Article from Proprint Magazine, August 2010
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From its early beginnings in regional newspapers to its recent track record of acquisitions, the Sydney-based printer has had an ambitious but sensible approach to growth. By Steve Crowe

bpg_building_front.jpgIf you want something done well, do it yourself, goes the adage. It rings true at Bright Print Group. A desire to produce the highest print quality and continuous personal development through ongoing training combine to improve expertise in every area of the business. This desire is clear as soon as you look at the walls of the offices. National Print Awards medals jostle with accreditations in quality assurance, environmental practices and lean manufacturing.

John Bright and Debbie and Craig Burgess believe they have engineered a business to withstand the rigours of a tough market undergoing tough times. The firm is built on foundations that have withstood myriad challenges since the Depression. The business us focused on expertise through education, training and accreditation to international standards.

Bright Print can look back to the 1950s for its origins, but the Bright name and businesses reach much further into the history of the Fairfield district, to the efforts of William Bright in the 1920s when he bought a local suburban newspaper and built a publishing house.

db.jpgHis great granddaughter, Debbie Burgess, enjoys telling the tale and tracing the family line. "My great-grandfather, William, acquired a suburban Fairfield newspaper back in 1928, and eventually he bought several more. It was his great aspiration to have his own newspaper. He was a well-recognised journalist, and was highly regarded in the community here. The Bright family is well known in the area. There are four generations of Bill Brights, including John now. We call him John but his name is William.

"My great-grandfather Bill retired in the late 1950s. He sold a number of his papers to Cumberland Newspapers, which a young Rupert Murdoch had just bought. My grandfather and his twin brother had become involved in the newspaper business. When my grandfather's brother went to work on News of the World for Rupert, my grandfather took a few years off and then started a printing business."

directors.jpgThe Bright name has been associated with print ever since. When Debbie's grandfather retired in the late '70s, her father and his brother took over the reins until their retirement in the late '80s. The current Bright generation, John and Debbie, along with Debbie's husband, Craig, have held the reins since then.

Each member of the family brings special expertise to the business. Debbie started a law degree but then moved across to accounting, and is now completing an MBA. Craig oversees production and John looks after IT and sales.

In the late '80s, Bright Print was an enterprise focused on the typical needs of businesses - invoice booklets, business cards, letterheads and other small format print. Bright used Heidelberg GTOs to produce its product range, but then market and technology developments heralded a change in management thinking.

"With the rise of instant print companies we realised we had to change our direction to stay relevant, so we decided to buy a five-colour press in 1993, which was a huge step because until then we only had single-colour GTOs," says Debbie.

The company also invested in a small digital printer in the early 1990s - one of the first commercial printers in the country to investigate the possibilities of the new technology.

"We did delve into digital many years ago at a low level, and sort of felt our way through the technology and the market demand," says Craig Burgess. "It's grown for us since then."

Bright Print uses two Xerox DocuColors, a black-and-white Océ VarioPrint 6200 series, and a B&W Bryce laser printer.

10col_komori.jpg"The machines are workhorses; we'll push them to the limits in their capabilities. Mail merging, personalisation and security printing are the main streams of work we do on them. Variable-data print is only a part of our work, maybe 15% or so, but it's a nice supplement because it does lead to other offset work from some of our clients."

While the company was quick to stick a toe in the water of digital printing, it's usually more conservative about new technology. Craig points out that they're happy to let other firms take the kudos, and the pain, of being early adopters.

"We've constantly got our eyes open but we're also sceptical. We don't like to be real pioneers - we prefer to let others iron out the bugs first," he says.

The company took a big step forward in production volume with the purchase of a 10-colour Komori Lithrone 40-inch perfector in 2007, which sits alongside a five-colour Komori and a five-colour half-size Komori, as well as six GTOs.

"The 10-colour Komori was the best piece of equipment we ever bought. It took us to the next level, especially in terms of efficiency," says Debbie.

Bright Print has bought numerous ancillary machines in recent years in a bid to do more in-house. The directors believe there are extra margins and greater control in going it alone. These ancillaries include a Yawa die-cutter, a thermal laminator, a UV/aqueous coater, Osako and Muller Martini collator/stitchers, a Bell & Howell mail inserter, shrink wrappers, a celloglazer, and a gluing line presently being installed to upgrade the company's packaging and carton capabilities.

But kit is only way to exert more control. Acquisitions are another. Since the early 1990s, the company has bought several other print companies, each for a specific reason but with an overarching strategy of retaining family control in all operations.

"You have to grow just to maintain your market position," says Debbie. "In 1994 we had an opportunity to purchase a company called Print Out from Arthur Lill, who brought a strong resolve for systems. He was instrumental in putting in a QA system here. We brought it all together in this site in Wetherill Park in 1996."

Acquisition trail
That acquisition proved to be pivotal for the company, encouraging the directors to investigate further afield.

