Let the healing begin: The loss of family portraits just left of the produce section

Kids Portraits
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When Liz and I first decided to open our own photography studio, one of our largest concerns was that some big box store in Murray would open up one of those quick, low-cost photo studios and force us (and every other portrait studio in the area) out of the market overnight. Now, as both Walmart and Sears have recently lost their portrait studios, owned by CPI Corp., it would seem our worries were for not. However, this has stirred a host of thoughts within us.

Unfortunately, I cannot find an adequate national news article to recommend for this (maybe it is the professional journalist in me being to picky), but for anyone who has not heard of this, or who would like to see more details, click here: Company closes portrait studios at Sears, Walmart stores. Here is another, which includes some public coments: The Death of Another Cookie Cutter Photo Studio. Lastly, if you want some more specific numbers, an article in the Wall Street Journal can be found here: Lasting Memories? The Sears Portrait Studio Shuts Down. A Google search will find more, but they all say pretty much the same thing.

The important thing people might not realize is that big boxes such as Walmart and Sears had been using quick and cheap portrait studios as “loss leaders” for years. In other words, they do not make money off of them and, in fact, they often lose money on them being part of their store. These multi-billion-dollar money-makers use smaller businesses, such as photo studios, inside their store to get you into the store in hopes you’ll do a bit of shopping while you are there.

Think about it: How many times have you gone to Walmart for a loaf of bread and come out with three bags of groceries. Same thing applies to using separate establishments within the store to get you that much closer to their money-making products. However, eventually, even the loss leaders become too much of a financial liability, and, in the world of big business, money is the bottom line ranking well above actual service.

Now, some believe this could be a windfall for portrait studios like ourselves. Others believe it will just push folks, who did not want to spend a lot on portraits in the first place, to not spend anything at all. I, for one, believe it will kick up business a little, but I only believe in windfalls when I see them.

One of the more exciting bits of news I do take from this is that this could begin to reverse the amount of damage such cheap-n-quick portrait studios have caused to professional portrait studios. I had intended to eventually write a blog about the difference between going to Walmart and making an appointment with a professional portrait studio. However, as it would seem a moot point for now, I will not try to sell you on an idea that now only has one side. But will offer a quote from another photographer who sums up many of my feelings on the matter:

“Just because you called employees clicking a button ‘photographers’ doesn’t make them such. Just because you called bad expressions and poor printing a ‘Portrait’, doesn’t make it such. Just because your employees are dealing with customers, doesn’t mean they understand customer service. CPI learned this the hard way, it just took too long for the customers to realize it. Cheaply trying to create ‘art’ to satisfy crowds of people for mass profit leads to a $20million dollar loss and 2700 people unemployed”

I recommend reading the rest of his blog regarding this, as Mr. Redford touches upon some of the key reasons I would have voted against going to one of these businesses–Aside from the obvious ones, of course.

Like I said before, for big boxes, it is about the money, not about the service. For me, while money is a necessity, it is much more about the service, which is much more rewarding.

With these studios signing off, and bygones being what they are, this leads me to a very important question in the wake of this happening and in looking to the future: What do you want from a professional portrait studio? What would you like from us? Now, keep in mind, we could not easily offer an $8 photo package like Walmart could, as loss leaders only work if you are selling a sustainable, largely profitable product on the side of that ridiculously cheap photo package. As we are a portrait studio through and through, we have to make our money selling portraits. However, that does not mean we cannot entice you! Let us know and we will use your input to tailor new packages!

Recently, we have already begun to offer mini-sessions, which would be otherwise comparable to what the big boxes offered with the exception that you will receive a more personal photo session with a photographer who knows how to use a camera to its full potential. One who understands that taking a picture is more than turning the dial to “Auto” and pushing a button.

Of course, in writing this, I can’t help but be a little excited that the competition is shifting back to between where it should be (between actual professional portrait studios). And, with this, being really excited at the opportunity to work with clients to make them look as they should in a portrait as opposed to how they end up looking in a portrait taken in a manner better suited to fulfilling a cheeseburger order during the lunch hour.

However, corporations being what they are, there is nothing to say the CPI Corp.’s assets and portrait studio spaces won’t be bought and reopened under a different name. But, until that happens, take a chance on the local photo studios. I guarantee better portraits, better customer service, better product, and above all, a session more about you!

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