Sovereign Press: Courage through COVID

This article first appeared as the Star Business feature in the April 2021 issue of ProPrint magazine.

Sovereign Press owners Brad and Claire Wootton made the courageous decision to not only move to a much larger factory during COVID, but also upgrade their Heidelberg offset press at the same time.

“Our journey for the installation of the Heidelberg CD74 took place when we bought the new premises in Ballarat. The plan was to install the machine in late 2020, but when COVID hit we paused for a moment to work out precisely what we were going to do,” Brad told ProPrint.

It was no doubt an intense time for the couple, but despite the pressures of the downturn and knock-on dwindling print orders they had foresight and decided to maximise the opportunity and utilise their staff to assist with the renovation and relocation.

“Our business was severely affected, and it was nerve wracking. There were some nervous moments when we paid for the press on the Friday and Victorian Premier Dan Andrews sent the entire state into lockdown on the Sunday,” Claire said.

“We were fortunate that printing was an essential service, and this allowed us to remain open and still take delivery of the press on the following Tuesday while at the same time home schooling four children aged 14, 12, 9 and 7.”

Sovereign Press: Coping with COVID

Sovereign Press
Brad and Claire Wootton often show customers through the site so they can learn more about the print production process and see examples of products on offer like wall decals for offices and meeting spaces.

COVID gave Claire and Brad a chance to sit back and evaluate the operations of the business in more detail. This highlighted to them the proportion of work the business was relying on from sectors like tourism and events.

“We had high levels of business production loaded up too much in these areas, so we needed to look for new areas that were not affected by the introduction of social distancing and travel restrictions,” Brad said.

“This led us into a higher level of large format work, as well as packaging, using either the offset press, large format machine or the digital press. Once COVID started we were producing a lot of A0 posters and corflute signage, as well as floor decals and wall graphics. Hospitals were changing their signage regularly and they required tight next-day deliveries.”

The new Sovereign Press premises

Sovereign Press now occupies a 1750 square metre site on Old Creswick Road in Ballarat. It is three times the size of the previous factory at Traminer Court in Wendouree.

“We were tucked away at the old site so it is nice to be much more prominently positioned and visible to the local community so people can drop in,” Claire said.

“The new premises have become more of a showroom and when anyone comes on site, we have the ability to show them the factory and all of our facilities. We can share our passion with them and also include them in the entire process.

“We renovated the entire site during the COVID lockdown over 12 weeks and managed the relocation of the business and in effect we only lost one day of production in the bindery and none in the print departments.

“We were told with planning the relocation of the business it would normally take two weeks, but we didn’t want to have any down time and that is why we ran everything in a scheduled and planned way to ensure we kept operating and delivering to customers thorughout the entire process.

“Over the 12 weeks, us, our team and our family did a huge amount of the renovation work in conjunction with local contractors.”

The history of the business

Sovereign Press was established in 2001 as a family business owned by Brad and Claire as well as Brad’s parents – Ross and Robyn.

“I am a fourth-generation printer. I did my apprenticeship in Maryborough with my father where I was raised. After my apprenticeship, I joined Conlay Press in Melbourne in 1999, but the city wasn’t my thing, so we moved to Bendigo. At the time, I was playing for a VFL side as well as working at Mulqueen Printers in Bendigo,” Brad said.

“Then my father and I discussed starting our own business – we decided the best place to open the business was in a regional town with a growing and developing economy and close proximity to Melbourne. That was how we settled on Ballarat and that was the beginning of Sovereign Press.

“Ballarat has a population of over 100,000 and is growing rapidly and we are located at a centre point between Melbourne and many thriving regional cities, so we are able to service Victoria-wide very easily. When we lived in Melbourne it would take the same time to commute to jobs as it does now to get to the city from Ballarat.”

Sovereign Press began as a commercial offset printer with one offset press that was bought in Sydney, a guillotine and a folder.

“We have gradually added bits of machinery and departments as we produced the income to invest in the business,” Claire said.

“We had our first apprentice after six to 12 months as the business grew, and since then our assets and employees have kept growing every year, to the point where we now have 14 staff.

“Our business was primarily offset for the first 14 years before we added digital and now we have three digital presses, a large format hybrid machine, prepress, warehousing and an extensive bindery area of the business.”

Changes to the business

Claire and Brad have noticed a change to the mix of business in recent years.

“The majority of our customers seven or eight years ago were designers, print managers and other printers, but now we are getting two or three walk-in customers a day that are often producing items for themselves,” Brad said.

“With more and more people requiring design and alterations, we now have two full-time graphic designers on site employed within the business.

“During COVID we noticed different demand. For example we are getting a lot of people that are dropping in and asking for a 100 or 200 copies case bound family history.

“We would estimate that the demand for family histories and also historical records of smaller towns from historical societies has tripled.

“We are working with some of the major print management agencies across Victoria and this still represents about 75 per cent of the business. We also have lots of local support including the City of Ballarat which makes us proud to produce for our local area.

“Packaging has been an existing part of the business and the demand has been growing as customers are producing boutique specifications. Our product range is extensive and includes point of sale, magazines, catalogues, brochures, signage and labelling across a range of industries including agricultural, pharmaceutical, food and wine, government and retail to name a few.”

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