Caption: Taking part in the round table discussion (from top, anticlockwise) were Michael Brain, Lucas McDowall, Kneale Caine and Frank Retter.
Bowler Metcalf, one of South Africa’s major plastics packaging players, is a well-known and respected name. Equally well known in packaging circles is the company’s dynamic MD, Michael Brain. Business Report recently commented that Bowler Metcalf’s better-than-average performance is a result of aggressive marketing combined with a conservative managerial approach. So what, you might ask, does this have to do with Trident Press’s financial difficulties? Well the short answer is that Michael Brain stepped in with a well-timed investment to save the company.
The story was spelled out at a recent round-table discussion at the Trident Press offices with Michael Brain, Frank Retter (production director), Lucas McDowall (sales director) and Kneale Caine (financial director).
Answering the prime question as to whether Trident was technically insolvent, Michael Brain replies: ‘There’s no doubt about it. There are many ways you can say it, but it all means the same thing. When you run out of cash, you close the doors.’
Too good to let go
To Michael’s mind, however, Trident was too good to let go. The business had carved out a valuable market niche, and employed many competent people; and those two facts were keys to his decision to invest. But the most compelling reason was that Lucas McDowall was his nephew, and, in Michael’s view, one of Cape Town’s best sales professionals.
Seeing himself in a strictly non-executive role, Michael reckoned the business needed three legs in the management team. A first-class production manager, Lucas’s sales expertise and somebody to trust on the financial side. With these three posts filled, he’d be confident to invest.
Capton: Trident’s CtP requirements have been brought in-house with the installation of a Screen PlateRite system (supplied by Kemtek).
Soon the right people were in place – Lucas as sales director, Kneal (who had been with Trident before, but with a different mandate) in the financial director’s chair, and Frank handling production. Soon, another key appointment was made as Jennifer Duke headed up the marketing function.
‘So now,’ Michael relates with a happy smile, ‘we have a 35-year-old business, starting a new life with one of the strongest talent bases in town.
‘A lot of silly errors were made in the past, and one error compounded another. I analysed the numbers, and looked at ways in which the company could be turned around for success; and concluded that if we changed a few things, and tweaked a few things, it could be done!’
In Michael’s view Trident needed a mentor with money and he fitted the bill.
‘Even though my nephew was involved, I would not have thrown money at a hopeless case. I believed Trident had the pedigree and the people to re-establish the company and the speed with which it was done even exceeded my expectations,’ he adds.
Trident now debt-free
Fresh funds of slightly more than R20-million was injected into Trident Press and all outstanding debts were paid. ’This leaves us with unencumbered shareholder funds of over R10-million and I don’t think there are many printing companies this size that can boast that,’ explains Kneale Caine. ‘We’re financially strong and we were even able to pay staff bonuses in December, something that hadn’t happened for years.’
Caption: Among Trident’s armoury is the manroland 700 four-colour press.
‘It’s really great to get on and service our customers in the way that they want, without having to worry about the stability of the business,’ quips Lucas McDowall. ’We’re all very serious about our business and contributed our share of cash alongside Michael’s. We were focused before, but once it’s your own money, you’re massively focused,’ he laughs.
‘We are learning new tricks on how to control our company properly and have budgets and strategic plans that we fit into. We’re determined to make it work,’ puts in Frank Retter, ‘and it’s fantastic to see that we have the buy-in from staff and suppliers, but most importantly from customers. Their confidence has returned and they’re coming back to us in droves.’
Caption: Installed in 2003, the KBA at Trident Press is an RA105-5+L five-colour plus aqueous coater. The highly automated press can print from 0,06 to 1,2mm stock, maximum size 72 x 105cm, at 15 000 sheets/hour. The feeder is of the new ‘shaftless’ generation to assist with speedy makeready.
Investment in technology
One of the errors the old Trident made was to outsource its computer-to-plate (CtP) requirements. This was costly and affected turnaround times, but has now been rectified with the installation of a brand-new Screen PlateRite system (supplied by Kemtek).
‘With the new CtP system, and correctly trained staff, turnaround times and quality have improved dramatically. The next step is look at ways to add value for our customers; and we’ll probably bring in-house certain elements that are still outsourced,’ adds Lucas.
Caption: Quality checks ensure that customers get exactly what they want.
Apart from the new CtP system, Trident is in the process of installing additional equipment, with the aim of improving its service offering.
A sizeable budget has been set for this exercise. ‘We will continue to evaluate the market, and as demands grow we’ll have the resources, both financially and in terms of expertise, to expand. We must always keep a close eye on the market and ensure that we’re providing what it wants. The day we forget that, we may as well pack up and go home,’ Lucas explains.
‘We may invest in an additional press or additional bindery equipment. Whatever we do will be in an ordered fashion over the next 12 months,’ adds Kneale.
Trident has been a good show for many years, and the new team is determined to carry on the tradition. ‘We’ve won about 28 Sappi awards, six of them gold, so if that isn’t a good show, what is? We also won an American honour – the Benny Award – and we’re very proud of that,’ comments Lucas.
And last word goes to Michael Brain: ‘There’s a very strong place for Trident Press in the Western Cape market – and we’ve no intention of relinquishing that place to anyone else. I believe Trident will be here for the next 30 years. We’ve got a much better team than many other printers, so there’s no reason why we can’t fly. I am the mentor, the old bull, but it’s up to the team to make it take off. Trident is back – and back with a vengeance!’
Caption: Jennifer Duke is proud to relate that among’s Trident’s many awards are six Sappi golds and the US Benny Award.