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Parents want more from schools photography

 Schools are changing photography companies as they are no longer happy with what they offer, claims Glen Nelson, managing director of volume photography software specialist HVP Solutions. More specifically, he says, they are changing to companies that are relevant to the needs and demands of both the school and parents, and that in turn demand they move to a 21st century, fully online solution…

(Source: HVP Solutions)
School photography is about servicing your non-paying first client (The School) so that you make money on the actual paying second clients (The Parents).

Maintaining relevance to both of your clients is key to a lasting relationship for modern school photography companies. Evaluating why you are doing what you are doing is vital not only to maintain current contracts, but also to acquire new ones.

‘Do we really think it’s acceptable that parents pay for a product that they don’t see and wait months to receive it?’

Unfortunately, I often see school photography companies entire focus is on the non-paying client, the School. The ‘why’ is totally lost when the core business is forgotten or ignored  – taking great photos and selling them using a strategy that is relevant in 2022 and beyond (not 1991).

Do we really think it’s acceptable that parents pay for a product that they don’t see and wait months to receive it? We have all noticed a massive increase of online shopping, being able to view the product, purchase it and have it delivered to our front door in good time – not three months later.

Let’s not underestimate the relevance of changes in consumer behaviour – our actual ‘paying clients’…

So what happens when you don’t stay relevant to both of your clients? They move on to a company that is relevant to them. How does this translate?

Well, this is where I went into a deep dive with companies that have been acquiring schools from large, enterprise-level companies. The data very points clearly to staying relevant to both clients:

Top two competitive advantages to win a school photography contract

After discussions with many companies in Australia, they cited that they ‘won/stole’ (however you want to look at it) the school from the larger company based on ‘competitive advantages’ (ie, relevance). Here is what we discovered was important to parents:

1. A postpaid sales strategy where the parent views multiple images and customizes their order. During the pandemic this has been a game-changer on multiple levels. Firstly, parents are now more acutely aware of online shopping, and they expect to view the ‘product’ (images) before they purchase. Secondly, parents have been spending more (globally) using this sales strategy when implemented correctly.
2. Delivery options and delivery times. A by-product of post-paid sales is amazingly fast dispatch times. The companies that I work with dispatch home delivery orders the same day and batched school delivery orders within 24 hours after the cut-off date. A far cry from the traditional operators, who keep parents waiting for months.

The operators that have made the business transformation of workflow, post paid sales strategy and production/delivery changes have already seen the benefits in the last two years – Gavin from ‘Photoworx’ said ‘if I hadn’t made significant workflow and sales strategy changes to my business, I don’t think I would be still in business, let alone having the most profitable year ever….I just took another school from XXX company’

‘We have reduced our fixed costs by 40 percent’

Arthur Reed Photos CEO, Jason Butcher also commented at the end of 2021, ‘we have now been able to reduce our fixed costs by 40 percent while still at the same client capacity as pre-Covid years, due to a complete business transformation in 2019.’

Any personnel from an enterprise level company reading this should have just ‘quivered’ and realised how much that adds to net profit.

Smaller operators acquiring schools

While Arthur Reed is one of the few larger operations which have transformed their business, the data clearly points to an increase in smaller operators acquiring more school contracts from larger enterprise level companies that have not changed workflows, image selections or sales strategies. (ie, relevance to the paying client).

Accessible software platforms now available to smaller companies have been an important driver to not only compete against enterprise-level companies, but to deliver competitive advantages (relevance to both clients) that traditional operators either can’t, or are unwilling, to achieve.

Enterprise level operators acquiring schools from competitors

Enterprise level operators that have already gone through a business transformation are also taking business from more traditional operators. We are seeing a trend of long-term private school contracts changing hands as the traditional business model is no longer relevant.

It should come as no great surprise that you will never hear an enterprise level company say that they ‘lost’ a school contract to a competitor, let alone a small company that is from the pre-school space. However, this is exactly what is happening now. How do I know this? I constantly get messages and calls from our partners saying, ‘ You never guess which school I just acquired and who from…’

Should ‘traditional operators’ not use this as motivation to change the way they work or try to understand why they lost the contract in the first place?

Instead of improving their core business (selling images) the ‘traditional operator’ will offer ‘more’ free services, free virtual tours, incentives and the kitchen sink the following year to try and win the contract back. Ultimately trying to win a race to the bottom against themselves, failing, as the modern school photography company retains the contract and focuses on being relevant to ‘both clients’.

Steps to relevancy

Business transformation requires exceptional planning and leadership from a CEO/leadership team. The leadership team needs to be 100 percent committed to changing the way a business operates and will not be successful without it.

When the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action should be the key indicator that a business transformation or change is required. For enterprise level companies, evaluating and forecasting is essential. What do the next three years look like economically in comparison to the advantages of a business transformation.

It would be an epic mistake to assume that changing sales strategies to a post-pay environment is all that’s required to be relevant. This would be the biggest mistake that any size company could ever make and a sure road to failure.

A total workflow transformation starting with how photographers work, what photographs they take and the accountability they have is vital. A refocus back on the photographers ‘job’ is essential to a streamlined workflow. A photographer re-training program needs to be put into action, including control and onsite virtual coaching using up-to-date technologies and methods:
– Strict photographer routines are required so that the job flows through the post production workflow as streamlined and as automated as possible. This allows for an extremely fast turnaround to have the images live in the webshop for parents to view, and customise their order;
– The entire workflow for each job/activity is required to be tracked at every step of the way with photographer and staff duties monitored and time stamped. Job quality assurance should be as automated as possible with AI functionality with control from the QA operator;
– The online sales platform should be fully automated with custom sales communication via email & SMS to drive sales – Get this wrong and you will fail;
– The end user (parent) experience must offer usability (customisation) that consumer behaviour now anticipates or expects. It’s also required that the webshop needs to be mobile device and desktop optimised.
– Finally, production should be automated so no ‘hands’ are needed between the customer order and printing process. All customised orders are ready for print production automatically.
– Glen Nelson, HVP Solutions.


One Comment

  1. Brett Brett March 10, 2022

    Hi Guys…Do school photographers get paid by the school to cover the costs of setup, shooting all day, processing the images etc then paid additionally for the prints by the parents? Keeping in mind that every student gets individually photographed for the yearbook or class photo, regardless of whether they paid for print packages or not.

    I’ve been in situations at school graduations for example, where family members present, insist on multiple group photo combinations on the day, hold up every other family requesting photos, then order practically nothing afterward.

    I think a fee upfront by the school should cover the costs of pro school photographers. Or is that already the case?

    Thank you.

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