As many of you probably heard, a few days ago the company that owned & operated Sears & PictureMe portrait studios has decided to close its 2,700 studios in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. All but about 80 studios were located in Sears and Walmart stores.
The Sears Portrait Studio website and PictureMe Portrait Studio, appeared to be no longer active this morning. A message on the Sears site said that clients could view photos and place orders until April 18, 2013.
I have heard a few people in the past talk about how can it be $19.99 at one of the chain studios for a sitting, (2) 8×10, (4) 5×7, (16) wallets and 2 keychains and at least $50 just for a sitting with an independent, professional photographer. The answer is simple, yet complicated. Clear as mud!
Places like Sears, JC Penney, PictureMe, etc. have a simple business concept; get as many people in, out and sales completed as possible each day. I grew up taking the yearly trek to Sears with the grandparents in my Sunday best. I am not just a bitter pro. But, I have to point out that these studios have changed since the 80’s/90’s when I was rocking the big bangs for my photos.
Sears Portrait Studios were in business for more than 60 years. They were initially run the same way as many independent pros were. You had your photo taken by a trained, photographer who knew about exposure, aperture, shutter speed and all that good stuff! There was no automatic camera mode and no auto-focus lenses.
Your negatives were sent to a central studio where they were edited (if needed) and printed on professional paper. Their pricing also used to be only slightly less than many seasoned pros. They had to pay qualified photographers, maintain and lab & technicians, transport prints to their studios etc.
As technology evolved, so did their business model. Once computer chips were no longer the size of a toaster and could fit into cameras it became easier to take a good photo without tons of knowledge about photography. Cameras grew brains! Chain studios could now employ photographers who were willing to undergo a short corporate training program on how to work the camera and how to set up portraits.
With the ability to hire high school and college students to take their photos, view the proofs on a screen, have the client pick their prints and send them home with photos printed in house, things got less costly.
So, that seems like they should be rolling in the Benjamins, right? WRONG! A successful photography business, as with any other business it built on clients, not customers. What is the difference between a customer and a client?
A customer buys your product or service and may or may not return. Gas station convenient stores have customers!
A client not only purchases your product or service but they build a relationship with you and not only return to your business when they have a need for you but usually work ONLY with you.
The overall decrease in client-based business and the increase in customer-based businesses makes me sad. I’m sad not just for my business but for all of the people who miss out because they want to save a little money but often end up paying for it (financially, mentally, emotionally) in the end. There is an awesome little hardware store down the street from me that I go to for all of my needs. Yes, Home Depot may save me $0.50 but the service is just not the same. Their hours are not 7am-9pm like the chains but I really don’t care! They know me at the store and what I buy. I don’t even have to tell the “16x20x1” when I go for furnace filters. Everyone seems to be in such a big hurry these days to get things done right NOW! I’m all for fast and convenient, as long as it doesn’t put “quick” before “quality.”
So, to answer the initial question posed, “How can it be $19.99 at one of the chain studios for a sitting, (2) 8×10, (4) 5×7, (16) wallets and 2 keychains and at least $50 just for a sitting with an independent, professional photographer?” Not only are you paying for the photographer to have extensive knowledge about the principles of photography, not just the camera they are using. The independent photographer always has available at least 2 camera bodies and various lenses, flashes, reflectors, props and candy for bribing children (and adults). You are also paying for someone to personally review every single imaged that was captured, make minor adjustments, remove small imperfections such as a stray hair, blemish, drool on a baby’s face, a fleck of dirt on the face. Excellent editing software to do these edits, like Adobe Photoshop, is worth its weight in gold and costs almost that much. First and foremost you are paying for a photographer that you trust with your treasured memories.
Tweh, Bowdeya. “Sears, PictureMe Portrait Studios Closing.” Cincinnati.com. Gannett, 04 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20130404/BIZ/304040108/Sears-PictureMe-portrait-studios-closing>.
Say Cheese! 11/366. N.d. Photograph. Flickr. Yahoo Inc., 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/florida_girl_photos/6680738823/>.