The Elephant in the Room

In recent months, there has been a lot of misleading and contextually inaccurate information being put into the universe about the buying habits of parents in the world of volume school and sports photography. While it is great that this conversation is happening, at H&H Total Schools and Sports, we believe knowledge is power. Without proper context, one might be led to believe that the sky is falling and scramble to make, what we believe, catastrophic changes to both your business and our beloved industry.

Today, digital file delivery is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. According to companies like Capturelife and PhotoDay, parents only want mobile apps and online proofing. And a false conclusion that photographers are taking from photo industry SaaS companies’ education, is that parents only want digital files. Without a doubt, this is the elephant in the room that we must discuss. While yes, this is a motivating factor for parents today, this statement lacks true data to back it up. As you might imagine, H&H Total Schools and Sports has a different view on the state of the industry. Our conclusions are supported by studying over 15 years of accumulated data from online consumer behavior patterns versus a “chicken-little” mentality that serves to benefit the few companies propagating that truly biased message.  It is also further supported by the perspectives of strong business acumen and principles developed through being an industry leader for over 49 years.

We are fighting for the overall health of our industry. Together, with real and actionable data, we can make better decisions that will impact our industry, your businesses, and your financial freedom.

While it might be nice in this mud-slinging world of the internet today to start the article with something more salacious, we have taken a more conservative approach to our position on these claims being made. The word we have chosen is “misconception.”

Misconception is the perfect word to describe what is happening here. It means, “a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.” That is exactly what is happening in this case. We believe the data tells a different story. Not to mention, the wedding and portrait industry went through this same thing in the recent past and they are finally recovering. The remaining survivors? They are the ones that have embraced product sales. Those shoot-and-burners realized they could not build a sustainable business and clients wanted more than just “digital.” They wanted something tangible, something they could have and enjoy for years to come.

So, let’s start there.

Misconception #1 //

Parents only want digital files.

Really? Do you really believe this? Are you a parent? Do you have a house? A desk? A wall? Are you placing your digital files there? What happened to all the frames in the world? Did they disappear all of a sudden? Is grandma now hanging digital frames all over her home? This whole thing sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Parents DO NOT just want digital files. Not now. Not ever.

The fact is, parents are spending money on physical products. When given the option of ordering a physical product side by side with a digital image download, they are only choosing the digital download 5% of the time.  Whoa chicken little, looks like real data is going to put an end to the “sky is falling” conspiracy! If you need me to break down the math a little stronger, 95% choose physical product when given the choice of the two.

So, needless to say, this statement is without a doubt FALSE. Parents will spend money when you offer them quality products. Are you sure you want to offer digital only as a solution to your clients? I would think long and hard on that.

Misconception #2 //

Parents will buy prints AFTER they have the digital file in hand.

Huh? This sounds like a bad commercial for Chick-fil-A’s “Eat mor chikin” campaign. (Editor’s note: We love Chick-fil-A. Have you tried their spicy chicken?) So, let me get this right, their thought process is that AFTER you give them the digital files, which you told them they can print anywhere and is “good enough”, they will for some random reason come back to you for the prints? (Are we the only ones feeling like this is an episode of Black Mirror?)

Here we go again. FACT ALERT, once parents have the digital files, they will only buy physical product 7% of the time. Bottom line, YOU WILL LOSE. Your studio will die a quick and painful death. You cannot build a sustainable business this way; it is a race to the bottom of the market. While parents may “intend” on buying physical product, we all know what happens, life gets in the way. They become distracted, the files sit on their computer, and, the next thing you know, their kids are graduating medical school.

Instead, what we are seeing our most successful studios doing is creating a compelling package that includes a single transaction for print and digital files combined. With this model, parents get what they want at a price photographers can make a great living at. Everyone wins and you are not waiting and hoping for your clients to come back for a second sale.

Misconception #3 //

It is more convenient for mom to order through a smartphone app.

Have you ever tried ordering something via an app for the first time? After the 16+ steps required to download the app, install it, create an account, find the images, and order, you are just left wondering “was this really easier?” Compare that to a well-designed prepay form and a mobile optimized online store – the results are staggering. Recently, a Midwest studio learned this the hard way. They switched to an application-only-model and sales went down $4k! The kicker, they had a higher sales average but a significantly less participation rate.

Fact is, allowing clients to buy after the event and adding more steps to the sales process creates a higher barrier to entry; this results in lower sales. Any marketing or sales person who knows what they are doing will tell you this, it’s not a photo-industry thing but business period. If you make it easier for your clients to participate, they will participate.

