Photos © Sandra David, Fine Art Photography, 1999
The Sandra David project
began in 1992 when David Rigg and Sandra Crebbin formed a company for
marketing their fine art images in galleries and in print.
David G. Rigg is a former Navy photographer with secondary training
as a photojournalist and multimedia specialist and taught intelligence
and surveillance techniques at the fleet intelligence center in San
Diego, California. Rigg joined Professional Photographers of America
in 1990 and was PPA Certified in 1992. He received his Fellowship from
Professional Photographers of California in 1993 and the PPA Photographic
Craftsman degree award in 1998.
Sandra K. Crebbin owned a retail photographic operation in Yreka, California
and then a full-time portrait studio. She relocated from Northern California
to Southern California in 1993. Part of the PPA traveling loan collection,
Crebbin's work was displayed at the EPCOT Center in Florida and
she was awarded the Fuji "Master-piece" in 1998. Both Crebbin
and Rigg conduct workshops and lectures for professional associations.
Today, Crebbin and Rigg reside
in a 4000 square foot custom home in a suburban area of Southern California.
With a layout that provides for complete separation between living and
client areas, it is ideal for marketing the upscale portrait experience.
Located in one of the oldest upscale neighborhoods, Crebbin and Rigg have
turned their 3/4 acre lot into a portrait park. It is filled with gardens
and landscaping specifically designed to enhance the client's environmental
portrait experience by providing a private, peaceful setting in which
to explore a subject's personality.
For many photography consumers, portraits have become more commonplace
and less a valued experience. It is the classic chicken and the egg problem.
Which came first, the high volume retail store portrait studios or the
consumer's demand for quick and inexpensive photos of their kids?
This puts most photographers in the impossible situation of competing
with the retailers or finding their own corner of the better paying upscale
market. As the retail outlets continue to devalue the portrait experience
(and the perceived value of the product) the average portrait photographer
must turn toward either the upscale market or down to compete with the
Crebbin and Rigg decided to
target the upscale market from the start. The Sandra David clients are
mostly business owners and white-collar professionals of above average
net worth. They are ordinary hard working, successful people who are very
careful how they invest their disposable income and look for value and
exceptional service. Rigg says, "Until recently, studio owners of
average competency have been able to make a comfortable living by targeting
the middle segment of the market through discount oriented promotions.
These `loss leader' promotions generally work on the principal
of thirds. One third of the respondents will make purchases that will
pay for the promotion and make up for the third who will `ace'
the promotion. The final third will make above average purchases and provide
the profit structure and become loyal, repeat clients. The Sandra David
concept is to dump the two thirds that drain your creativity and profit
margins, and concentrate on the third that value what we do and are willing
to invest in it."
Marketing to an upscale clientele is not a new area; many other types
of businesses take the time, energy, and attention to seek out this particular
demographic. Start with a profile of your typical client, including their
location, job title, salary, marital status, and number of children. Then
identify your opportunities in the community to reach these clients. These
will include advertising, direct mail, joining organizations, working
with local schools. At all times you need to keep in mind your objective
is to have your target client call you. Your self-promotion goal is to
make your portrait-marketing message unique and special. Rigg, "We
don't really care what the studio down the street is doing. Most
likely, they are going out of business anyway and we certainly won't
let them drag us down with them by devoting any energy or thought toward
them. Some of the worst advice I can think of is `know what your
competition is doing.' Most people in setting up a new photographic
business will go to every studio in town and pretend to be a prospect,
just to get a price list. The problem with this is twofold; one, it is
just plain unprofessional. The other problem is that what someone else
charges is totally irrelevant to what you need charge! Your overhead and
cost of sales and your expected return on your investment are what counts.
As Tom Winninger says, `So what if they can get $500 off on a Chevy
down the street, we're selling a Lexus.'"
One of the most successful
marketing techniques for the upscale clientele is "lifecycle selling."
This is a marketing strategy that pre-sells clients to return at their
next "cycle" of life for another portrait. They become lifelong
clients. For example when clients come to Sandra David about senior portraits,
they are already pre-sold through the studio's reputation, marketing,
and telephone consulting. Since a hard sell isn't necessary, the
discussion (in a relaxed, homelike environment) moves to the beautiful
family portraits on the wall. A future sale is born! This leads the Sandra
David clients to make major portrait investments with the studio five
to six times in a lifetime. They do not use inexpensive prices to sell
or loss leader "specials." When a client asks if they have
any specials, Sandra David tells them, "Everything we do is special.
What do you have in mind? When can you come for a visit so we can show
you some work we have done for other clients and give you all the details
regarding having a portrait created?" It is a marketing technique
that qualifies and closes the sale. Rigg, "Truth is, we don't
get a lot of the `How much is an 8x10?' calls anymore. The
types of people who are drawn to our marketing are the types who are intelligent
enough to know that it won't be cheap. Having a reputation for being
expensive is the best thing that can happen to you. So, in a sense, the
marketing itself becomes a screening device. That gold signature in the
corner of the stretched canvas, in its exquisite frame that Crebbin picked
out, has become a status symbol in finer homes and offices in the community.
We find that sometimes the value of the investment is often exaggerated
when inquired about by the owner's friends and associates. Occasionally
we will get prospects who are relieved to find out that it is `only
going to cost a few thousand dollars' for what they really want."
Sandra David's tips for a more successful portrait business:
· Choose to be in the portrait business. Not for family or friends
but because it is something you are pas-
· Connect with your clients. Your ability to relate on the spiritual
level will influence the viewer's emotional response and is the
very essence of sales.
· Consistency and an investment in your self-promotion and in your
image are vital. Sandra David markets from a "king of the hill"
· Consider your pricing carefully. Don't underprice yourself!
The last thing you want is to have people calling you because you're
inexpensive. It will be counterproductive to your efforts if you build
up a referral chain based on price, only to kill it off when you raise
your prices to the level that they need to be at to sustain your efforts.
· Continue to learn to earn with business and photography workshops
and classes. Rigg, "Professional image-makers have to consistently
balance their business and photographic skills to keep all the balls in
the air at the same time. Charles Lewis said it best, `Take the
time to learn the things you don't want to know!'"