Park x Graphius: Interview with the CEOs
In June 2022, Park Communications joined Belgium’s Graphius Group.
Graphius Group is one of Europe’s biggest printing companies, with one of the continent’s largest and most technically-advanced case binderies. The Group also publishes its own print title, Graphius Magazine. The magazine spoke to the founders of Park, Chief Executive Heath Mason and Managing Director Alison Branch, alongside Denis Geers, Philippe Geers, and Joris Deckers of Graphius, about the recent acquisition.
Graphius Magazine: Heath and Alison, Park has been in business for over 30 years, shepherded by you both. Its acquisition represents a huge milestone.
Heath Mason, Chief Executive at Park: We’re very excited about it. We feel that the Graphius Group is absolutely the right place for Park to be. Having spent over 30 years building Park, it’s all the more important that it is passed onto the right owners. And we always knew this day would come. For five years now, we’ve been looking for the perfect fit. Three years ago, we did some research on various businesses and our research led us to Graphius. We contacted Denis and on our very first meeting we knew there was good chemistry between us. We’ve turned down several offers in the past five years, waiting for the perfect fit and we think this is it.
GM: What were some other big milestones in Park’s history?
HM: One was moving from our former factory to our current site. The old facility was on what would eventually become the London 2012 Olympic Park. The Olympic Hockey Centre was built on our former site and I had the pleasure of visiting the completed pitch. It was a strange feeling, knowing that our factory had once stood there. Another big milestone, around that same time, we bought out our private equity investors, which allowed the company to be owned by the management. Having the disciplines of private equity was a good learning experience, and those lessons have been retained.
GM: It’s also a big step for Graphius. Denis, how long have you been following the success of Park and why is now the right time to join forces?
Denis Geers, Graphius CEO: For Graphius it’s a first step toward local production in the UK. We had been following Park for almost ten years as a competitor, because we share a similar client base. We have the same philosophy, the same kind of products as Park. Our print products are likewise in demand in the more luxury segments of the market, so it’s a good match. We have big facilities and binderies in Belgium and in France, so we can work together, with Park doing the smaller jobs with short lead times in the London area and Graphius taking care of the bigger accounts and projects in Ghent and in Paris.
We had our first contact at the end of 2019, but then the pandemic started and the timing was interrupted. We now feel that the market has stabilised and the demand for marketing related print is back. So yes, this is the right time for us.
GM: Heath and Alison, you both have formidable expertise in printing, with 24 years of collective experience in the industry prior to your founding of Park back in 1991. Will this acquisition affect your roles at Park, as Chief Executive and Managing Director?
Alison Branch, Managing Director at Park: We don’t envisage our day-to-day roles changing. I will keep my responsibility for operations, supported now by Joris [Deckers]. Heath and Joris will also be working closely together, focusing on how we can jointly increase sales, leveraging the combined manufacturing opportunities.
HM: Alison and I have been working together for 30-plus years, as you say, and working to our individual strengths. The team here are also accustomed to our approach. So, the most important change will be the additional resources and expertise. We also stand to benefit from the clear managerial competence shown by Denis and Philippe. So the changes will all be positive.
GM: The name of Park commands a great deal of respect in the industry, in turn attracting big-name clients: global fund managers, international banks such as Standard Chartered, Bank of England, brands such as Tik Tok, Google, Creed and Nike, Rolls Royce, the National Gallery and the Tate, and some of the biggest names in the auction house sector, including Christie’s. What is the ethos that has guided Park to this point and how has it evolved over the years?
AB: We’ve always looked to create a business that stands out; one that in the first instance focuses on the elements of service: high quality, speed, flexibility, environmental performance, and not to mention security: we hold the ISO 27001 international standard for information security management, which is important to our financial customers. For us, it’s also very much about the culture of the business: we look to treat all stakeholders fairly and with integrity, whether they be customers, suppliers or colleagues. We want to maintain a workplace where people are happy to work. Customers notice it when they visit, that we have a happy team; our people have got smiles on their faces and will stop to say hello. So, that’s the reputation we like to maintain, and I think the same is true of Graphius.
