HELP!!: My dads studio is going down hill... fast

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by sheavo, Jun 9, 2010.

  1. sheavo

    sheavo TPF Noob!

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    My dad has been a professional photographer since 1970. Yes thats over 40 years of experience with families, seniors, weddings, pets, etc.. basically everything a professional photographer could encounter throughout his or her career. Needless to say, he knows what he's doing. He has the right equipment, right location, and good advertising. He just lives in a small, low income town. Each year he keeps lowering his prices to scrape in any customers he can get and now he's to the point where he cant even do it for a living anymore. Now with digital photography taking over, everyone seems to believe that they are professionals. Within the past few years countless low quality photographers have popped up all around his area and are stealing a majority of his business. If anyone has any ideas to help him get back on top it would be greatly appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2010
  2. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Man, that's a tough nut to crack.

    What keeps me alive is commercial work... products, architecture, industrial. If I had to rely on "consumer" work (portraits, weddings), I would have been forced to close my door years ago.

    -Pete
     
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    It's true, the lower end of the market is very flooded in most places. The 'old timers' that are still going strong, are probably avoiding the lower end of the market and concentrating on customers who recognize and will pay for quality. That might be harder to do in a small town, but it's certainly not unheard of. I mean, 10 high end weddings per year probably pays as well as 20 or 25 lower end weddings, and with only half the work.

    With some many new (and probably average) photographers, this should offer a chance for a really good photographer to shine.
    20 years ago, it was probably enough just to have a studio and the right equipment, then have people come in and sit in front of your camera. But now that everyone has a decent camera and a digital darkroom (computer), it's the skill, talent and personality of the photographer that really sells.

    Is he active in any of the new 'social media'? I know of several photographers who build and keep a good client base using Facebook, Twitter and especially their blog. An add in the yellow pages isn't even close to being what it used to be. And of course, a good website, with good SEO can really be helpful.

    But with that said, one advantage that your Father has, is that he has been in business for 40 years. Often, the best people to target your advertising too, are existing customers. I know a photographer who sends out newsletters (not just E-mail, but actual paper letters) to all his customers on a regular basis. Direct mail may be old school, but it can work really well.

    Another way to earn money, might be to take advantage of all the new photographers.
    It seems that the most 'successful' photographers these days, are giving seminars more often than they are shooting. If he could fill a room full of wanna-be photographers at $200 a head, it probably pays better than shooting a wedding or a few portraits that day. Oh, and a book...write a book or an instructional DVD.

    Another option would be to hire a professional to help the business. For example, Andre Amyot is a 'Photo business coach'. He was/is a member here, but I haven't seen him around for a long while...must be busy.
     
  4. Flash Harry

    Flash Harry TPF Noob!

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    Its the same story the world over, when it was film and hand printing money was easy, wanabees were just that, like you said everyone is a Pro now and in a small town its double tough as commercial work is extra sparse, it might just be time for early retirement I'm afraid.

    I attended a wedding the other week, the bride had asked me to shoot it, showed her my stuff, told her the prices of the packages and heard no more, the groom invited me as we'd known each other for years.

    Got to the church and some kid was there with dslr + flash, flash fired approx 40% of the time in a very dark church, he fiddled with settings missing the best shots and chimped his way through the whole morning, the pics were up on FB the following week, a real mess, the colours were all off, blues were purple, only two in the church turned out and the outdoor shots were all ruined by harsh shadows/contrast.

    I reckon they were happy though, the deal had cost £100, roughly $200, this is how much they value photography over here.H
     
  5. athomasimage

    athomasimage TPF Noob!

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    Sheavo:

    Print "Big Mike's" post and give it to your Dad. Mike- Good job on the summary. I'm encountering some of the same issues with "low end" picture takers (not photographers) sucking up a lot of work. It's caused me to take a Good Hard Look at my marketing plan and re-evaluate.

    I've made a list of some top entrepreneurs in my area (including a couple of photographers) and I'm calling them to schedule some time to "compare notes". I gotta find a way to turn pump things up.

    Your Dad could consider some networking groups, local chambers, marketing orgs and he may have to hire some marketing talent. You mentioned "good advertising". Sounds like the advertising may be not so-good, out-dated or $'s misdirected. I.E. advertising in the yellow pages may be a waste of money?? In addition, with the web, social media and the like, he may have to learn about those tools also.

    Good luck. Maybe keep us posted.
     
  6. sheavo

    sheavo TPF Noob!

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    Thanks alot guys this is really great info! and yes i set him up a facebook page a few months ago, which had a great response online, yet still no customers... The idea of him having a seminar is great, but i have a feeling that with how cheap everyone seems to be now days he's not going to get much of a response to that either.. My dad just got the mailing list of all the seniors at our local high school. Ill be sure that this years mail out is extremely creative and really sell his name hard to this upcoming class. But before i do, does anyone have any ideas on how this years senior mail out (index card size) can be the one that gains the most interest from the students?
     
