Many would agree that wise decisions are rarely made after you have knocked back a few beers, especially in matters of business. However, the directors at Rawson Print Co would beg to differ.
After all, it was during a catch-up over beers at Sydney’s Mosman Hotel that Andrew Price, Shane Wildash and Lachlan Finch devised a plan which would see Wildash’s Artvue Printing successfully merge with Finch and Price’s Rawson Graphics. Three years on, this has culminated in a massive rebrand under a new name, Rawson Print Co, which is seeing the business undertake a fresh approach to its structure, identity and strategy.
Last month, the company debuted its new look by hosting a harbour-side launch party for its clients and suppliers. Celebrity chef Fast Ed performed a live cooking demonstration for the crowd using fresh, quality ingredients in a nod to the company’s fresh identity and focus on fine print. For RPCO’s directors, the event signified the company’s shedding of its former image as a modest commercial printer.
With the merger complete and the business now settled, Price, Wildash and Finch felt the need to reintroduce Rawson’s to the market– but under a new guise. In choosing a new name, it was a case of out with the old, in with the new as the company decided to ditch its outdated Graphics moniker.
Price says the old name was often met with confusion, “Graphics is no longer relevant in the market. Printers back in the 70s were graphics companies; they dealt with graphics, type-setting and making film. We were still getting customers asking, ‘Do you do graphic design?’ because of the name. The rebrand is about being more relevant to our customers needs and having the word ‘print’ in our name.”
A full day was spent working with outsourced marketing company Stepchange Marketing to come up with a new brand and marketing strategy. Using butcher’s paper to write down ideas which were then hung up around a room, directors and staff from all facets of the business brainstormed until the end result was reached and Rawson Print Co was born. The company also added the tagline ‘Because fine print matters’ which is a double entendre: fine print in terms of checking the small details, but also meaning high quality work.
Rawson Print Co has used the rebrand to emphasise its business strategy, which is to do print – very well. Price explains that unlike some other print businesses, RPCO does not intend to ‘dilute the brand’ by exploring other avenues such as web development or graphic design.
“At drupa this year I guarantee you one of the buzzwords will be that printers need to diversify. Well we haven’t done that because we still believe there is a niche market in Sydney for people who do print really well,” he says. “That is what we are at Rawson Print Co, we are printers and if you want a high quality print job that is what we do very well.”
To complement this, the business has invested heavily in new equipment over the past three years, spending around $3.5m. This includes a new Komori HUV 29 and an Autobond laminator. It has also introduced a new fully integrated digital operation kitted out with a HP Indigo 7500, Horizon Stitchliner, automated cookie cutter and Polar Guillotine. To cover its capital equipment, Wildash says RPCO will be aiming to attract bigger multinational companies who are spending between $100,000 and $500,000 on print each year.
“After talking to people at the launch party I realised that people had this perception that RPCO is a small printer, which I thought was interesting,” Wildash says. “That could be a factor which stops RPCO from being engaged with bigger companies on the corporate level. There is a massive gap between companies like Blue Star and the rest of the market, and we want to be the premier business in that next tier.”
The company and its directors certainly had humble beginnings. Rawson Graphics founder Tom Rawson started the business in 1976 and Lachlan’s father, Peter Finch joined the business six months later. Although the Rawson name has been held on to for forty years, Tom Rawson left the business back in 1977 when he was bought out by Finch.
With co-owner John Kable, Finch ran the business until his death in 2000 and after Kable’s retirement in 2001, sons Lachlan Finch and Nathan Kable took over. Price came onto the scene in 2001 as a Rawson Graphics salesperson and went on to become director in 2005 before buying Kable’s share of the business in 2010.
Although Wildash’s background is with Artvue, which he took over in 2000, his connection to Rawson Graphics dates back to 1986 when he worked as an apprentice for six years with the company before deciding to start his own business venture. Wildash describes his evolution from apprentice to director as ‘coming full circle’ and still has fond memories of Rawson’s from the 80s.
As he recalls, “It was very agency driven, back in those days all your work came from agencies. There were two A2 presses which were Akiyamas. But essentially back in the day it was a complete print shop with full bindery, print and prepress.”
Price adds, “It is certainly a much bigger business today than what it was, even when I started at Rawson’s in 2001 there was only 28 employees and now we are close to 70.”
When Artvue merged with Rawson in 2013, news of the merger sparked rumours in the industry that both companies were facing financial strife, which Wildash and Price have both dismissed. However, Price admits the market faced its challenges post-GFC and he recalls hearing about several of Rawson’s competitors going under during that time.
He says, “While we would have good years, we would also have bad years. I think Shane was the same; he would have a year of profit, a break even year, and a year of loss. We could see there was not enough continuity in the market, so the merger just made sense.
“Since then we have had growth year-on-year, which is a testament to the success of the two businesses coming together. When we merged one of the reasons for doing so was that we did not have any client crossover. We only had one common client in our top 20 clients which meant there was going to be natural, organic growth by putting the two businesses together.”
But ask any business owner who has completed a merger and they will tell you, the process can be far from straightforward, or as Wildash describes, ‘like any marriage’ with its fair share of peaks and troughs.
Price points to ‘cultural differences’ between the two businesses as a significant challenge that was faced during the merge. Price, who likened Artvue to a ‘big family’ says the business and Wildash initially struggled to grasp the corporate structure of Rawson Graphics. Since coming together, RPCO has also brought in a chief executive and extra staff including a human resources manager, a financial controller and a dispatch department.
He explains, “At Artvue, Shane could make decisions with the snap of his fingers, but then he came into a bigger business with two partners and he could see things he wanted to change and would say, ‘Let’s change it’ but then we would say, ‘Hold on, let’s analyse what we need to change’. So there was a lot more meetings and discussions compared to Artvue.”
Wildash adds, “I have grown as a business owner and as a person over the past three years. I learn things everyday in the business and I think we all do. We have put in a different structure in the business with an acting CEO at the top, executive committees and a leadership team under that as well to get the right structure so we are communicating throughout the business with the right channels.”
Despite having just kicked up their feet off the back of a successful merger and rebranding, the show will go on for Price, Wildash and Finch, who say they are just getting started. The directors are expecting further growth for the RPCO brand, whether organically or through acquisition.
“There is so much more work to get done, we are still getting our structure settled internally, then after that it is about going to the market and really pushing the new brand,” Wildash says. “We are not going to build the business up then get bought out, that is certainly not where we want to go. We want to grow for the next ten years and we are committed to that.”
And because they expect to stay in the industry for the next decade, Price, Wildash and Finch plan to have fun while doing it, a tone which was set by last month’s launch party.
Price says, “We are young guys and want to have fun in our business. RPCO has really good service levels and will deliver the print, but at the same time you can have a bit of a laugh with us, we will make sure it’s an enjoyable experience.”
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