As many of you know, in March, I had the opportunity to photograph at the Westminster Dog Show’s Green Room, located across the street at the Penn Hotel. The Green Room, in its basest forms, is a glorified potty and staging area where many of the dogs prepare for the Westminster Dog Show, which is held at the Madison Square Garden. I see the Green Room as something much bigger though. It is a place where many of the dogs, their handlers and owners, come to socialize. It also hosts a variety of other vendors – selling everything pet-related from jewelry to pet portraiture (ME). It is - as far as I am concerned - one of the coolest and most fun places to hang out and see some of the world’s uber-dogs.
For people who followed our first two articles on the Dog Show, it has been a real period of growth for us. Our first dog show was a real disappointment. We went in with huge hopes and regardless of some awesome advice from our friends in the pet world, completely unprepared. It was such a bad show that we very seriously considered not doing it again.
Instead of running home with our tail between our legs, we re-tooled our event and made a second stab last year. We completely redesigned everything - from our booth set-up to our product lines. We made particular efforts to display photographs that would show the customers exactly what they were going to get. For example, no more dogs outside in the park - just formal portraiture.
The 2011 Dog Show was a huge success photographically (If you want to read more about it, click here
), but financially the show still did not make it as we spent a ton of money getting the display where we needed it to be. As we don’t do dog shows other than this one, there was no opportunity to grow and develop knowledge incrementally (as one normally does this sort of thing). However, when we were finished, we realized that we were definitely heading into the right direction as we did not lose our shirts like we had in the first year. :P
This third year was a real watershed for us. Specifically, this is the first year that the show was financially worth the week that we spent on it. Not only did we increase on the number of dogs that we photographed last year, but out tickets were – on average – double what they had been the year prior. So, you ask, how did we do this? Honestly, I am not 100% sure. I am sure that the recovering economy had something to with this. However, we did make some major changes between last year and this one that I believe helped increase our bottom line. I think that the biggest thing was our ability to print our own materials quickly and affordably. This was done primarily as a result of our having purchased an Epson 4900 printer. The Epson 4900 is a 10 ink printer that will print on roll paper as wide as 17 inches and 40 feet long.
The purchase of the Epson 4900 allowed us to significantly cut costs on our higher end fine art prints. I believe that the cost is approximately 50% less than what we were paying out to the big box stores for our canvas prints. For truth in reporting, I am looking at this only in a 'per print' basis. This does not include the actual cost of the investment in the printer - which was about $1500. I am also including the subjective 'how much time am I worth' equation in terms of labor as I am now having to do my own stretching. However, I have gotten so good with the framing that I can produce a high-quality (better than some of what I had been purchasing previously) 16x24 inch canvas in about 10 minutes. In short, I was able to lower costs and improve profit margins. That is huge. Because the printer is profiled to my computer, I have very few re-prints as well. The long and short of it is that we can now produce prints that are seen as a bargain for our clients and still make an acceptable profit in the process.
The second thing we did is offer a variety of higher end products. This includes a coffee table album of about 30 images as well as a variety of glass ‘face mount prints.’ The honest truth is that while you may make more on these items, that they are a bit more work than producing straight prints. They also cost more to produce, so your profit margin is lower for both time and product. However, they do bring in a significant premium and are worth adding to your arsenal. They also have the desired effect of making your other products look much more affordable.
Third, we worked very hard to improve signage. I have learned that signage is everything and I made sure that I blanketed the lobby and the green room with both our prints and our signs. This is another area where the Epson 4900 came in so incredibly helpful. The signs that I purchased from Vista Print (6 feet high and about 30 inches wide) came in completely wrong. Whether or not it was me or the printer who was at fault really does not matter to me. Sadly, the night before the Dog Show, I was printing out 6 foot long banners on my Epson 4900. While they were only 17 inches wide, the stands I had gotten from Vistaprint were able to accommodate them. The positive thing though was that I was able to produce them – and because the printer is calibrated, they looked much better than what I was getting from the printer. To give Vista Print credit, they did refund me my purchase and even let me keep the stands, which was cool (I had offered to send them back and they demurred). That was pretty awesome.
Everything else pretty much ran as expected. It was an awesome show and I am really happy that I did it. Not only do we get to hang out with some totally cool dogs, but we also finally were able to make a profit doing it. My goals for next year? (1) to attempt to have more bookings prior to the event (2) To continue to find ways to decrease cost and improve profit performance, (3) to find ways to continue to use the Westminster Dog Show as a means to improve our brand image. Our business has been performing portraits in people's homes - not doing show work. However, there is a definite intersection between many of our clients and the show world. Developing a synergy between them and improving brand recognition is important. I think this is starting to happen. For example, one of our customers just remarked that she was showing off one of her papillon photographs that we did and I was pretty excited that the person she was showing the prints off to knew who we were. That is a good start…we just want to see more of it!
Thanks to the folks at Epson for the stock photo of the 4900. The Epson 4900 is absolutely huge and the idea of trying to move it to photograph it properly was disconcerting. :P
Please note that this article is Copyright 2012, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of James Morrissey.