ProPrint Star Business: Tennyson Group 60 years on

This article featured in the August 2021 issue of ProPrint magazine. To see the online magazine, please click here.

The smell of ink and the clackety-clack of the linotype in the garage of Mitchell Simpson’s childhood home in the Brisbane suburb of Tennyson still rings clear today 60 years later.

And yes, whilst much has changed since Mitchell’s father, Ran Simpson, started what is now Tennyson Group in 1961, there is so much that hasn’t.

The old linotypes have been swapped with a comprehensive digital, offset and wide format printing kit. It has also entered the digital realm through the acquisition of a technology business which has enabled it to offer print and digital services to new and existing clients.

Early days: Ran Simpson back in the day

But the business which started as a modest ‘mum and dad print shop’ and now employs 40 people is still very much in the family with Mitchell, a director, and his wife, Karen, the company’s CEO.

Mitchell and Karen’s three children are also heavily involved in the day-to-day running. Eldest daughter, Chloe, is in charge of operations whilst youngest daughter, Ali, is responsible for marketing. Their son, Lachlan, helps run the recently acquired business, Compact Systems Australia, which supplies electronic administrative and clinical solutions to the health, education and other government sectors.

But for all the change and diversification, Tennyson Group’s core pillar of creativity and collaboration remain, and this is the magic formula Mitchell attributes to its ongoing success.

“We started off as a letterpress printer before we moved into offset and then digital. I actually did my trade in linotype and hand-set compositing, so yes you could say everything has changed,” Mitchell told ProPrint.

“But what has remained constant for us is that our clientele generally looks to us to provide a service which offers an alternative to what they, the client, thinks is possible.

“We work with them to provide a total print solution and we give them a range of ideas about different types of stocks to print on and different ways of presenting a product – we offer a creative alternative to standard print jobs.”

Tennyson Group
Family ties: Tennyson Group is well and truly in the Simpson family with (L-R) Karen, Mitchell, Chloe, Ali and Lachlan taking care of business.

Tennyson Group works with clients in the health, retail, manufacturing and government sectors nationally and locally.

It also works with many smaller customers and Mitchell says this is often where the most innovative ideas spring from which in turn helps Tennyson Group move forward.

But no matter the size of the customer, the trademark approach to creative collaboration is applied.

An example of this flexible thinking was a recent job Tennyson Group did for the Queensland Ambulance Service. At first the job involved reproducing a range of books for Queensland Ambulance Service. But as consultations continued, the scope of the project evolved into a full redesign with the stock changed from the usual raw paper to a water-proof and tear-proof paper.

“This new style of book was an example of the product alternatives we like to offer,” Mitchell said.

“We were asked to quote on one style of print that has been the same for 30 years, but we ended up redesigning the book to make it more user friendly and a better overall solution for their needs.

“We are not about how we can make something look prettier, we are about how we can make it work better, and that includes looking at the materials used to produce it and the design elements of it.”

Tennyson Printery as it was in the 1960s

Working with print managers

Many printers moan when discussing working with print managers. Invariably the conversation ends up being about a ‘race to the bottom on price’ and why this is increasingly making it difficult for printers to survive.

The opposite was found in ProPrint’s discussions with Mitchell.

He says print managers have helped his business thrive – aided by the Queensland Government procuring print through a print management company. “For us working with print managers has been fantastic,” Mitchell said.

“Not a lot of people feel that way but working with print managers has really helped us grow our business. We collaborate with print managers on projects that they are struggling with.

“We noticed we were offering alternatives which were better than what was being put into the quotation and this is where our innovation and solution finding expertise comes into play.”

Tennyson Group works primarily with two key print managers, but also deals with five smaller print managers. The company also works with regional printers in Queensland and Victoria to assist them meet their customers’ needs.

“Normally the print manager would send out five quotes and the lowest gets the reward, but we have always looked to provide a different solution to that,” Mitchell said.

“We won’t win all the work, but we will win work based on a service rather than based on a price.”

Tennyson Group has long provided printed sign-in books and patient record charts to Queensland Health and the clubs sector. But as technology has rapidly advanced, so has the shift from using physical sign-in books and patient charts to digital formats.

This shift, which has also been evidenced across the pubs and clubs industries, prompted some strategic thinking from Tennyson Group and resulted in the purchase of a business which specialised in these types of technologies.

The new business, Compact Systems Australia, supplies electronic sign-in systems and also offers Emma, electronic medication management software for the aged care and disability sector.

“We have exposure to hospitals, and they are going from paper charts to digital charts. Some major hospitals have already gone completely digital, so it is impacting us, and it is not going to change,” Mitchell said.

“We could see where it was going so the strategy was to work how we keep these customers.”

Technology upgrades

Digital printing now takes up 30 per cent of Tennyson Group’s workload with offset sitting at 45 per cent, large format at 15 per cent and PVC stationery manufacturing at 10 per cent. To drive innovations and opportunities, Tennyson Group has now got all sectors of print covered including roll labels using a Konica Minolta AccurioLabel press and wide format with an Océ Arizona and a HP Latex printer.

The company’s digital printing is currently handled by a Kodak Nexpress, Konica C1100 and 1052e with a B2 solution on the cards for “sometime” next year, while a Ryobi five colour handles the offset side of things.

All wide format print is handled by an Océ Arizona press, a HP Latex and a Zünd cutter.

“The Arizona is marvellous and is working really well for us. We worked very closely with Océ to get that going and we have a Zünd cutter so we can do reel-to-reel and flatbed and we also run a HP Latex,” Mitchell said.

Its finishing department is also well taken care of with Horizon equipment in the bindery, however there is also scope to add some embellishing technology to the equation.

Another key change for the business has been the implementation of an Accura MIS system after 25 years of running a Quote and Print system.

“Changing over to the Accura system has been a dramatic change for everyone but we had to look to the future. We were all very used to Quote and Print but still we needed to go to the next step to modernise our workflow and online offering,” he said.

Tennyson Group has come a long way in its 60 years and with all these changes in place it seems well set up to handle another 60.

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