Schools are changing photography companies as they are no longer happy with what they 'offer'. More specifically they are changing to companies that are relevant to the needs and demands of both the school and parents. Lets investigate what 'relevance' actually means.
School photography is about servicing your non paying first client (The School) so that you make money on the actual paying second client (The Parent).
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 one's.
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, ignored or lost - 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 3 months later - yes that's a dig...)
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 large company based on 'competitive advantages' (ie relevance). Here is what we discovered:
1. 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 as online shoppers and the expectation to view the 'product' (images) before they purchase is now demanded by the parents more than ever. 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 that can be achieved. 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' keeping parents waiting for months.
The operators that have already 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%
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% 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
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 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 achieve or are unwilling to go through a business transformation to stay relevant.
Enterprise level operators acquiring schools from competitors
Enterprise level operators that have already gone through a business transformation are also benefiting from 'traditional' enterprise operators. We are seeing a trend of long term private school contracts changing hands as the traditional business model is no longer relevant to both 'clients'.
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 you can take to being 'relevant'
Business transformation requires exceptional planning and leadership from a CEO/leadership team. The leadership team needs to be 100% 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 by changing sales strategies to a post pay environment is the only change a business is required to do 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 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 turn around 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. Here are a couple of video's I have recorded which will give you an idea.
The challenge of business transformation is much too big for just one article. For a slightly more detailed overview, feel free to watch my presentation from the Australian School Photographer Conference a few years ago.
As alway, don't hesitate to get in touch - Happy to have a chat!