Caption: Sarah Sonnenberg is moving into the MD’s chair at Synchron, as her father Alan Gillett becomes chairman.
The same is true in the business world, of course. Sarah believes that sticking with one company, gaining an in-depth and intimate knowledge of the business and its products, promotes balance and flexibility – for instance, many questions can be answered and many problems solved by instinct rather than hours of agonising.
And she has certainly stuck with one company, having worked alongside her father Alan Gillett in the family business for the past 13 years, she knows the ropes, she understands the business inside-out, and has the support of the Synchron management team.
Alan, now chairman is assisting with specific projects and playing a strong mentoring role, as Sarah remarks, ‘a privilege few companies are afforded today’. He’s also closely involved with learnership programmes and an entrepreneurial upliftment programme. So what exactly has Sarah inherited?
Synchron – with a proud 38 years history – is well known as one of South Africa’s largest suppliers of digital, screen and signage products, but it’s the supply of foiling products that accounts for the lion’s share of the turnover.
The business came into the Gillett family in 1992 when Alan bought it from Evan Beattie.
Three years ago, Synchron moved its Cape Town headquarters into new, purpose-built premises in Montague Gardens. Although just a stone’s throw from the previous location, this new factory and office complex provided considerably more space, especially for incoming stock and outgoing materials ready for dispatch – in fact, about an additional acre of space!
Logistically, in addition to its Cape Town head office, the company has branches in Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth; and the employee count is
While others in the printing industry might be looking slightly glum, there’s no such gloom at Synchron. ‘Business is really picking up,’ Sarah reports happily. ‘Volumes improved last year, although margins remained under pressure. But what’s really encouraging is that from September 2009 until now our throughput volumes have increased significantly. In fact, we’ve had to introduce a second shift to cope. We’re now running two 12-hour shifts, five days a week.’
Sarah’s not certain how much of this volume increase is the result of stock-building for the World Cup (for instance Synchron has supplied security holograms for Bafana Bafana apparel and for ticket sales, and the local wine and spirits industry has geared up its packaging requirements to meet increased demand from soccer tourists), but she sees strong growth ahead. ‘After the World Cup, there’ll be a lot of stock replenishment, then we’ll be into the Christmas build up, and after that it’s back to normal,’ she predicts with confidence.
Among its several principals, Synchron represents Leonard Kurz, a world leader when it comes to the supply of hot stamping foils, widely supplied to packaging converters to meet the demands of FMCG manufacturers for brand enhancement. ‘Around 60% of our business comes from the sale of foils,’ Sarah remarks. ‘This isn’t only traditional hot stamping foils but increasingly we’re marketing cold foiling products, which have considerably expanded the number of applications for foiling, particularly for FMCG products. A number of the major label printers are now to complementing their offering by including cold foiling technology.’
While global economic conditions can directly or indirectly affect the business, new markets continue to open up as FMCG manufacturers and their packaging suppliers learn to be more competitive, produce higher volumes at lower costs and increase quality levels. Meeting these requirements, Synchron continually introduces new products for new markets – with cold foiling being a prime example.
In addition to product decoration, Kurz’s magnetic foils and advanced optical variable devices (holograms) provide effective and attractive brand protection, as well as increased security for many other businesses.
Synchron also represents MACtac, FLEXcon, Ferrari, Bayer and Airex, all leading manufacturers of high-quality, specialised materials for screen or digital printing. And here another family member is involved. Sarah’s sister, Mandy Collins, manages sales of all graphics products, digital and screen printing products, and architectural products.
True commitment to customers
Sarah believes in an inclusive and consultative style of leadership. ‘People must understand the value they add to an organisation and the impact this has on customer service. We have a true commitment to supply quality, innovation and value for money to our customers,’ Sarah insists.
The first company in its sector to be ISO 9001:2008 accredited, Synchron continues to improve service levels; and underlining this service delivery ethic have been significant investments in computer software for accurate stock control and management.
‘We’re continually targeting service delivery,’ Sarah explains, adding that customers who previously accepted eight-hour lead times are now demanding delivery four hours from order placement.
Sarah believes that adding value to customers’ businesses, through understanding their particular requirements and being able to provide tailor-made and mutually profitable solutions allows both parties to reinvest in their companies and grow the industry for the future.
Key to this belief is the fact that Synchron has been in business for close on 40 years. ‘Through our history, our commitment to quality and innovation, and especially our close working relationship with our overseas principals, we’ve been able to meet customer requirements and moved with international trends. We’ll consider to strive to do that,’ Sarah concludes.
Ed’s note: A review of foiling advances seen at Ipex will be included in the July issue of P&PM.