Many and varied are the origins of print businesses, and in the case of Newcastle located ONA Print Graphics it was the decision of the giant OneSteel business to end its inhouse printing in 1992 that led to the then printroom manager Barbara Maguire deciding to start up her own printshop, with OneSteel as the major client. At the time OneSteel had a policy of printing everything, whether it was ten copies or 100.
The original owner then sold the business, to another owner, then in 1999 current owner Warwick Nichols bought the company, he had an aluminium fabrication business, which was becoming rife with onerous OH&S regulations, and decided it was time to move into something less prone to inspections and potential lawsuits, so made the move for ONA Print Graphics. Nichols had spent time working with IBM earlier in his career, so was already computer savvy at a time when the digital world was crashing into print, and that level of understanding have served him well in the years since, as the industry has moved away from analogue and into digital workflow.
He says, “Print was a low risk business, certainly compared with aluminium fabrication where the threats of product liability and workers compensation were constantly hanging over everything you did.”
By then the business was located in Mayfield in the northern industrial area of Newcastle in a high visibility location. However Nichols has steered the business away from being a place where the general public walk in to ask for ten photocopies of something, he says, “By the time you have had even a cursory conversation you have lost money,” and he moved the business to Lambton on the southern side of the city to focus on the business to business market.
He says, “We changed our business model when we moved location, the SME business market become the target, and we geared everything to meet that market. It was a good decision and has been a successful strategy.”
ONA Print Graphics though is not just limited to the local SME market, it does have some major clients who operate on a national basis, as Newcastle becomes the central location for an increasing number of national brands, thanks to its relatively low cost of doing business, and of living, certainly compared to Sydney. Nichols says, “We treat all our clients in the same way, large or small. We get alongside them, listen to them, we suggest effective solutions that fit their budget, and we then execute, producing quality work that we deliver on time.”
As a print business serving the local community Nichols decided that ONA Print Graphics was going to offer all types of print with as much as possible produced inhouse. With his IBM background he was early and strongly into digital print, it held no fears for him, with both cut sheet and wide format digital forming key planks in his offering.
As part of its strategy to be a compete print service provider Nichols has taken ONA Print Graphics into canvas printing, which is now a significant part of the business. The service is both for the public who want their own images recreated on canvas for their own homes, and for the corporate sector.
Nichols says, “Diversification has two benefits; first it means that our clients do not have to go anywhere else for their print, whatever they want we will provide for them. Business people today, like everyone, are strapped for time, and want to maximise efficiencies. If they can source all their print from one supplier – us – they do not need to spend time working with two or more suppliers, they only get one invoice, and there is only one point of responsibility. Having just one print supplier makes life easier for them, enabling them to concentrate on their own business. Secondly, diversification means for us that when one sector may be struggling another one is on the rise, so all our eggs are far from in one or two baskets.”
Wide format printing, including banners, canvas, posters and photos has always been on Canon printers since ONA entered the market a decade ago. Nichols says, “The Canon technology has worked for us. It is reliable, consistent, and top quality, it has never let us down, and has played a major part in underpinning our growth in that area.” Acquisition has also played a part in the ONA Print Graphics journey, just 18 months ago the company bought the Westlakes business, itself a long time suppler of print to the mining sector, with a leading position in tags and safety books, the owners retiring and two staff coming over to join ONA.
Nichols says, “We had been working with Westlakes for a decade, supplying some of their print, they had always been a great company to work with, having the same values as us of commitment to the customer and doing the best job possible to the same high standard every time. When the owners wanted to retire we worked out a deal whereby ONA Print Graphics would take over the customer list and keep the relevant staff.”
The Westlakes acquisition has given the ONA growth a surge, and one that is likely to be long term, Nichols says, “Safety is not going anywhere, in fact it is only going to grow. Safety instructions and manuals are here to stay, they are a necessary part of today’s world, as I saw 20 years ago with my fabrication business, so it does give us a strong degree of certainty for the future sustainability of the business.”
Like many small print business owners Nichols is the owner operator and chief or only sales person, he says, “It is hard to justify the cost of hiring a dedicated sales staff, we have always done well through word of mouth, through referral especially, and through being aware of changes and the opportunities they present. We do have a specialist account manager for the mines, and he will go out to visit the purchasing departments because they have specialist needs, but for general sales work we will not be hiring a dedicated sales person, the way that we have been working is good. When a client is receiving consistently good quality print, on time, and is having real solutions presented to him which are delivering a real return, then that client is going to recommend you to other people, and there is no better sales argument than that.”
However Nichols has made the most of the opportunities offered by new technology to reach the market; the company has a dynamic website, and uses search engine optimisation to ensure it is on the first page of Google for its canvas printing. He says, “We make finding and buying print easy for people, whether a member of the public who wants a canvas print of their children, a business down the street who wants marketing collateral, or a national chain who needs print delivered to all its 50 stores around the country.”
While the print industry has changed dramatically over the past quarter of a century ONA Print Graphics has grown consistently, due to the thoughtful approach of its owner who has been unafraid to venture into new areas, and applying clear thinking to all aspects of his business. PP
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