Jamie Marshall

Fast forward seven years and the company employed 12 full-time staff and generated £4.5m turnover per year. Some growth!

Jamie learned a lot during those years, and the business benefited from his fearless, can-do and will-do approach to delivering customer satisfaction. In his words, ‘We were on the crest of a wave.’ The problem with waves, however, is that they often come crashing down in dramatic style.

This is the story of how three conversations in bars, on opposite sides of the world, helped to build then save a multi-million-pound business in Essex.

Learning to sell print

When Jamie Marshall left school with little more than a handful of CSEs, the general consensus of his teachers was that he wouldn’t amount to very much. One or two might have had an inkling that ‘something’ was there, but his tendency was more towards distraction than actually doing anything. Jamie’s own assessment of that stage in his life was that he simply had an aversion to being told what to do – and that included studying or paying attention.

At 19 years of age he found himself working for a print broker as a sales rep. If there was one thing that Jamie found came naturally to him it was talking to people – selling to them and building relationships. The business was growing well and Jamie often found himself running the whole shebang with little or no interference from the owner. Then, one day, the boss turned up and announced that he was going to expand by buying a load of print machinery and bringing most of the production in-house. The plan was that Jamie would manage everything, from employees through to operations and sales. He was delighted to be presented with such an opportunity and eagerly waited to hear of the remuneration and reward package that came with the deal…

When he asked the question, however, the boss told him he had no budget – so soon after, he had no Jamie, either.

Drink, drugs and on a roll

Through his dad’s association with a local football club, Jamie found himself selling adverts for various non-league football teams. While engaging with their promotions departments and utilising his knowledge of print brokerage, he started to offer print solutions whenever he spotted a need. From promotional print through to pens and other printed merchandise, he was soon generating a tidy amount of additional business on the side.

This continued for two to three years until one cold, dark, wintery Monday night, when everything changed.

Jamie had been out for an after-work drink with some friends. One-by-one they all went home at a reasonable hour and, grabbing his hat and coat, he made to follow – only to be confronted by heavily falling snow and an icy walk ahead. The resulting decision to stay and warm himself with a few more drinks until the snow stopped may have been a rash one (for a weekday), but it turned out to be one of the most fortuitous decisions of his life. Having returned to the bar, he found himself talking about everything from travel and sport through to family and printing supplies with a friendly South African chap. Much later that night, with a fair bit of warming behind him, Jamie’s new friend showed him a carful of printed merchandise samples and promised to introduce him to someone the next day, who he might be able to do a bit of business with.

Having awoken with a less than clear head then slowly set about his usual day, Jamie was surprised to receive a call (to be honest, he took a few moments to recall the connection) from someone representing a large pharmaceutical company, wanting to arrange a meeting. Realising that this might be a little bigger than the sort of work he’d done before, he put on his best (only) suit and walked into another world. The lady he met that day is now a good friend of Jamie’s and remains one of his best customers. She still teases him about the ill-fitting, scruffy suit that he was wearing, and says she had no idea that when he said ‘yes’ to all her questions that he had no idea how he was going to fulfil his promises. Things have changed now and every order is managed by a team of well-trained experts, but that day, as he walked away with an order for 50,000 pens, 50,000 post-it pads, and 1,000 logoed clocks, he wondered if he might still be in some kind of drunken daydream.

What happened next soon sobered him up, however.

Learning to run a business

After that first order arrived and as he was getting ready to deliver it to his new customer, someone pointed out to him that the pharmacy industry ‘only’ uses black ink. And it turned out that this, seemingly innocuous, standard was as statutory and sacrosanct in their world as getting a prescription right. But nothing was going to stop this order going through so, with the help of a few friends, Jamie worked through the night to change 50,000 pen inserts by hand. That was the first of many lessons learned through painful experience and trial and error in the years that followed.

On the whole, though, perhaps in homage to the weather on that fateful winter’s night, the business just snowballed. Word-of-mouth spread the company name far and wide, and the commitment of the business won fans and loyal customers everywhere their name was mentioned. Although there was never a repeat of the black ink incident, the day-to-day workload meant staff needed to be taken on and the business kept on growing.

Fast forward seven years and the company employed 12 full-time staff and generated £4.5m turnover per year. Some growth!

Jamie learned a lot during those years, and the business benefited from his fearless, can-do and will-do approach to delivering customer satisfaction. In his words, ‘We were on the crest of a wave.’ The problem with waves, however, is that they often come crashing down in dramatic style.

Arrogance and warning in Hong Kong

One day, while on a supplier trip to Hong Kong, Jamie found himself in a bar once again, discussing business. His drinking partner that day was a well-respected and successful person in the industry who asked him a lot of uncomfortable commercial questions – none of which Jamie could answer. Perhaps it was the academic, almost school-test-like nature of the quizzing that bothered him and put the tone of arrogance in his reply, or simply that he knew he should have known, but his response to questions on cost-peracquisition, average margin, optimum order value and the like was that he didn’t need to know – as he had a successful, growing business that made money.

That same trip, in another bar, with another associate from the pharmaceutical trade, he was dealt an equally derailing blow. He learned that day that his marketplace was about to be decimated. It seemed that the pharmaceutical industry in the US was about to put a complete ban on the giving of gifts, merchandise and ‘freebies’. And the sobering reality was that what happened in the US was always adopted in the UK shortly afterwards. With over 80% of his turnover generated in that sector, he was staring into a big black hole.

This time, everything ‘had to’ change.

Having learned to learn fast, Jamie set about devising a plan of attack and acquisition. He purchased the promotions company that had supplied all those pens and post-it pads so many years earlier and set about diversifying his customer base. In the year that followed his game-changing Hong Kong conversations, the predictions came true and a huge chunk of turnover did disappear very quickly.

But Jamie had heard the warning and acted. The client base was a little more robust; he had started to pay more attention to his critical business numbers; and he was in a position where the company was smaller, but a whole lot healthier and more secure.

Platinum advice: don’t pay that bill!

The final chance meeting that has helped define Jamie’s story, to date, was at the Platinum Club Networking Group, in London (he doesn’t just do business in bars). This is where Jamie met Paul, of Meades Group. Having enjoyed getting a deeper understanding of his business numbers, Jamie was asking Paul some leading questions to test his response and was impressed by the answers. As a result of that conversation he sent his accounts to Paul for a second opinion before paying the significant tax bill contained within.

Paul instantly sent him a response telling him not to pay the bill, accompanied by four platinumcoated pieces of advice. That advice subsequently saved Jamie the cost of a brand-new car (a pretty nice one).

Today, Premier Print and Promotions employs 30 staff and its turnover has returned to the heights of the ‘crest of a wave’ years. But today, it is built on something far more solid than waves. Jamie Marshall puts his success down to three things: learn that you cannot do everything by yourself; treat everyone with respect (suppliers, staff, customers and people you meet in bars); and listen to the advice that others give you.

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