In an industry that has undergone radical change in the last decade and now faces tough competition from several different retail channels, it’s easy to understand why many retailers may need to recharge or restart their business engines. This feature examines how to rediscover the passion and joy inherent with running a retail imaging business.
Steve Khalaf still remembers his first love like it was yesterday. He recalls fondly that special something he’d once hoped for more than anything.
It was the law.
A man who has run a string of successful businesses and has been in the photo industry for over twenty years started out wanting to be a lawyer. Khalaf admits he’s a long way from law school but has embraced photography and made quite a nice living. So what caused him to change course?
“My daddy died when I was young, and I had to make a living to help take care of my family,” Khalaf states. He doesn’t sound the least bit bitter; in fact, he takes enormous pride in the fact that family is of utmost importance and that his life reflects those choices. So, when it was time to step into his father’s shoes to care for his loved ones, he did so by launching a string of successful ventures, but it was the idea of a one-hour lab in his grocery store — a radically new concept in 1984 — that led him to take his first steps down the photo path. Like his previous ventures, he immersed himself in learning as much as he could about all aspects of the business and then dedicated himself to growth and success.
Khalaf’s Kingwood Photo Lab in Kingwood, Texas has seen many years of substantial growth and is known for handling a variety of celebrity customers such as George Foreman and members of the Houston Texans NFL team.
But Khalaf is struggling to recapture his passion. Like many who have ridden the thrill of the early 80s and subsequently weathered the film-to-digital conversion of the last decade, Khalaf has lost some of the joy he found in photo.
He’s in good company. Bill McCurry, president of McCurry Associates, travels the country working with photo retailers and says, “This is something I see all the time. These folks are smart, talented and have survived many years of crippling competition, but they’ve lost touch with what they loved about the business in the first place.”
McCurry has counseled many retailers through this tumultuous era and can attest to the disillusionment that sometimes follows after having so many years of a thriving business. “These businesses actually have more opportunities today than they did twenty years ago but the opportunities present themselves differently,” states McCurry. “We need to look beyond the traditional 4×6 print as a measurement for success.”
Buying a Photo Lab in a Turbulent Time…
Gabrielle Mullinax of Fullerton Photographics in Fullerton, Calif. bought the business after being a prized customer for many years. As a work-at-home mom balancing three small kids and a growing photography business, Gaby often came to Fullerton for her business needs. Demand for her craft expanded and she was approached by Fullerton’s previous owner about buying the business. “I didn’t know anything about the retail photo business and took a great leap of faith.”
Mullinax was armed with her knowledge and passion for photography, a marketing degree, and inherent understanding of the importance of the stories behind the photos she printed for her clients. She committed herself to knowing everything she could about the equipment, running a retail store and marketing her new services. In the eight years she has owned Fullerton Photographics, she has transformed it from a struggling store to a showplace of what is possible when one combines passion, customer connection and execution.
Fullerton Photographics reflects Mullinax’s unique perspective and understanding of the importance of photographs in sharing life stories. She is also quick to credit the support of the team around her. In fact, she recently delivered a keynote speech to 1,000 young ladies for the American Association of University Women. Her topic? Passion.
For those who want their days to be guided by the enthusiasm and anticipation of the early days, here are a few ways to get back on that path:
Visit the Past (But Don’t Live There): Do you remember what it was about the industry that attracted you to it in the first place? If the motive was purely monetary, that’s fine but it may be more difficult to remain enthusiastic as the industry cycles. Was it born out of a love for photography as a hobby or a family business?
If you’re living this experience because of a family obligation or because of another’s expectation, it’s important to acknowledge this reality. Be honest with yourself. There is no right or wrong answer as long as you can open yourself to the truth of where you are and what is standing between you and days guided by passion and purpose.
What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail? This quote — a favorite of mine — encompasses the heart of where passion lies. Can you answer this question? Do you know what moves you? When answering this question, McCurry offers this important advice. “Deal with the ‘what’ first. Don’t worry about the ‘how’ at this point; it will only get in the way and skew the truth in your answer. Figure out what you want to do first and deal with how it will be accomplished afterward.”
This step is not to be taken lightly. It is intense work to come to this question truthfully, and it’s even more important that you be prepared to accept — and act upon — the answer.
Challenge Your Assumptions: NYT bestselling author Martha Beck states that many of us are in the habit of telling ourselves the same story over and over again, but is that story really true? Are those expectations and beliefs accurate or have we just assumed they are so?
McCurry tells the story of a family-run business that included a son that had continued for a decade working unhappily in their chosen profession. Once the son had the courage to say something the father replied, “Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ve only been doing this so long because of you!”
Write It Down: Many business and life coach experts recommend writing down ideas, goals and concerns because the process of writing can bring clarity. Mullinax can attest to the power of the written word. “We started writing down our ideas, and this method alone helped a great deal in bringing our ideas to reality,” she says. Mullinax’s habit of writing has evolved into their ‘Hip Happenings’ calendar, which has become a popular way to communicate store events to her community.
You Can Get There From Here: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a major change, even a good one. Once you’re clear about how to reconnect with your passion, keep building upon those ideas. Keep them alive in your thoughts, continue writing down ideas in your planner or on your computer calendar and begin down the path.
Create A Support Network: Being around passionate people can create momentum to help you move forward. Connecting with colleagues at the PMA show and at regional events is an effective way of keeping focused on what moves you as well as keeping you moving forward. And check in with your team throughout the year.
So, has Steve Khalaf decided to go back to law school after all? “Oh, I’m too old for that now,” he laughs. “I’m going to keep doing quality work, take care of my customers and spend time expanding my best niche opportunities.”
Sounds like a man on a mission.
So, what’s yours? yy