  7. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    You might want to search for a high school senior photography industry organization.

    Does your dad have a free to studio owners subscription to Rangefinder magazine? www.rangefindermag.com (click on subscribe).

    This months issue has; The State of the Industry: What's Next and an article titled "How To Protect Your Business in Today's Maketplace."

    Your dad may also be able to get some free guidance from www.score.org and www.sba.gov.

    About 25% of a portrait photography business is generated by having a web site.

    One of the trends is offering photo merchandise beyond just prints. Photo Books are gaining in popularity.
     
  8. Judd

    Judd TPF Noob!

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    I can not offer much industry specific advice. But I was in the office equipment business for 10 years and the industry changed A LOT. Copiers went from analog to digital powerhouses. Printers went from printers to MFP's etc. I could go on.

    The companies that stayed on top of the technology curve survived, those that didn't struggled or went bye bye. One of the most successful operations in town withered to nothing because their business model never changed.

    You set your dads facebook up? Does that mean he is not good with computers? Does he have a website? Is he putting photo's online?

    Is he following up with previous clients? Is he doing any marketing?

    I believe the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing, and expect a different result. :)

    You guys are going to have to change things up. What are you doing to get business now?
     
  9. SwitchFX

    SwitchFX TPF Noob!

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    Does your dad know how to use Photoshop, if he's shooting digital? If he does it very well, compared to the horrible smooth plastic-like look of Photoshop newcomers with their rebel kits who portray themselves as "pros", then I think he'll get more traffic.
     
  10. sheavo

    sheavo TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the web links ill make sure he looks them up.
    My dad has a website which ok.. he just has a hard time maintaining it.
    When it come to online work like facebook or sometimes his website he struggles a lot. Im doing everything i can to show him how to operate it, but in his eyes what's simple to me looks like the most complicated thing in the world to do. Ill still have to help him out with that.. He keeps running the same ole adds but he said he didnt want to do anything gimmicky to bring in customers. Like for instance a woman just opened a studio last summer and to bring in seniors she made a deal that each senior that comes in for pictures will receive a ticket and at the end of the year they would draw a winner for a $1000 prize.. My dad has too much pride to do something like that. and there really should be no reason for him to do such in the first place.
    Yes he shoots digital and he has since 2002. He has also used photoshop since 2003, and he is very good with it.. Its like this new wave of cheap photographers are coming in and i believe the customers are wanting something different and unique that none of there family or friends will have. My dad can definitely offer this, as in unique locations, poses, etc. It seems like every time my dad finds a new location for outdoor photos, these newcomers end up finding it and copying his images. I believe that its definitely time for a change but what should he change?
    He thinks lowering his prices again will help, but i mean seriously, hes already one of the cheapest in town. The only thing that keeps customers coming in is that hes pretty much a landmark in our town, he lives on the most historic road that has the most traffic, lives in a 100 year old victorian house.. he has always been there. Hes known to take the football and cheerleader group pictures every year along with graduation and prom. He is very well established but still isnt making proficient income. I mean for over a decade now hes been getting the "hey, you took my moms senior pictures too" is that a good thing or a bad thing?
     
  11. supraman215

    supraman215 TPF Noob!

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    Sounds like he's already got a great in with the high school. Sounds like he thinks that some creative marketing might be gimicky and he might be against it. This will make it hard for him I think. However the I don't like the other photographer's offer and it might be illegal if people have to pay her for a ticket in the raffle, depending on your local gambling laws. You can be creative in marketing without being gimicky per BigMike's suggestions. If he's the best in town then he should be marketing on that angle. He's the best, period. Lowering your price is a dangerous thing to do, especially with art.
     
  12. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    It's a dangerous and slippery slope when you start dropping your prices. It sounds like he's struggling, perhaps because the lower prices simply aren't enough to sustain the business.

    What we usually tell new photographers, is that low prices are the best way to kill your business. Not only does it mean less money, but people don't respect your work as much. Not to mention that you attract the type of customer who shops by price, and those customers are usually looking to nickle & dime you to death. By charging higher prices, you hopefully get the type of customer who comes to you because they light what you do....of course, it may be more work to market to that smaller market segment.


    Maybe it's time to re-jig his pricing & selling structure. How does he do it now?
    It used to be that selling reprints was big business, but now a lot of people want digital files so they can print themselves. However, the most successful photographers still make big print sales. The best method seems to be what they call 'projecting'. You have a client viewing area where you bring them back in to view their images. Big screen TV or a projector, so the images are big. Nice cozy atmosphere, snacks, drinks etc. They get emotional during the slide show, then you make the sale. And that's the only time they can buy prints.
    I've been hearing from many photographers that this sales technique doubles, triples or quadruples their average sale, over on-line or simple album proofing.
     

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