Page 22 - Print 21 Magazine Nov-Dec 2018
P. 22

People in Print
A printer of renown
Commercial printing is under massive assault from the internet, no doubt about it, but it’s still the largest sector of the printing industry. Despite
its challenges, skilled practitioners are finding ways to flourish and grow. Consolidation is both a threat and an opportunity. John Wanless of Bambra Press has experienced both, the good and bad, while riding the tumultuous changes over the past few decades. The preeminent Melbourne commercial printer shares his story with Patrick Howard.
In a world where an ever- increasing proportion of print is sourced through websites, the value of reputation is increasingly called into question. In a transactional marketplace personal relationships are discounted in favour of cheaper prices and fast delivery. But not for everyone, and certainly not for John Wanless, who strongly believes in the virtues of ‘reputational-based marketing,’ even as he prepares to initiate Bambra Press into the dangers and advantages of web-to-print.
The web initiative is ground breaking for him as reputation has always played a significant role in the progress of Bambra Press. Wanless
is held in high regard within the industry, not only for the recognised integrity of the man himself but also for his commitment to quality print. At a time when commodity printing is increasingly seen as the norm,
he continues to create and deliver a responsive, and in many cases, an exceptional print service.
Undoubtedly serious about the commercial realities of running
a mid-size commercial printing company, he continues to be enthusiastic about the importance
of quality print. He is jealous of Bambra’s reputation as a printer that will deliver craft quality printing at a competitive commercial rate. Even as he invests in equipment and systems to ensure his enterprise operates with the latest technology, he encourages
a sense of craft in his people and throughout the enterprise. It is no coincidence that early on in his career Wanless went out of his way to enter and win gold in the National Print Awards. “We first entered the NPA
in 1998. Our goal then was to win gold, and we did. While it may not be worth much in itself, it proves you’ve reached a standard,” he said.
Beginning is a long time
John Wanless began with Bambra Press 26 years ago. Located in Bambra Road in South Caulfield, the company was then in transition from being a small commercial printer. The original owner, Wanless’ former father-in-law, was looking to exit the business and sold it on to him and two partners.
“When I joined Bambra we had a two-colour Komori Sprint and a GTO. It was general print work, but I was always determined we’d do it better than anyone else,” he recalls. “Then we bought a 1996 four-colour Akiyama.”
“I don’t know the future. The market changes every year, even every month. Jobs we’ve been doing for years aren’t necessarily happening again.”
Shortly afterwards, Bambra moved to larger premises in Port Melbourne and acquired a prepress company, Atrium Studios.
“We built a sizeable following in the agency market for doing PMS work. A lot of CMYK printers didn’t want to do it so we were developing that as a point of difference. It proved to be a bit of fun and we continued to always do good work.”
Ironically Wanless owes his subsequent ownership of the company to Pacific Print, which later became part of the private equity disaster called GEON. Under Geoff Wilding it made
a bid for the business in 2006. “They’d just bought Impact Print and we were the next on the list. We were fresh into a new equipment investment cycle with a fair bit of debt.”
Wanless was at a crucial stage of life and wanted more than to simply take the money and run – “it wasn’t a life changing amount anyway” – so after a middle of the night decision,
he bought out his partners and emerged as sole proprietor of Bambra Press and master of his destiny. Subsequently one of the partners, Troy Riley, came back and re-joined as a minor shareholder.
The future is unknown
There are no straightforward textbooks for success in printing. Instinct, commitment and skill feature large, as does a realistic approach to the industry and the market. A belief in printing helps, as does recognition of the fragility of planning. The intervening years and the arrival
of the internet have seasoned John Wanless but left his enthusiasm for the industry undimmed.
“I don’t know the future. The market changes every year, even every month. Jobs we’ve been doing for years aren’t necessarily happening again. There’s still significant change in the way marketers spend their money. I’m a believer in print and I think it’ll have a long and happy life, but it’ll plateau at some stage.
“Most people see there is value in it, some don’t. One particular job we did was a beautiful calendar for a winery, six or seven years in a row, a great job. The winery loved it but then they got in a new marketing team who canned it all. They choose to go with social media. We believe that will hurt them. With the

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