KET Legislative Coverage

A Global Custom-Printing Market: The Story Behind Louisville's CafePress

by John Gregory | 06/03/14 10:15 AM

CafePress is an American business success story. The company that produces millions of customized products-from T-shirts to calendars to shower curtains-started in a garage and now employs more than 800 people around the world.

Bill Goodman talked with CafePress CEO Bob Marino on this weekend's One to One to learn more about the company and its Louisville headquarters.

Through its website, CafePress allows customers to design their own products, such as a shirt or tote bag printed with original artwork, and then purchase those items themselves, or make those goods available for others to buy. Because of the wide range of products CafePress offers, Marino says the company had to invest millions of dollars to develop the technology to print text and images on those various surfaces.

As the company grew from its founding in 1999, executives chose Louisville as its headquarters because the city is close to two-thirds of the American population, and because the UPS hub there facilitates shipping orders to customers. Marino says CafePress employs about 450 people in Louisville.

Diversifying with Corporate Partnerships
In addition to producing and selling goods for individuals, Marino says CafePress has production partnerships with other retailers like Amazon and Walmart. CafePress makes cases for Amazon's Kindle e-readers, and produces T-shirts, maternity wear, and children's clothing for Walmart. Marino says this allows those companies to offer their customers a near-infinite selection of products without having to maintain massive inventories.

With customers around the globe and manufacturing operations that now extend to Europe and Australia, CafePress went public in 2012. Marino says company stock opened strong, but has since lagged a bit as CafePress adjusts its operations to handle more business coming through mobile devices rather than its traditional website.

A History of Entrepreneurship
Marino grew up in Brooklyn the grandson of Italian immigrants. His father was a high school dropout who later took night classes to get his diploma and college degree. When Marino was 6, his father started an engineering business in the family garage, and it wasn't long before the young Marino was working for his father as a welder. Marino calls growing up in a family business a privilege.

After studying engineering at the University of Minnesota, and working for several other companies in the U.S. and abroad, Marino came to CafePress in 2005. In addition to building the company's Louisville operations, Marino recently joined the board of directors of Greater Louisville Inc., the economic development entity for metro Louisville.

Watch the full One to One interview.