ProPrint Q&A: Press Print Digital Allain Pool’s zest for life

This Q&A column was first printed in the October edition of ProPrint. To read the full magazine, please click here.

How did your print journey begin?

I have been around print for as long as I can remember. My father opened his first print business in The Seychelles – an archipelago of 115 islands in East Africa – in the early 1970s when the country opened its international airport. Having spent 15 years in Australia with the print division of the Royal Australian Air Force, he saw an opportunity to return home with the prospect of a tourism boom due to the airport’s opening. The general economy in Seychelles grew steadily until the late 1970s when political upheaval drove our family back to Australia.

Upon his return he started Bambra Press, and after leaving school I joined the business, often taking time away to travel around Australia, and various six month duration trips backpacking around Europe, North Africa, Eastern Europe and little of the USA.

I started on the shop floor and qualified as a Trade Compositor at the old Melbourne School of Printing and Graphic Arts. Being in a small business, I learnt to work a Heidelberg GTO and other small offset machines, as well as the guillotine and most facets of the print floor.
My father eventually returned to The Seychelles and I took over running the business with my then brother-in-law. We grew Bambra Press from a one and two colour forms business into an award-winning multicolour printing company. They were fantastic years and we had an amazing team of people producing wonderful work.

An offer to purchase Bambra Press came from a private equity firm in 2006/7 and after much consideration I decided to sell my share, not to private equity, but to the current owner.
My family and I then took an 18-month sabbatical and went travelling through Asia and onto The Seychelles. Golf and weekend barbeques were the main activities for the next 18 months, loads of swimming, trips at the beach and lots of family time.
As the sabbatical came to an end, I joined up with Kevin Stevens who had just started Press Print Digital and together we got to work.

Pre-COVID: (L-R) Kevin Stevens (Press Print director); Robyn Frampton (Visual Connections); Allain Pool and Spencer Hast (Press Print director) attend the 2019 Print 2 Parliament in Canberra

What do you love about the printed form?

I love the reaction you see when people receive a fantastic business card or a beautiful book. A printed piece is such a strong statement of personality and standard. I love that people want to make a strong statement with a beautiful, bespoke piece of print. The printed piece really sets people and companies apart.

What do you love most about Press Print Digital?

Press Print Digital came to life in 2010 and entered a busy, crowded industry with lots of companies offering a very similar product with little differentiation.

We decided right at the start to develop a workplace, system and offering that would set us apart from as many competitors as possible.

We decided to buy the absolute latest and best technology with our HP Indigo presses and marry them with ‘old school’ embellishing and finishing. We offer in house gilding, edge painting, foiling, embossing and all manner of high-quality finishing. We decided that we wanted to control every step of the production process.

We went to market and never said no.

We took on every challenge, often not knowing how to resolve the issues, but we always found a way to get the correct outcome. The journey may not have been exactly as it was imagined at the start, but with great dedication and problem solving we always arrived at a great result.

We created the fairest, least hierarchical driven workplace so our staff could develop, explore and blossom. We have 100 per cent retention of our staff and I honestly believe they enjoy coming to work.

We are a close-knit company and at least once a month, the directors cook lunch for all. We stop, eat, chat and spend the last few minutes going over the previous month, highlights and low lights, and keep our people informed on how the company is tracking.

We all have difficult days, so the days and weeks are not always perfect, but we have a safe, fair and positive workplace for our people to come to.

We are a truly multi-cultural organisation, with eight or nine different cultures represented. I love that we are able to make a positive difference to the lives of each of our staff members and their families.

We have won many awards at the National Print Awards, testament to the skill and craft of our staff, and to the quality of work from our clients. We do our utmost to make great design come to life.

How do you unwind after a busy week?

I love cooking and cooking should be accompanied with a glass of red. My family believe that my strongest expression of love is through food. I love the peace in cooking, especially when one has some time.

I have three boys and I love eating with them. It is the time of the day when we put away all devices, only family, a meal and conversation.

I also love watching my beloved Pies, so a Friday night with an open fire, a few reds and a Collingwood game on TV is ideal.

I also love catching up with friends and extended family for dinner and drinks, though the last few months have pretty much made all this impossible. We have managed quite a few Zoom dinners or drinks evenings with friends and family. Not quite the same as the real thing, but great to still be able to catch up and see how people are doing.

I will get back to golf in the next few years. I love playing, but in the last few years it has taken a back seat to Saturday sport and other activities.

What have been your top career highlights so far?

The highlight of my career would be our company, what it stands for and how we behave.
I am immensely proud of the company we have built.

We produce an incredibly high standard of work, enjoy fantastic relationships with our staff, our suppliers and our clients. We have grown our company from three people 10 years ago to some 20 now, all built on hard work, dedication, word of mouth from clients, and wonderful support from our supplier partners.

Given the current challenges, what advice do you have for others in the industry?
COVID-19 has presented huge challenges to most industries and has not spared the printing industry.

It has also presented some fantastic opportunities to diversify and to look beyond your normal sphere of work.

The pandemic has forced us to become leaner, to look at every aspect of our business and try to find small improvements and efficiencies. Saving every penny is key in these times. Once the JobKeeper assistance finishes, companies need to have enough savings to stand independently in what will be a slow rise out of recession.

What are the biggest issues impacting the industry beyond COVID-19?
COVID-19 has and will further shrink the pool of print work. Some printers will not survive this crisis, and some will close for other reasons. Companies that do survive will need to gain a full understanding of their cost base and the cost of goods. A shrinking pool of work will force some companies to undercut the market, and this will further damage weak companies. Strong companies will also suffer as they are competing on “below or close to cost of goods levels”.
I believe that we need to focus on our individual company strengths, maintain any edges one has and hold on pricing. The temptation is always to reduce pricing to survive but that philosophy almost certainly leads to company closures as there isn’t any financial buffer being built into each job. Any errors can be devastating.

How much has the printing industry changed in the last two decades?
When I started in the industry, letterpress was fading away, and offset was the process.
Digital came to the workplace 15 or so years ago, but the last 10 years has seen incredible improvements in quality. The speed with which work is expected to be delivered is unbelievable, and very high standards of quality are expected.

Craft has returned. Digital print has made short run, super high quality possible at a reasonable price point.

Favourite films?
I have a few films that are high on my list of favourites: The Green Mile, Raging Bull, Lost in Translation, and some old favourites. I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia at The Astor Theatre in St Kilda with the air conditioning not working. It literally felt like we were on the actual film set!

I also love the Indiana Jones & Star Wars films, and will happily have a family movie night, popcorn in hand, watching any of these.

First band you ever saw live?
The first concert I went to was at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and Australian Crawl were the headline act. I saw Queen in concert years ago and they were simply awesome.

Favourite all time holiday destination?
Over the last few years our holidays have been very family driven.

My wife is Austrian, so we try to get over to Austria and see her family every year or two, and my family live in The Seychelles Islands so we try to do the same in alternating years.
I love Vienna and Salzburg, beautiful architecture, incredible history and wonderful people. On top of that is my wife’s family who are gorgeous people.

The Seychelles destination is rather different, much more based around the sea.

I think Seychelles is one of the most beautiful places on earth and my parents live there.

I was brought up there so have a strong bond with the sea, the food, the Seychellois people and island life. I think I am most at peace when I am there.

We love to travel, a lot from the need to see family, but also a lot for the love of exploring, seeing and gaining a tiny understanding of other cultures and places.

We have dived in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Croatia and The Seychelles. Floating over a reef is serenely beautiful.

When I finish the working phase of life, I would love to spend half the year travelling.

I don’t think we will ever tire of moving.

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