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Because It's Ladies' Night....


Fullerton Photo’s Girls’ Nite Out.
Fullerton Photo’s Girls’ Nite Out.
Fullerton Photo’s Girls’ Nite Out.
Rene Pollard, Stephani Murphy, Ann Markley
Clockwise from left: Employee Rene Pollard, production manager Stephani Murphy, Ann Markley, and daughter Chase.
Fullerton Photo’s Girls’ Nite Out.
Fullerton Photo’s Girls’ Nite Out.
Fullerton Photo owner and president Gaby Mullinax.
Fullerton Photo owner and president Gaby Mullinax.

Ready to play with the big boys? A growing number of women are embracing the challenge, jumping full force into industries that were traditionally dominated by men. In fact, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, nearly half (48 percent) of all privately held U.S. firms are 50 percent or more women-owned, employing 19.1 million people and generating nearly $2.5 trillion in sales. No small potatoes…

And a substantial number of these female-owned businesses are in the photo retail industry, racking up customers (and profits), giving their male counterparts a serious run for their money. Take Ann Markley, owner of Ann Chase Photography, a portrait studio and services bureau located in Woodinville, WA. “I left corporate America three years ago and purchased my studio,” she says. “Last year my studio sales went up 50% from 2004; in 2004 they went up 75% from 2003; and right now, we’re seeing a 40% increase year-to-date over 2005.”

Her challenges began the day she entered the photo retail market. “When I went to my first PMA, everyone looked at me like I was nuts,” she recalls. “I got the cold shoulder from so many people.”

With a great deal of perseverance, creativity, and flexibility, Markley started turning her business into a moneymaker. Today, her closest alliances and support system are all women. “The people I talk to every day, those who own businesses in other cities, are all women,” she says. “We give each other great ideas and advice.”

This leads to the first possible difference between men and women in the retail field: the equivalent of being willing to stop to ask for directions. “I think that women aren’t afraid, if they don’t know something, to say they don’t know something and to help each other out,” says Markley. “There’s this wall with men that sometimes may prevent them from asking.”

Markley cites the incredible networking experiences she’s had, including a recent expedition to a Professional Photographers of Oregon event in March. “Four of us went to PPO and shared two rooms, and we had so much fun,” she says. “But when we sat down, we weren’t just gabbing; we were role-playing. We’d ask, ‘How do you deal with a phone call like this, for instance?’ We were all enormously supportive. I mean, there’s no competition, right? We’re all in different cities!”

In fact, this openness and willingness to share works its way back to all participants. Markley met Fullerton Photo owner Gaby Mullinax (featured in the next section) at PMA two years ago, and the two women quickly started their information exchange. “Gaby told me all about a ladies’ night promotion she did, and even though I wasn’t able to go to the one she invited me to, she told me everything she did, and three weeks later, I did my own,” says Markley. “It was so nice of her to share her ideas. She picked up a few of my ideas as well.”

Being flexible and adapting to the industry climate is another advantage many women business owners feel they bring to the table. “I became more strategic, including getting rid of doing passport pictures,” says Markley. “The guys I bought the shop from said, ‘Oh, doing passports is really good money; people just walk in off the street.’ But I looked at it and said, ‘You know, for $10, I’m wasting a half-hour; I need to make $100 an hour.’ So maybe that’s $500 a month I’m now not making from passports. But I’m not distracted, and I can do higher-quality work, because I’m not worrying about that $500 a month.”

Knowing how to appeal to female consumers is another benefit of being a woman business owner. “As purchasers of camera goods, women photographers often talk about how poorly they are treated when they go to purchase camera goods,” Markley says. “For example, I have a $1,500 lens. And every time I go into the same camera store in Seattle to ask for a lens hood or filters, they question me to ask if I’m sure I want something for that lens. I say, ‘Yes, I’m sure!’ They don’t even recognize that I’ve been there every month for the last two years. They ask me the same questions every time.”

To appeal to her own women customers, the first thing Markley did when she bought the store was change the environment. “I got huge wooden cabinets at a consignment store, and that’s where I put my frames,” she says. “I have really big couches, and a conversation table; in my viewing room I have nice furniture; I have candles, flowers, and plants. I spent a lot of time thinking about it.”

According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, most women business owners (66 percent) are willing to take above-average or substantial risks when investing for their businesses. But Markley says that many women still need to combat that fear of risk. “I think women have a tendency more than men to think small, like ‘I’ll just make $100,000,’ whereas a man will go in and make his projections, and he’s making a half a million his first year,” she says. “If you thought you could make half a million, then you would make $200,000. But if you think you’re going to make $100,000, you’re only gonna make $50,000. You have to have no fear if you’re going to get into this. Think big, and just do it!”

Fullerton Photo’s Female Leader

Gaby Mullinax didn’t give much thought to entering an industry dominated by men when she bought Fullerton Photo in Fullerton, CA. It was more the changing technology that presented her main challenge. “It was intimidating in the sense that I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin,” she says. “I bought this lab as an analog photo lab, coming from the photography side; I had no idea how to make a print come out of a machine.” Her philosophy to embrace the technology, however, served her well, and from the ground up, she figured out what direction her business would take.

Being a woman business owner proved to be an asset. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women emphasize gathering facts, consulting with others, and relationship-building. Mullinax agrees with the advantages this can offer. “I would think that our intuitiveness is a great asset,” she says. “That’s not to say there aren’t men out there who aren’t intuitive. But I really do go with my feeling on things, and I’m sure other women could probably relate to that. Obviously, I don’t let my heart always be my guide—to be a good businessperson, you still have to look at the bottom line and evaluate whether it’s a good product or service to offer. But in the beginning, my first instinct isn’t about the bottom line. It’s how I provide something maybe few others are doing, how I relate that to my customers, and how I build that relationship. And I don’t think men necessarily automatically think that way.”

When she started her business, Mullinax studied the environments that already existed and figured out a way to make hers better. “I’ve really tried to make our environment empowering for our customers,” she says. “Having been to other labs in the beginning, there were many sterile, intimidating environments.”

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