ProPrint Star Business: The ties that bind

This Star Business on Bright Print Group was featured in the October 2020 edition of ProPrint magazine.

Like many of the acquisitions that Bright Print Group has made in the past 10 years, the purchase of Sydney Binding was completed in what could be called lightning speed.

But as Bright Print Group co-managing director John Bright says when a good opportunity comes along, you would be crazy not to jump on it.

Opportunities come and opportunities go, but the trick is picking the good ones.

For Bright Print Group’s co-managing directors the thought of not having a PUR binding facility in NSW with the capabilities of John McPherson’s long-running Sydney Binding was not worth thinking about.

Bright Print Group co-directors Debbie Burgess and John Bright outside Twenty 20 Bindery Pty Ltd in Sydney

“Sending work to Victoria is both time consuming and expensive. It would cost you two or three days and then the money on the freight and we all know how freight companies operate these days, there’s always the chance the pallet will be lost or end up somewhere else,” Bright told ProPrint.

So, in the space of one week in late April this year, an opportunity presented itself, conversations were had, numbers were crunched, a decision was made and Twenty 20 Bindery Pty Ltd was born.

So, was this the fastest acquisition ever made by Bright Print Group?

“No, not at all – we bought a company in two days once and that was in the week before Christmas,” Bright says, reflecting on his and Burgess’ decision to buy Rhodes-based printer Bloxham and Chambers in 2001.

“You’ve got to be brave enough to make the bold decisions, don’t you?”

But it seems some acquisitions are easier than others.

Burgess recalls the Bloxham and Chambers purchase being far less fraught than the Sydney Binding acquisition, despite the pitiful timing and that all customers and 30 to 40 staff had been told the business would not exist in the New Year.

“We didn’t have to relocate it though,” Burgess says.

“We asked ourselves how can Bloxham and Chambers just shut down?

“They had 30 to 40 staff, a reasonable turnover, and a good business. But the owner got to that age and didn’t care anymore. “So, in the week before Christmas we are buying a company.”

Now the work begins

Deciding to buy Sydney Binding was the easy part, in fact for Bright and Burgess it was pretty much a no-brainer.

“PUR bound books represent a decent chunk of work produced by Bright Print Group, with the finished product providing jobs in all areas of both production teams at Wetherill Park and Newcastle,” Burgess said.

“It was very important to us to maintain as many of these jobs as possible.”

Sydney Binding owned an Acoro A5, a Swiss-built Müller Martini bindery unit. While the machine is nearing 20 years in age, it is notably the last trade binding machine of its kind in the entire state of NSW and was relied upon heavily by many printers, including Bright Print Group.

The next trick was finding a factory in the Wetherill Park and Smithfield area of Sydney that was long enough to house the 30-plus metre long behemoth and with a strong enough power supply to run it.

Initially, the plan was to have Twenty 20 operate out of the Bright Print Group factory at Wetherill Park once it moved across from Rockdale later this year, but that ended up not working out.

In May, Bright and Burgess were given two days notice from Sydney Binding’s administrator to move all equipment out as the lease was not being renewed, this meant a new home was urgently needed sooner than expected.

Luckily, a 35-metre long site was available only a short drive away at Smithfield and after a series of checks to assure it was compatible, a lease was signed, a good clean-up was undertaken, and it was ready to move into.

This left the final hurdle – dismantling the Acoro A5 from where it had sat for 15-plus years.

Müller Martini’s Roman Beeler handled all of this, arriving on site on the Sunday directly following the notice to vacate to decommission the Acoro’s electrics.

“It took five semi-trailers to get it here and then we had to reconfigure the conveyor system to fit the space so we can collate, bind and deliver the books to the trimmer in the most efficient manner,” Bright said.

“I was a bit nervous when we first fired it up to make sure all the hoppers and conveyors worked. Being 20 years old and given the changes we made there was obviously quite a few things that could’ve gone wrong. But we are really happy with it now.

