Sarah Merians Photography & Company, with a client list that includes Lance Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, and Tiki Barber, as well as friends and neighbors, is currently in its 20th year of operation.
Known for capturing rare and special occasions, it has been said that “Sarah Merians Photography & Company make celebrities feel like everyday people and everyday people feel like celebrities.” When Merians launched her photography business in 1986, she chose her namesake for the studio, not because she wanted fame, but because she considered it important to have a woman’s name associated with the industry. Things have changed over time. “Now everyone’s in the business,” she says, adding that at a recent photography convention, 51 percent of the participants were women.
Merians, who runs the business with former college roommate Elizabeth Beskin, is both an entrepreneur and a creative. The former artist/painter and Wall Street paralegal has grown her business threefold and is about to add a fourth company in 2007.
Their businesses share an 8,300-square-foot art gallery studio. The studio’s flagship business, Sarah Merians Photography & Company, handles event and social photography, such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and sweet 16 parties. Fifth Avenue Digital deals with corporate clients, with digital being the perfect medium for executives who want immediate feedback. Kids & Company is for children and baby shoots. When an album design company joins the fold next year, clients will be able to bring in photos shot by any photographer.
A graduate of Syracuse University, Merians learned business from her late father, an entrepreneur who was also a dentist, art collector, and landlord. “As a woman in business, you can be and do anything you want,” he told Merians and her twin sister, Lisa.
Her father didn’t live to see her open her studio, but Merians has channeled his advice into a business that continues to grow, clearing whatever obstacles the industry presents, such as the digital revolution.
Her staff of 40 includes 15 professional photographers, six sales people, director of sales & marketing, and director of operations. Hiring middle management was a growth step for her. “With the company expanding, we didn’t want to lose touch with people, so we hired a support staff,” she says.
Photographer for a Lifetime
To enhance her photographers’ creativity and productivity, Merians gives them the freedom to choose which division they want to work for. Her personal favorite is photographing children and babies.
“These shots are magical because I love the innocence of children. I love meeting new people and can’t wait to photograph them,” says Merians.
Over the years, one of the keys to the studio’s success has been the cultivation of life-long clients. It’s a concept they like to drive home to the staff. “We are not a revolving door. We want to be our clients’ photographer for a lifetime.’”
A wedding contact is generally the start of a life-long relationship. “It’s a great beginning, which should be followed by the baby and children’s portraits, bar and bat mitzvah pictures, sweet 16 party shots, and college portraits, and then the child’s wedding and first child,” she says.
Another success strategy that’s proved effective for her studio is “white glove service” from the moment a client walks through the studio doors. A single salesperson or salesperson is assigned to each client “to take care of him or her” throughout the entire process, up to the actual shoot and after.
During initial visits, sales staff interview customers to find out what kind of photography they’re looking for. They also help new clients select photographers, schedule appointments, resolve event-day issues, and manage all the details.
A full-service operation, the studio provides a number of custom services that other studios would outsource, such as cropping and retouching images; digital color correction; hand coloring (for black-and-white images) and venue stock photos upon request; as well as a professional video of the event, and traditional and digital album design options. The studio offers coffee table books by Asuka Books, and a variety of other digital albums.