Magazine Article


A Passport To Profits
Photo retailers cash in on record number of passports being issued

Nanor Prints’ Seraderian said that ID and passport photos are the bread and butter of his shop’s business.

Jaslow adds that June and July weddings are helping grow their passport service as they head into the normally slower summer months. "We are seeing more and more young newlywed couples coming in to get a quick passport shot done so they can go on their honeymoon abroad," he says.

Jaslow indicates that they normally charge $9.95 for two sets of prints, and $5 for each additional set. They use a standard digital camera and output to their Agfa d-lab minilab. "With digital technology, your customer can get the perfect passport photo," he says. "You can take as many photos as they wish, until they find the one they like. There's no waste printing out photos." Jaslow also has a portrait studio where people can upgrade to a more "glamour-type" shot.

Jaslow said the key to succeeding in this part of the business is doing your homework and keeping track of the regulations that are constantly changing from country to country. "When you offer ID photos, you need to keep yourself updated as to the current regulations, such as U.S. immigration and passport requirements," he explains. "You need to familiarize yourself with many foreign countries' different passport sizes, and their requirements are all just a few clicks away on the web."

Booming in Beantown

Michael Seraderian, owner and president of Nanor Prints in Belmont, MA, just outside Boston, has been selling ID and passport photos in his shop for 22 years. He utilizes Polaroid's MiniPortrait 203 digital system.

Seraderian said that ID and passport photos are the bread and butter of his shop's business. In addition to American passports, he deals with immigration photos, citizenship photos, and passports for different countries. "For a straightforward passport photo, typically it's easy to do, but there are other things involved that you have to be very specific about, like Canadian passports and British passports-they all require specific sizes, so you have to be familiar with all that," he explains.

According to Seraderian, it's essential that minilabs and specialty shops offer this service to their customers. "It's important for them to do, versus big chains like CVS and other places, where they're not really trained to do it," he says. "There is so much turnover in those locations. You have one employee today, you have another employee tomorrow."

He says that his store also often receives returns from customers unsatisfied with photos taken by the larger chains. "It's a simple thing to do but you have to do it consistently to get it right," he explains. "It's a passport-if somebody's going to send it by mail and three weeks later it comes back refused, then they have three weeks less to get it done, and that might be very critical for that person, especially for immigration. Time is an issue for them; you need to get it right the first time."

With many years of knowledge in this space, Nanor Prints has become the place to go to for passport photos in the Boston area. "It's becoming a very specialized service," says Seraderian. "We specialize in international passports. We have many immigration lawyers sending their clients here to get their photos taken."

Seraderian says that passport and ID photos have to follow very special and exact guidelines regarding the size of the customer's head, and from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin; they must have a white background; they must be sharp; the skin tone has to be properly lit; and there should not be any shadows in the back. "These are simple things that we have to follow," he says. "That's what the federal requirements are." He urges photo retailers and minilab owners to educate themselves and their customers on those federal guidelines, not only to save them time but also to increase business.

Nanor Prints charges $9.99 for the first set of prints, with an additional charge for a second set. "It's a great area to make money," he says. "I'm making more profit doing passport photos than processing images. The profit margins are something like 1 to 8. It cost me less than a dollar, and I'm charging $10. You can't beat that profit margin," he adds.

Seraderian adds that digital has certainly made things easier. "There's definitely a savings there," he says. "It's a much more practical way to do it. You make fewer mistakes, so basically there's no waste at all. Definitely, it's much more practical, easier, and less frustrating-especially if it's in a retail business with 20 people coming and going and you have, basically, a few minutes to shoot the photograph. That makes it much easier for us and the customer."