Brian White started to chase his dream with a weak hand. Between credit cards, home equity, and cash he probably had $20,000 on hand – hardly enough to start his own printing business.
But he could become a print broker, and that’s just what he did.
“It kept my overhead to a minimum because everything was a buy and a sell, instead of a capital investment,” he said.
Net result: White’s Creative Print Group in Baltimore today employs 35 people. Along the way White parlayed the income from that initial brokerage to buy printing equipment and then expanded to become a creative design shop. Last year he grossed $7.5 million and said he expects $8.5 million this year. It’s a long way for a guy who started in a townhouse basement.
White got his first taste of the print business at home.
“My father had a small printing shop, so I grew up in the business. I worked there in college, and once I got out of college I went to work at a local printer,” he said.
In addition to printing, that company brokered projects, selling its services rather than producing a printed product.
“This showed me that there was a way I could service the clients in a broader scope. As a broker there was more opportunity to supply more different types of projects,” White said.
The move from broker to printer came of necessity. A key supplier was in financial trouble, and White needed to ensure he could still fulfill orders.
“One of my main direct mail printers was having difficulties and that was a big portion of our work, so I started putting in equipment to fill the void,” White said.
He probably could have found another local supplier, but taking on the print work himself ensured he would continue to get the necessary level of quality.
That first step required him to buy a $250,000 printing press, of which he financed $200,000. He also grew the team from one to three sales reps.
The expansion saddled White with a new set of responsibilities, as the business needs of the enterprise expanded beyond the day-to-day operations.
“I had to be involved in paper purchases, ink purchases, production schedules, equipment breakdowns,” he said. “It took a lot of extra time.”
With the business still too small to take on a manager, White got by on sweat equity. “It was a lot of nights and weekends,” he said.
As the business grew, White was able to loosen the reins a bit, eventually hiring an operations manager to free himself up to focus on bigger strategic issues. Once he took a step back, he identified a natural next move for the business.
“I saw there was an opportunity to become involved in the marketing process before it became the printing process,” he said. “Up until that point we were just reacting to projects that were being developed by other strategy people.”
Looking from the outside, he recognized systemic flaws.
“I saw the struggles my customers were having, dealing with people who were only on the front end, the creative people,” he said.
He noticed in particular that his smaller clients tended to get meager attention from the big ad agencies they hired. Many were frustrated with the level of service they were getting, and when they started complaining to White, the light bulb went off. Today the company produces a range of marketing materials and manages campaigns such as email blasts, Google analytics and QR codes.
While any business has its natural ebbs and flows, this promises to be an especially strong year for Creative Print Group as political candidates once again go out on the stump.
“It is a political year, and we do a lot of political printing. It is about $1 million in business,” White said. “First, we are union, and all the Democratic candidates want their campaign materials printed by a union shop. I have also been a campaign manager for a member of the House of Delegates for 20 years, so I know the political strategy that is associated with mail projects.”
In marketing terms, that strategy component is already familiar to White’s creative team.
“Profiling voters, targeting the message. It’s the same as getting someone to purchase a product. It’s just that you are asking them to pull the lever,” White said.
Looking ahead, the company continues to spread its wings, having just taken on an additional 12,000 square feet to make room for new equipment and technology, including a $1.4 million printing press.
This article was originally published by Adam Stone in The Business Journals' "From Beginners to Bigshots".