Bruce Berg's photography has earned him a four-time win of Oregon's Photographer of the Year, and the business model for his flourishing senior business has him planning his route for WPPI speaking engagements and in-house workshops. Browsing his portfolio of vivid and stylish portraits, it's easy to see how his images do a great job of selling themselves--but Berg assures us that it's his studio's efforts to make the client experience unforgettable that seals the deals.
It's More than Photographs
Berg's tenure as a studio owner has taught him this much: It'll take more than a pretty picture. He's learned this the hard way, refining his business to offer more than just a glamour-shot photo session that pushes hard sales. "Seniors want an experience that's a lot of fun and feels like a professional, catered model shoot--it should be an experience they'll always remember," Berg says. "From the first call to the studio to the personally tailored photographs, we offer a level of customer service that lets me guarantee the work with 100 percent satisfaction."
To enhance his reputation, Berg's studio takes every step it can to ensure a positive, fun experience. In the studio (as well as outdoors and on location), that can mean sessions that incorporate up to five light sources. To keep the mood right, Berg's team plays the music the client wants to hear, blasting from iPods or CDs. Clients are offered cold drinks, a studio tee-shirt, mints, and a personalized welcome sign that greets them when they arrive. Everything they can do to make things extra special, and anything to really set them apart, they do.
"We have a preconsultation with the client to let us know more of who they are, so that we can have a very knowledgeable approach to each person as an individual," Berg says. "This ‘getting acquainted time' enables us to target the look they want, and the resulting mood is more relaxed. This translates into our style, our approach. I think even our settings add to how we're perceived. I'm in a historic home, and the neighborhood, too, is historic. We have a field across the street, picket fences, an old church, lots of urban, funky walls, and various other things. We're out on location for at least half their portraits, and that translates to the final product."
Berg guarantees his work 100 percent, and this means a level of commitment that further conveys his studio's image. "Not everyone likes having their photograph made," Berg says. "Once I had a young man who set a precedent. While he was great with some stoic poses and model looks, he could only produce small smiles. I called his mom and told him to come back with his two best guy friends, and they had him loosen up and crack up laughing--that let me finish the job. My clients don't have to perform--the pressure is on me, and they know that up front. If I don't get what I need to do a great job, it is up to me to rectify the situation."
Berg says that his sales for prints rely on the emotional connection and images they've made together. "You're pulling at your client's heartstrings to make a great sale," he says. "We put our clients on a couch, give them something to drink, and leave them to the music and the slideshow as they review their images. We offer frames, books, purses, specialty products, portfolios--just about everything our clients could want. To continue the theme of a studio with class, we now call our print offerings ‘collections' instead of ‘packages,' as we feel it has a better ring to it--especially when I saw the middle-income market as being too competitive a few years ago and decided to shoot for the next income-bracket of clients. Sure, we raised our prices, but we also slowed down and reevaluated how we did business. Instead of running around and chasing as many new clients as we could, we now book only two, maybe four sessions a day, so that each client gets the attention he or she deserves and the full experience we can offer. This also lets the back-end Photoshop work move at a more relaxed pace--we are not burning out, constantly trying to keep up. Instead, we are enjoying the work, enjoying each set of photographs, and making a better product--and we now charge accordingly."
Berg's studio's success also relies on his trusted tenured staff, which consists of three key individuals: Photoshop guru Lindsay, office manager/cosmetologist Kris, and Jessica, his sales and portrait consultation expert. Without his key team members, Berg assures, things wouldn't run as smoothly. He has plenty of friends who are up past midnight every evening catching up on post-processing work at the computer, and he is all too aware of the benefits of an office manager. His sales specialist does the marketing, leaving him to be the creative, upbeat personality he loves to be when he shoots, knowing the rest is all in great hands.
Post-shoot, Berg says that his time at the computer is almost minimal with this quality of help--the stylish work in Photoshop is dictated by a consult with the client to discern what styles they like (e.g., "dreamy" qualities versus black-and-white) and a myriad of other options. Berg personally prefers more contrast and saturation in the final prints, and that will often show in his portfolio picks.
Berg knows that the marketing of studio photography is becoming more and more competitive, so he feels a need to be smarter about his studio's approaches. "I need to feed my family, so I'm also looking for ways to market without blowing the budget," he says. "I've purchased a few lists for direct mailing, and that's certainly been very effective for us. We also select spokes-models (we find that ‘spokes-model' is a cooler name than ‘rep'). We sell her a press-printed book of images from White House Custom Colour; it's a real "wow factor" when people see it--and it's very affordable. We annually rent a one-month display kiosk at the upscale local mall, too. There are a lot of moves we've made recently that are working great for us, all on a budget, and I'll be discussing those at WPPI and other speaking engagements this [upcoming] year."
Regarding his searchability on the internet, Berg knows that this is where keywording metatags and Google-ranking efforts are things to constantly update. "We've also bought some domain names that will help us direct more traffic," he says. "Right now, my website is more wedding-oriented, so we want something that offers teen-paced interaction. We'll have a separate site solely for seniors shortly."
Berg finds that his best method to ensure a sale is to keep his sales pressure-free. "We don't strong-arm during sales," he says. "We think that if we do our job well, they'll have to have the photographs. So we do what we need to do to make them happy, and I always remember that I'm only as good as my last shoot!"
See more of Bruce Berg's work at www.bruceberg.com
BEST PRODUCT FOR PRODUCTIVITY
"My Xerox Phaser copier is invaluable. In addition to color copies, when we can't have a full-family sit-down session review with a client, we have them come in for a mandatory 15-minute viewing. We send them home with the Xerox-printed proof book. It's printed with a wax, can melt under heat, isn't high quality, and doesn't scan well. We know the ink will fade in a year, too--so it's safe to send them home with no worries of copying."
3 BUSINESS TIPS FOR SENIOR PHOTOGRAPHY
1. A great staff is invaluable--hire the right people for you and your business model, as well as your customer base.
2. Offer images that are impeccable, in regards to honesty, quality, and the clients' décor. Don't deliver the "same 'ol, same 'ol" -- you want to set yourself apart.
3. Watch where your dollars are spent. It's easy to waste a lot of money in this business on the latest gadgets and marketing. Invest wisely.
BRUCE BERG's Gear Box
• Canon EOS 5D
• Canon lenses: 24-105mm, 28-300mm, 10-24mm
• Lensbaby 2.0
• White Lightning 600, 800, and 1200, 1800 Ultras
• Quantum T5d-R flash
• Larson 3x4 soft box
• Apollo Lite Disk reflectors
• ExpoDisc white-balance device
• Photoshop CS3 and InDesign CS3
• onOne PhotoTools
• Photodex ProShow Producer
• Lexar CompactFlash cards
• White House Custom Colour