What Was I Thinking?
On December 15, 1999, when many photo lab owners were thinking of giving up and walking away from the business, I did something “crazy”: I bought a floundering film processing lab.
New to the industry, I viewed the business with fresh eyes and an open mind. Yes, there were challenges, but there were also infinite possibilities. Having a passion for photography, a marketing background and a refusal to fail, I transformed my business. In the process, this wound up having an unforeseen impact on the photo retail landscape that has been truly humbling.
My journey, like that of many photo retailers, was fueled by a lifelong love for photography. After earning a marketing degree at California State University, Northridge, I became a full-time mom—one of the original mamarazzi!
I knew I could make a go of a photo business, but the lab that had processed my film for years—Fullerton Photographics—was days away from closing its doors. So with digital technology about to change everything, I decided to mortgage my house to buy Fullerton Photo, an aging analog photo lab. While it’s true that I lacked some basic knowledge of the business, I benefited from having no preconceived notions to overcome and knew that the store’s location was ideal. I hadn’t anticipated, however, that I’d be unable to leave work, pick up my kids from school and go home and make dinner. The labor- and time-intensive process of reinventing my enterprise clearly made that plan unrealistic.
Innovative Marketing Ideas
Over time, I implemented some radical ideas in marketing to women, many of which attracted national attention, such as hosting the photo industry’s first Girls Night Out party in 2002. I invited women community leaders to a “thank you for your business” party, which was a casual get-together with refreshments, in a positive and supportive environment. Conversation focused on how to get money back into the community. The concept was so successful that photo retailers across the United States began hosting Girls Night Out events of their own.
We introduced an array of innovative photo products designed with moms in mind. For example, while most labs at the time were offering a variety of print sizes, we created one of the first holiday cards with multiple openings so moms could include individual pictures of each child with a great expression, instead of needing to get a single shot with everyone smiling and looking at the camera at the same time. Offering such a simple solution to our customers with this multi-opening card was just the tip of the iceberg, with custom products soon to follow.
By our third anniversary, we had doubled our sales and transformed Fullerton Photographics from a photo lab into a photo boutique, with custom designers on staff who help our clients create one-of-a-kind pieces. Being innovative meant hosting events such as Girls Night Out and creating products tailored to what our customers really wanted, which no longer was to get a roll of film developed.
Fast forward to 2011. The photo industry needed a creative vision for product development. I pressed and displayed metal prints in the store, but few people seemed interested. But when we “stacked” metal, with uniquely designed backgrounds and displayed it prominently, many of our customers began to catch on to the magic of metal. We believed in it, shared it, made it easy to order on our website, and it quickly became our best-selling wall art product. Since sharing the potential of metal as the “next canvas” with industry colleagues, many have embraced the idea and have seen their sales greatly increase.
Photo Design Center
All of these innovations are part of the larger “Photo Design Center” concept, which has escalated our business beyond anything I’d ever imagined. It has been transformational for us, and it has the potential to revitalize the whole specialty photo space. Consumers have an idea of what they want, but they don’t know their options or how to achieve the end result. They need to be guided through the process, and this industry is now well positioned to offer that.
My advice for taking the first step to further your photo business? Change the way you think about every aspect of your business. Embrace technology and offer meaningful products that your customers will love and happily pay for. Market them creatively. We have the power, now more than ever, to revive this industry and inspire the consumer. They’re just waiting for us to show them the way.