was close to zero work-life balance, and I became unhappy. I come from a very big, close-knit family that I rarely got to see, so shortly after my dad passed away, I knew it was time for a change.”
Baker was at an airport, awaiting a delayed flight when she decided to polish up her resume, and officially begin the job hunt for something new. Fasteners were the furthest thing from her mind but, not long afterwards, she noticed a LinkedIn post for a position with Fasteners Direct.
“It was three o’clock in the morning when I noticed the post, and I just thought…why not?” Two days after sending her application, Baker was called in for an interview. “I have to say, one of the best parts about working here is that it’s literally like a family environment.”
Fasteners Direct is a family-owned business that was founded in the early ’90s by Herb Parr, the father of seven sons, who was concerned with providing future jobs for his family. Today, four of his sons own the company and continue to grow it. In 2018, they expanded the warehouse to provide more than 50,000 square feet of space for their stock.
“It’s been such a supportive place to work and challenge myself,” she says. “When I expressed interest in other areas of the business, after a year or so of being here, Gary Parr [the current CEO of Fasteners Direct] offered to have a couple of brainstorming sessions with me to redefine my role. He wanted to bring in the knowledge I had from my project management days, implement and build on it.”
Baker says it was empowering to be listened to, acknowledged, and given the opportunity to grow her position.
“At first, there was a learning curve as I was new to the fastener industry. And too often there’s a stigma with being a woman, especially in a male-dominated sector,” she says. “But I never felt that here. I always feel heard and like an important part of the company.”
This has allowed Baker the freedom to explore different options and set new goals for herself — and the company. For example, to better organize and streamline the workflow, she was able to research and implement a digital platform.
“It allowed us to move from a more manual system for orders, which we called ‘the yellow list’ because we actually used yellow sheets of paper to track the orders so you couldn’t miss them, to an electronic system,” she explains. “After a trial period, we purchased a license for Smartsheet for more efficient work management.”
Smartsheet is a software program that lets employees collaborate, manage, and report on work (and fastener orders) in real-time. Baker says she had the office trained on it in under two weeks.
She adds that Fasteners Direct is continually supporting new ideas for better business practices and customer service. The company is also dedicated to supporting local manufacturers and their community.
“We were deemed essential during the pandemic and have been fortunate enough to remain open. We even partnered with a customer of ours to make face shields,” shares Baker. “We had separate stations set up and this meant we were able provide local jobs to people who had just lost theirs because of COVID.”
As for one of her own personal goals, Baker recently joined Women in the Fastener Industry (WIFI), a non-profit organization that provides opportunities, education, and mentorship for women in fastening.
“There are some awesome women working in this industry and it’s just nice to have that sisterhood to fall back on,” she says. “I also like the networking aspect and having contacts who are supportive and will either just listen or help out because they ‘get it’ and also work in the industry.”
So, what’s Baker’s favorite part of her job now that she’s at a family company with a work-life balance?
“It’s tough to narrow it down to one thing, but I think it’s mainly the connections with my vendors and co-workers. I enjoy building relationships that feel more like friendships. We’ll talk about fasteners or sometimes just family things…like about my daughter, you know.”
Baker had her first child last June and Fasteners Direct has allowed her to work four days a week so she can spend an extra day on weekends with her.
“It’s been such a shift working here compared to what I was used to and, especially, with my daughter. But I’m so grateful,” she says. “My grandmother always told me…just be yourself, Caia. Avoid being your own representative because that’s false. Just be your kind, open, bubbly, smart self. And I get to do that here, every day.”