“I think it is better than it was before. It fits the new factory space well, we’ve got all the operators in one area, the work flows nicely from the feeders to the trimmer and is now packed pretty much at the receiving dock for pickup.”

Acquiring in a pandemic

Some may think that acquiring a business amid a global pandemic may not be worth the stress, but COVID-19 made it possible.

“It actually helped doing all of this in the middle of COVID,” Bright said.

“People were available, and our workload was lower than normal so we could commit to something like this.

“I spent half of my days working on this through April to June, I couldn’t have done that if things were normal, we are just too busy for that so for us, the timing was good.”

Decommissioning the machine, moving it across and rebuilding and rewiring it had some teething problems but again this was another benefit of the pandemic downturn.

“We shut a machine down which is the only one in the state for four weeks and it didn’t cause an avalanche of complaints because everyone else was relatively quiet as well.”

Industry support

Both Bright and Burgess say they have been pleased by the support from the industry.
During ProPrint’s visit, 21 jobs were on the go but only five were from Bright Print Group.

“The industry seems to be very supportive of what we are doing,” Burgess said.

“They all knew they were in a hole without Sydney Binding and they understand the cost implications of working with someone outside of NSW, especially now during the pandemic when it is becoming harder to get things across the border.”

It has also opened discussion lines for working with other printers to build synergies.

This is not something that Bright Print Group has traditionally done and has instead opted for sales teams to look after its multiple print sectors, including a growing packaging division.

“It is probably not a bad thing for printers to talk to printers, I think both Debbie and I will be interested to see where this acquisition takes us,” Bright said.

“There are probably some printers we are happy not to talk to, but for the most part we are all good people just trying to make an honest living.”

Bright Print Group’s longest standing employee Brad Sattler with Debbie Burgess at the Wetherill Park factory

A fine print pedigree

Bright Print Group has a strong history in printing with Bright and Burgess’ great grandfather setting the wheels in motion by purchasing local community paper, The Biz, back in 1926.

The Biz was eventually sold to media mogul Rupert Murdoch but by then the foray into print was well underway.

W R Bright & Sons was started by their grandfather from his home on Kenyon Street at Fairfield in 1962. The business now operates across two sites, one at Wetherill Park and another in Newcastle, and employs 115 staff.

Burgess was a budding law student back in 1989 when her father called her up and asked if she would give him a year to help him sort out the front-end of the business as his brother was keen to retire.

So, she changed direction, studied accounting at night and now holds an MBA which has helped her bring calm, pragmatic and astute business decisions to the business.

Bright is someone who just gets how things work, a quality that comes in handy for his other love – motorsports. He’s never afraid to jump into any challenge, feet first, leading from the front whilst happily getting dirty delivering an outcome.

The pair ended up buying their father out in the early 2000s and now between the two of them they run the show very much as a team.

“We just make it work, we have always backed ourselves,” Burgess said.

“Neither of us has one focus on a particular part of the business, but together we get it done.

“Business isn’t hard. I think people complicate it to be honest.”

Future acquisitions

The company is known as an acquirer of businesses so only time will tell when the next purchase will take place.

It’s clear sitting still has never been an option for either Burgess or Bright.

Through many years, Bright and Burgess, and their family before them, have forged positive reputations in the industry.

“Debbie and I have worked really hard to achieve a good name in this industry,” Bright said.

“Bright’s has a good name. Our suppliers will support us, we never muck them around and we always pay on time. We don’t play games and we’ll always treat people fairly.

“It is our good name that has allowed us to pull Twenty 20 Bindery off. People already know of us.

They know we have been around for a while, they think from what they have heard that they can trust us, which they can.

“We will make this work.

“Staffing will be a challenge as we move out of COVID, getting the numbers right as our work demands change daily will test us but we will keep working at it until we’re doing things as best we can.”

To check out the online version of ProPrint October issue, please click here.

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