James JB Kennedy, 33
How he got his start: I [was employed at] a mom-and-pop shop for almost five years, working my way from the digital black-and-white division to the office manager. I wanted to grow the business, but the owner didn’t see the value of growing and scaling the business. I left and went into the recycling industry and [later] dental sales, but never felt the same passion as I did for marketing, printing and promotion. I was working a great job, making more money than I thought I ever could, but missed printing. My partner [Nick Wilmhoff, vice president of sales] and I started CURAtive two-and-a-half years ago, and he has found the same love I talked about. Despite all the long hours, reduced pay, and no security, we haven’t looked back.
His current role: My official role is president of CURAtive, but, as all small business owners will tell you, that sounds more prestigious than my daily activities are [in reality]. The culture here is based on everyone being flexible and supporting those who partner with us. Some days, I’m making calls, and working on quotes, and there’s always an envelope to stuff, or something to cut. Most days, it’s a combination of all four and constant accounting. What he likes best about his job: The impact Nick and I have on those who work with us—everything from giving younger, less experienced people opportunities to build skills to supporting those who choose to partner with us. We are not CURAtive, we are whomever’s project that we are working on. Our goal isn’t just to sell a trinket, or slap some ink/toner on paper, but to actually make their project be the best it possibly can be, while making impossible deadlines. Most firms pay lip service to being a partner, but we take it to another level; anyone can be an order taker and, unfortunately, it has become the norm for many shops.
Age roadblocks and advantages: I don’t believe there are many disadvantages to my age. Sure, it would be wonderful to be older and have more knowledge to pull from, but I feel that I’m hitting that sweet spot of unlimited energy, solid principles, and am old enough to be taken seriously in any meeting.
His biggest career influence: This is a very tough question because there are two major influencers that have helped propel our current and future success. Mark Hephner, store manager of Milcraft, has been the greatest asset to us on the road to experience in our industry. He has taken more time than any supplier to make sure we understand all the ins and outs of paper, and not just to me, but my partner, and those we work with. He is patient, gives us time when he is off the clock and even during lunch to educate us. Honestly, Team CURAtive’s understanding of paper is on par with any veteran shop, and I know if we come across something funky, he will lead us in the right direction.
The other is a newer friendship, but it has been just as impactful. Mike the Printer, owner of Mike the Printer in Van Nuys, Calif. Mike has given me advice on everything from equipment and management, to pricing and even diet and political advice. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him knows he is truly an expert and is very insightful on most all things in life. He motivates me, and I’m looking forward to shadowing him in his element.
His most meaningful business accomplishment: The most meaningful accomplishment is seeing the hard-nosed, young 20-year-old intern we met at Starbucks. She couldn’t even send a professional email, but has dreams of becoming a chief marketing officer and working for Tesla Motors, and now she is actually getting noticed by Kroger, P&G and even recruiters from Tesla. Two years ago, she had no knowledge of the industry [and now she is] hyper focused and growing into a titan of design, unique promo ideas and running our digital press. Her energy and work ethic are intoxicating.
His differentiating factor: It might be simple, but we take the Dave Thomas model of thinking—we don’t really worry about what the other shops are doing, and we focus on producing the best possible product and experience when working with us.
Why he believes the future is bright: It’s thriving now. Why wouldn’t it continue to in the future? I believe print and promo actually will be more important than ever with all the repetitiveness online. Don’t get me wrong, the internet has changed our industry, and it will continue to do so. Let’s face it, everyone is doing the same exact thing online from social to email campaigns, but a handwritten thank-you note, or a well-thought-out [note] left behind will have much greater impact.