Last Good Friday (2005), we were really forced to change our business
Since it is Good Friday and since the I only have the link to my portrait studio up so far, I think I’ll describe how my business in photography had changed. I’ll also talk a bit about the changes in photography in general a bit. Back in 1984, my father opened a 1hr film processing lab as a family business. He had seen a newspaper add about the business. It was just a small local business in a very tiny shop located on the main street in Cudahy, WI.
Photography was very different then
When we opened we really had no competition in the area. At the time, the nearest 1hr processor was at a mall about 15-20 minutes away. Drug stores took over a week for film, as did the camera stores. It seemed like a great business to start, and besides, I had kinda always wanted to be in photography too.
In order to increase the profits, we added framing, enlargements, and a portrait studio
By the beginning of the 1990’s business was actually pretty good. There was lots of film to develop. The portrait studio, while we were not able to do everything a full studio could, was very successful.
By the end of the 1990’s things were starting to change
I think the first change was the failed attempt in the industry to introduce the APS film format. It really was a bad idea. Small labs like us had to decide if it was worth upgrading to handle the format, as much as $30,000. In truth, APS really was close to the old 110 format in quality (little better but not much). We did not and it was a good choice since there never was much demand.
Soon the industry started to talk about digital
The first digital cameras were really bad. I know many people that purchased early digital cameras and were very disappointed with them. I think companies were overly optimistic about the quality. Also, the industry had not really thought out what anyone would do with the photos they got.
Then came the drug stores
Soon, every drug store in the area started to do 1 hr. film. They even built new drug stores. Discount stores also added labs. These companies sell processing at cost to bring business into their stores. Its hard to compete on a service you rely on for income when your competition is not even trying to make money on it. Our better quality kept many of our customers but our volume started to drop.
Since we saw the film processing business eventually ending, I started trying to improve the studio
We knew eventually we would end the 1 hr. business. But last Good Friday (2005) we finally had no choice.
On Good Friday 2005 our lab (the main printing machine) went up in smoke – literally.
We were told it was not repairable (after they charged us $1000 in attempting to). New machines would have cost $100,000 to $250,000. With the cost of digital prints falling (even then only $.25) we decided new equipment would never pay for itself with the volume we could see us doing. How many $.18 prints would you have to do to pay for a machine that cost that much? We knew the end had been coming. I just wish we had a little warning.
Since then, we have really only been doing portraits and framing
I am glad we had been planning to turn to something else. It has been a bit of a struggle to redesign the entire business plan. We are still working on the change. I have seen many other labs go completely out of business. In our area, there are only two independent labs left. The drug and discount stores have taken too much of the market by competing for the lowest price. That, combined with the huge changes in technology, has changed the entire photography business.
Even the big companies are having problems
Within the last year, Agfa and Konica-Minolta, both equipment makers and paper-chemical suppliers, have gotten out of the market. Agfa went bust. Konica-Minolta just decided to leave that end of the business. There are so many changes happening that trade magazines are usually announcing new products from companies that are no longer in the market.
With all this, I am more excited about photography than I was 10 years ago
I am more confident and excited about my portrait photography than ever before. I am hoping that these changes in my work will actually be for the better in the long run.
How about you?
Have you had a huge change in your business? Has technology changed your industry in a short period of time. Have you had a catastrophic change in your business and been able to overcome it?
I’d like to hear about it. Or, share with us how photography has changed to you.