Looking for a Quick, Cheap, Portrait Studio? You might have to look a little bit farther..
Yesterday, CPI Corp, a St. Louis based company, announced that it will abruptly close more than 2,000 Portrait Studios located primarily in Walmart Picture Me, Sears Portrait Studio and Toys R Us Kiddie Kandids. What in the world is happening? We can tell you... In fact, if you've been reading closely, we've been telling you this all along! Photographers in the low-and-middle priced, non-specialized market will have the most difficult time sustaining a thriving and profitable business because those are the markets that have the lowest barriers to entry for new photography businesses and compete most commonly with not only other professional studios, but also the skilled hobbyist. "Low-end businesses tend to either extinguish because the low price often corresponds to sub-par quality, or they raise their prices to move into the middle market. High end markets, with differentiation and specialization, thrive based on specific clients that require and seek out that value. But the middle market is the most populated, has the most competitive threats, and the lowest barriers to entry. It is these photographers who will typically burn out the fastest because they work too much for too little." - The Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers
In today's market, aside from necessary requirement of skills, two things we know for sure:
1. You have to be priced for profitability. If you are under-priced, or constantly discounting or holding sales and promotions, you will never achieve sustainable profitability.
2. You have to be able to differentiate with your brand. If you are unable to differentiate, you will not rise above your competition and clients will primarily choose you based on price because you are just like everyone else in the market. "Placing a value on what you can produce is an extremely important factor in pricing. And as we have stated time and again, price is not the same as cost, and neither is value. Value takes into consideration the differentiation in your work. Ask the question, “What can I provide my client that is different than what is in the market?” Different might be better in quality. Or it might mean you offer broader services. It might mean you have a stronger end-to-end process. Or it might be your ability to travel light to anywhere in the country. Or perhaps you can whisper both puppies and newborns into a trance. Whatever different is, your “good different” is what adds value to your work. And because you can do it better than anyone, that is worth something." - The Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers
While we hate to see any photography business fail, no matter how large or small the corporation may be or the style of their work, we see this as a significant sign of the future of our industry. We would love the take-away from this to be that it opens up the door for small businesses to thrive
However, we really need to read it as a cautionary tale. If we do not heed the lessons about profitability and differentiation, our opportunity will mirror the failures of those who failed before us. Design Aglow creates educational tools to enable photographers to be successful. We post weekly articles on our blog, that talk to pricing, profitability, client relationships, and branding. We also offer studio success tools, such as The Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers, which is an end-to-end primer on running a profitable business.
We want you to thrive, we want our INDUSTRY to thrive. So tell us, where do you see the future of our industry? How are you going to be successful in business for the next 3, 5, or 10 years?
I secretly bought a mail-order 35mm camera when I was 15, and took lots of ordinary photos of animals and nature for several years. Although I majored in art and studied photography in college, my career started in marketing and advertising, from the client service end. Then I had the most beautiful baby, found my old camera and realized how much I love photographing people.
Hi! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your road like to becoming a photographer?
Hello! I am a portrait photographer based south of Boston, MA. My passion is capturing mothers and their growing families. Maternity and newborn portraits are the foundation of my business, and I also capture baby milestones, children, and families. Fun fact: I returned the diamond earrings my husband bought me for our first Christmas as a married couple to buy a digital camera.
When I was in college, I had a friend who was a professional photographer. The first time I went to her home, I walked in to find stunning photographs of her children on the walls.
There was a huge canvas in their living room and a creative photo display in the main hallway. I remember being so moved by the beauty of those images, thinking to myself, “I want to create images like this!” I bought myself a DSLR as a graduation present, learned photography from online courses and started my photography business about a year later.