GM: You remain a British company, based in London. But what advantages come with Graphius’s infrastructure and connections across Europe? Will all your activities remain in London? Will any of Graphius’s activities fall to you?
AB: I think the bigger opportunities for us are that we will be able to sell longer-run productions. There’s also a shortage of case binding suppliers in the UK, which is something Graphius does in-house. So, that will make us much more cost-effective for those productions. We will also serve as a sort of shopfront for Graphius in the UK: clients will be able to come to us to have a meeting, discuss a project, sample various materials and have an in-depth discussion. It’s much easier face-to-face. The name ‘Park Communications’ will not disappear; the only difference will be that we will add ‘member of Graphius Group’.
GM: Every company has its strengths and weaknesses. In terms of expertise, how will Park benefit from Graphius and vice versa?
Philippe Geers, CFO Graphius Group : With Park and Graphius joining forces, we will see benefits in the short, mid and long term. In the short term, ‘quick wins’ will be found in terms of purchasing, and attracting UK sales from clients that will see the wider strengths of the Group through its UK shop front. In the longer term, there will be further benefits from Park and Graphius people working together in sales, production, transport, accounting and HR.
HM: Apart from the additional printing resources and the efficiencies of doing business at a greater scale, Park will benefit from the wider community of colleagues at all levels. And I mean all levels. Successful businesses are based on good people. And bringing together two successful businesses means there’s an even greater wealth of good people making good decisions.
GM: Joris, what will your role be in this project?
Joris Deckers: As co-MD, I will initially focus on the smooth integration of Park into Graphius Group and will ensure that communication between the various teams runs smoothly. In terms of general policy, I will support Heath and Alison where necessary and in those areas where I can provide added value.
As I have a commercial background in the UK, I will support the commercial development of Park together with the Park sales team. With this new Graphius presence providing benefits to our current substantial UK customer base, and its extensive resources, we will give Park an even wider and stronger offering.
GM: Park is among the most environmentally friendly printers in the UK, and currently holds the award for being the best in the UK in this regard. What did it take to earn that title and do you have further plans to ensure you stay on top in this area?
AB: Prior to Brexit we were one of only eleven printers in the UK to be accredited by EMAS, the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, which represents a much more rigorous standard than even ISO 14001. We’re not in the EU anymore, of course, but we have continued to work to that high standard. Earlier this year we also earned the independent verification of Printweek’s Environmental Company of the Year (SME).
HM: In fact, we’ve either won it or come second in eight of the past nine years that the award has been presented. So, we’ve always been recognised as being right up there in terms of environmental performance.
AB: Yes, environmental management and sustainability has been a priority for us for a long time. As far back as our founding in 1991. That’s actually why we chose the name Park, to reflect our green ambitions. What we’re focusing on now is offering our customers all the knowledge and information they need to maximise their sustainability through their choices. We’ve published dozens of informative articles online and we’re currently designing a sustainability handbook for designers.
GM: Graphius is also setting an example in the field of sustainable printing.
JD : That’s right. It’s lots of small things that add up: the ink, paper and services we offer our clients, solar panels on the roof, planting trees, maintaining accountability with our annual sustainability report, and so on. Our international customers, museums and such, are very happy to see it and are very complimentary about it, but it’s not only for commercial reasons that we do it. It’s also important to the management here on a personal level. Not to mention that our facility is based just outside the city and it’s important to us that we exist harmoniously alongside the local people and the environment.
GM: How does this acquisition fit into the long-term vision for Graphius?
DG: We have the ambition to develop our activities in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the UK. With the acquisition of Park we are opening a new gateway to the UK and are looking to focus on local production there, eco-friendliness being just one of the benefits of this approach. There’s a lot of knowledge present at Park that can help Graphius and vice versa, so together we will be greater than the sum of our parts; it’s a case of ‘one plus one equals three’.
GM: It’s nice when a plan comes together. Any closing words, Heath and Alison?
HM: The future is looking very good and we’re looking forward to sharing this news with our colleagues here.
AB: Yes, I think they, too, will be excited about the opportunities our shared future holds.
Read more about Park and Graphius’ partnership here.
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