New excitement in the photo industry, from PMA magazine

“In 1901, the mayor of London assembled a group of the foremost thinkers in the area to create a strategic plan for what they would need to accomplish by 1925,” said author Peter Sheahan, who moderated a panel of leading photo retailers at the first Official Business Session of PMA 2010, excerpted here from PMA Magazine – Connecting the Imaging Communities. “They settled on three key issues they thought the city of London would need in 1925: a million new horses; housing for all those horses; and a method to address hygiene issues resulting from the horses. Come 1925, that plan was of no use at all. How could they have known the automobile would completely change the city?”

Peter Sheahan

Peter Sheahan at PMA 2010

Actually, they could have. In 1901, Sheahan said, there were already 75,000 cars on the road; but the leading thinkers of the time made the wrong assumptions about the future, because they made the wrong assumptions about the present.

Sheahan likened that thinking to the idea there are no longer opportunities for retailers in the imaging industry. The retailers on the panel have all found successful business models in the current imaging environment; and all believe there has never been a better time to be in the photo industry.

The panelists, all owners or partners of their respective photo operations, were Gabe Cano, Specialty Services Custom Photo Lab, Santa Barbara, Calif.; David Guidry, Lakeside Camera Photoworks, Metairie, La.; Robert L. Hanson, Harold’s Photo Center, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Brad Jefferson, Animoto Productions, New York, N.Y.; Richard Moross, MOO Print Ltd., London, England; and Gabrielle Mullinax, Fullerton Photographics Inc., Fullerton, Calif.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” said Moross. “With MOO, we try to make remarkable products people haven’t seen before and will discuss. Great products market themselves; and when you’re making something no one has seen before, people don’t have preconceived price points. We can operate at very high margins.”

PMA 2010 retailer panel

Retailer panel members discussed successful business models implemented at their companies.

Retailer panel members discussed successful business models implemented at their companies.

“For us, it’s all about the inspiration,” said Mullinax, who was wearing a photo scarf she developed and sells in her store. “You have to be so inspirational they can’t resist doing busi-ness with you. There are lots of opportunities to merge photos with text and help people do something meaningful with their images, but you have to do it for them; you have to show them how to create something so compelling they want to do more and more.”

Jefferson said a key for his business success is automating a process that is very difficult for consumers to do on their own. “Our passion is creating value for our customers with the click of a button. We are freeing them from a very intensive process of creating videos from their pictures, video, and music.”

Creating solutions that work well for customers both in-store and online is critical, said Hanson. “It’s more difficult, but also more exciting, to operate in both worlds. In our stores, people can pick up and touch all the things we make, and we can really interact and help customers become passionate about what we do. We are a specialty store, so we must be special. We also must have a compel-ling online solution, because my customers want to shop online even if they also come to the store. They will go home and tell a sister-in-law in another part of the country about our great products, who will then go online and order them for herself.”

A willingness to try new thing and risk occasional failures has helped Cano’s business on its successful path. “Being afraid to fail will hold you back. We have discovered, within the community we’re building our business around, it’s OK to fail – and it’s OK to show it. That comes across as authenticity,” he said. ”My business partner and I are just two guys who are nuts about photography. What’s happening in our industry is really exciting to us – and showing that excitement is really attractive to people – especially with Generation Y. They don’t want us to be slick; they want us to be real.”

There has been a fundamental shift in the imaging industry that has made it much more difficult for consumers to do anything with their pictures after capture, said Guidry. “For a long time, the concept was, ‘You push the button and we’ll do the rest.’ Now, if we want consumers to make something with their im-ages, we say, ‘We’re going to give you a difficult assignment that will be technologically challenging for you; but when you’re done, we will make you something great,’” he commented. “We need to take that burden from them.”