Debbie says: "Bloxham and Chambers was acquired in 2001. That was an opportunity we saw in the market to get ourselves into A1 printing because until that stage, we were still A2. In 2004, Riverstone Printing came onto the market, from the File brothers. They had quite a heavy presence in the advertising market, and that was a market we were keen to make inroads into."

These acquisitions were not simply a means to grab some market share, she insists. There can be much more value in purchasing a company than just shopping for a client list. "By acquiring a company, you get the equipment and the client list, but most importantly, you get the knowledge and experience of that market from the people in that company. The combination of all three factors makes good sense in certain situations."

With a staff of 90 and a client list that stretches into a variety of markets, Bright Print was an attractive takeover target itself several years ago, but the three directors rejected the idea.

"We noticed that other companies were being picked up, and back in the PPG [Pacific Print Group] days, they approached us but we didn't like the model they put forward," says Craig.

"So we thought that we'd sit tight and do what we were doing, and in about five years it should turn around for us. It's about five years now, and we are exactly in the position we wanted to be in - the industry has thinned out, we've got stronger in our capabilities and in our footprint into the industry, and we're poised now to make other acquisitions and to pick up some large clients that have fallen through the cracks of the large players."

This quiet self-confidence with a streak of financial conservatism is instrumental in every decision. While the global financial crisis has had, and is still having, a terrible impact on many companies, Bright Print has weathered it relatively comfortably, partly as a result of its cautious approach to risk.

"We've always taken a very conservative approach to debt, and that's held us in good stead, especially in the last few years," says Debbie. "We've always been very mindful about costs. From the GFC, we've learnt that cash is king, and that you need to always be looking at your bottom line. You can't think that the next sale coming through the door is going to make everything OK.

"Buying work is a very dangerous proposition. We're always looking to trim costs, so in the good times it's brilliant and in the bad times, well, it's not quite so bad. And diversification in the work you do takes away the strain of having all your eggs in one basket," she says.

The three directors have driven a regimen of business and production process analysis to find better ways of doing things and identifying unnecessary expense at the same time.

Debbie says: "One of our biggest desires is to make ourselves as efficient as possible. We've been concentrating on lean manufacturing for some time now, and upskilling people, and incorporating those principles into our everyday operations. Everyone here is involved in training to cert three and cert four."

As a result, the current industry rage about the plummeting price of print is not a top-of-mind concern to the directors of Bright Print. While they obviously feel the strain of competing against printers who take prices to new lows, they are adamant that a line has to be drawn under the costs of operation.

"You can complain about pricing and pricing movements, but in the last 15 years or so, there's been bugger all margin in print anyway unless you can find some niche areas and develop some strengths in value adding for your clients," said Debbie.

"If you just want to compete with every other sausage factory and pump out thousands of sheets of A1 paper, you're going to be competing on price. There's no differentiator," says Debbie.

John Bright sees a common character­istic in print shops that compete only on price. "Pricing is an issue for those who don't really know how to market their business and don't know how to support their customers," he says.

There are better ways to gain business, they argue. It's about client relationships.

"The way we try to build our business is around relationships. If your relationship with your client is not so strong then pricing will always be an issue, and certainly pricing is used as an excuse if the relationship is not as strong as it should be," says Bright.

"You have to build a relationship such that people want to deal with you and want to give you the work because you've worked hard for it and deserve it."

Debbie adds: "Relationships are a big part of what we do. We'd much rather compete on relationships than on price. That's how we've always positioned ourselves. We've never set out to be the cheapest printer in Sydney. We never wanted that title, we don't want that title, we're not interested in that title.

"The cheapest printers in Sydney are no longer printing," she adds.

It is in the combination of OH&S, environment and QA certifications that Bright Print stands out as a genuine industry leader, and is a distinguished example of how active participation in business standards programmes can deliver better outcomes for employers, employees and clients together.

"We've been awarded ISO 14001 certification, and we were named Bronze Sustainability Advantage Partners in the Department of Environment Climate Change and Water NSW (DEECW) recently," says Debbie.

"We undertook the PIAA's Sustainable Green Print certification programme, and we were the second printing company in Australia to achieve Level 3 certification. And we've now also been certified with FSC. We won a gold medal for Environ­mental Initiative at the NSW Print Awards in 2008, and last year we were awarded two commendations, one for Environmen­tal Initiatives, and the other for OH&S Initiatives, as well as three Gold and one Silver for print.

"We've put a lot of effort and time in the last few years to get our green credentials in place. It rounds us off nicely. We've got ISO 9001, which we've had since 1994, and in the early 2000s, we invested a lot of time in getting our OH&S in place, and the environmental credits we've earned give us that trilogy of business certifications.

"That's what makes us different - the care factor," says Debbie. "We've all still got 20 years left in us, and the print, or the communications industry now, is going to change a lot in that time so we have to be very open to new ideas of where the company might go.

We're putting systems in place to enable us to address this."

This article appeared in the August 2010 issue of ProPrint.