While sales flyers and paper-based systems seem overwhelming, they are proven to work. The sales flyer is not just an order form; it showcases your products and services and gets people excited to complete the purchase.

A properly designed flyer:

• Brands your business
• Merchandises your products
• Creates a call-to-action
• Is a physical reminder for parents of the upcoming picture day
• Directs parents to the option of ordering online
• Sets the expectation for the quality of service you will provide

We must act like business owners. Sales and marketing cannot be replaced with the magic wand of an app. The most successful studios have a well thought out, online sales system that works in conjunction with paper marketing order forms and dovetails into electronic marketing. While email and text marketing are improving, we find that studios who engage all marketing channels for a cohesive marketing plan will survive the winter that is coming for those who go all in on an app.

Misconception #4 //

Sales averages will go up when parents proof their images online first.

The classical music is playing, and it sounds like a perfect documentary is in progress, but, WRONG. Data shows that total sales go down 30-40% when offering online proofing only. Why? Fewer buyers. What good is a higher sales average if overall sales are down almost 40%?

A studio reported an event with 95% of parents viewing their online images. The event was shot over several hours and had 1,400 images posted. If you are looking for this to be a happy ending it’s not going to be. Total sales were, wait for it, $295. This was disastrous for the studio and really drove the point home that this model of online proofing first does not work. This is just one case; there are countless more who have realized the same thing.

Something else to consider, parents don’t care about a watermark. So, the reason engagement rates are so low is because parents are okay with screenshots (how disastrous for your business).

So here is what you need to consider, after shooting 300 soccer players, would you rather have 200 players give you $30 each for total sales of $6k or a $60 average from 30 orders and total sales of $1800? Let me give you a hint, if you chose the second one then you don’t need to read any further.

In addition, the notion that you can “post it and forget it” is laughable. As photographers, we all want “easy.” Many of us hate sales and the sales process. While we want “easy,” the question is, who is this “easy” for? Is it for you or your customer? We need to invest and nurture our sales process to monitor what is working and what is not. Merely posting online and hoping for the best is a failing strategy. If we are being honest, that’s not really a strategy at all. It’s lazy. Do you know the saying, “if it were easy, everyone would do it?”

While sales, marketing, and other non-camera related tasks can be hard, they don’t have to be. We believe the H&H Total Schools and Sports program is industry leading, but we will save that for another time.

Here is what “mom” wants. She wants more than additional images to choose from and more than digital only; mom wants easy. Make it easy for her to say yes and she will; the data supports it.

Misconception #5 //

Labs are out of date and are not equipped to provide the new technology organizations and parent demand.

This is one of those step-back-and-scratch-your-head kinda statements. Are you just saying things now to say them? Left unchecked, a statement like this might have you convinced the end of the world for labs is near. Here is something we can say with certainty; a school and sports photography business is not going to be delivered in an app. It is not digital only. It is not online proofing first. There are no shortcuts to running a successful business. A school and sports business are just that, a business. You have to run it like a real business and market like a business. You need to offer superior products and services like a business. You need to monitor your sales metrics like a business. Many businesses have lost their way over the years chasing quick and easy gimmicks and fads.

Here is something to consider, H&H has been partnering and innovating with professional photographers for over 49 years. We not only understand the business of professional portrait photography; we have been building and shaping it for decades. We listen to our customers while working in the trenches with them. We learn and adapt strategies from market leaders. We combine best practices and systems that will help studios elevate their game.

We continuously refresh our view of the market and the solutions available by monitoring new solutions and building trust. We collaborate with hundreds of independent pro-photography entrepreneurs who constantly try new solutions and share their results with us over decades. H&H’s volume online sales platform, HHImageHost, celebrated its successful, 10-year anniversary this year. This was no easy feat.

10 years ago, these same supposed “trends” plagued the wedding and portrait market. The results were disastrous. Studios jumped on the digital-only bandwagon and failed. Today, that market has done a complete 180 to return back to business basics and product-based sales. Use common sense and sound business practices; partner with a company committed to the future of the industry and the health and success of your overall business.

H&H Color Lab will continue to develop updated technology by monitoring the industry, customer sales data, and overall business metrics to ensure that our customers are always at the forefront of our efforts. Together, we will continue building a successful platform that will allow you to stand out and grow your business.

After 49 years in business and thousands of successful partnerships, we’d like to think we are just hitting our stride. What some might call “out of date,” we’d refer to it as real-world experience. This isn’t our first industry revolution and it won’t be our last. Cheers to another 49 years!

What do you think? Tell us below.

Team H&H

H&H Color Lab is not only the market leader in the sports photography business, we are your partner. We’ve been helping independent sports photographers run profitable businesses for 49 years.

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