Executive Perspectives: Julian Marsh, director of commercial printing for District Photo Inc.
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Julian Marsh, director of commercial printing for District Photo Inc., Beltsville, Md. Here, he talks about new initiatives, shares his passion for spreadsheets and explains why print will always be home.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Julian Marsh: I joined the print industry in the U.K. in 1987. I worked at a small family business, which was an early print management company specializing in continuous forms. I started off doing odd jobs around the office, and [eventually] created a very basic MIS on an early 486 PC—that was still being used 10 years later! We then took delivery of our first Macintosh with some forms builder software, so I became the in-house forms creator for a bit. After that, I did a spell in sales before taking my first management role, which [involved] managing growth.
I left the family business to start an in-house print business for a musical instrument distributor. That was my first experience with building a business from scratch. I was able to do an MBO of that business a few years later, and then ran my own print companies for the next 15 years. We mainly produced offset, but also had some digital and large format.
After my daughters were born in 2006 and 2008, respectively, my responsibilities changed and I decided I would rather work for a larger organization. The rate of change in the industry was accelerating, and it seemed like a good time to look for a new opportunity. That’s when I joined the District Photo family. Firstly in the U.K., and since 2017 in the U.S., I have been focused on building a commercial print business utilizing spare resource and capacity that’s a result of our very seasonal photo and custom print and gifts businesses. I am very proud of what we have achieved in this space over the last few years.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
JM: I look at everything mathematically, so I convert my goals into numbers, and then figure out how I am going to achieve those numbers using more math. I have probably driven both my family and business teams mad with my endless spreadsheets and formulae for success.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes and challenges the industry will face?
JM: Digital technology has completely disrupted our industry, and I firmly believe [industry pioneer and father of digital printing] Benny Landa’s statement, “If it can be printed digitally, it will be printed digitally,” stands as true today as when he said it many years ago. I have no doubt that the current trend for jobs to get smaller in regard to quantity and value, while the volume of these orders grows, will continue. End-to-end automation will be key to success in the digital print businesses of tomorrow. I believe the industry already faces a skills shortage and that will only continue to become more of a challenge as journeymen retire and fewer young people choose to come into the print industry.
What keeps you up at night?
JM: I am passionate about the print industry. When I [initially] joined, it was just to earn some money during that summer vacation. Over 30 years later, I can’t really imagine working in anything else. I have seen a huge amount of change during this period, and, in my book, change equals opportunity. As a global board member of Dscoop, the HP graphic arts user group, I have a platform on which to evangelize about the future of our industry. I spend a lot of my spare time learning about the latest technology and trends and thinking about how these will affect all of our futures.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
JM: District Photo has already successfully transitioned from being a very large analogue film processer in the 20th century to being one of the world’s largest direct-to-consumer digital print companies in the 21st century. ... We are excited about addressing the relatively new and fast-growing market where customers can procure fully variable print products online. The customer-facing technology we are currently working on allows “printsumers” to get an instant quote 24/7, place their order, upload their art, receive a proof and submit their job for production. They are no longer restricted to certain sizes, substrates or finishes. Our offering is fully variable. Internally, we are developing solutions that fully automate order processing, prepress and production management, giving us an efficient workflow. Additionally, we are now supplying a growing list of brokers, distributors and resellers with high-quality digital print at prices that allow them to sell to their customers.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JM: I love traveling, exploring new places, meeting new people and learning about local culture. I also love to cook, and I am quite experimental. The combination of the two has resulted in some interesting plates of food over the years!