Bragworthy Factoid: A community VIP at a Chamber of Commerce function assumed iSmile was a national chain with hundreds of locations, based on its marketing and strong brand presence.
SmugMugger since: 2008
Sell it again, Sam
Like a lot of photographers, Stephanie McCauley’s interest in portraiture snowballed after she had kids. Trapped in a near-empty mall during a winter storm and finding the portrait studio unexpectedly hopping, her husband suggested she launch her own business. Three months later, her in-mall studio’s doors opened. By the time she launched her SmugMug site in 2008, she had learned that single sessions and a mall presence would not be enough to break out. “Being in a large shopping mall, we are busy year-round,” she concedes. “But we learned long ago that just opening a studio in a mall wasn't going to bring in enough customers to survive.”
Her solution? Make iSmile shoppers’ go-to place for repeat photographic orders—the place that goes beyond the portrait greeting card and makes it easy to buy canvases, mugs, mouse pads, shirts and, yes, all the holiday paraphernalia, too. “We always offer the full line of novelty and card products and keep our prices as competitive as possible,” McCauley adds. “So customers are not lured away by less expensive online card sites where they have to use their own images.”
Moving beyond the mall
In addition to generating repeat business, McCauley’s business model rests on two other pillars: anytime/anywhere customer access to galleries and service that goes beyond that of the typical mall-based studio. “We [take full] advantage of portrait opportunities during all the holidays throughout the year. We began a grassroots community outreach program, offering to photograph all kinds of different events, just to get our name out. SmugMug allows us to sell those prints at a very reasonable cost, and we apply a print mark to each image to build our brand. We also have a baby program that [turns] new parents into lifelong customers.”
McCauley remains vigilant about staying “ten steps ahead” of her mall competition. Among other innovations, she launched a boutique branch of iSmile that goes on-location, so customers can get “gorgeous natural-light portraiture” as well as studio shots, and an in-schools program serving rural communities.
McCauley’s ace in the hole? Offering evergreen access to customers’ photo archive, anytime, anyplace. “We literally couldn't survive without SmugMug. SmugMug makes it easy and affordable for us to [offer anytime access] and our customers love it.” The anytime/anyplace model is what makes the first pillar—generating repeat business by essentially selling the same images again and again—possible.
Making card design fun
McCauley doesn’t just promote card-making—she positions it as a fun pastime. “Last year, to encourage customers to make and order their cards online, I made a really simple how-to video and uploaded it to Facebook and YouTube,” she says. “They could see the entire process in about 60 seconds.”
iSmile has made it a point to know its customers’ habits inside and out. “We keep our card mark-up reasonable to encourage customers to poke around in their galleries—it often results in additional print orders on top of the cards,” she points out, noting that she moves many 5x7 and 4x8 flat and folded styles locally, but relies on SmugMug’s broader range to generate additional sales.
McCauley is also attentive to her clients’ shopping preferences. “Many customers prefer to go home and view their session online, since they may have kids or pets that are getting restless after their sitting. We upload our edited images immediately, so they are ready to view before the customer has even returned home.” Spreading the word about enhancements like SmugMug’s latest card designs is a good way to keep customers coming back for more.
No kidding—one sitting
SmugMug’s “forever” gallery archiving allows McCauley to maximize resale opportunities following a sitting. “We don't give customers a time limit in which they can view or order their pictures,” she says. “This really helps when it comes time to make Christmas cards. Most of the time, the card design is ‘Christmassy’ enough and our customers can get away with using a portrait they had done sometime earlier in the year.” iSmile leverages the original portrait yet again during her annual January reprint sale, which she promotes with SmugMug coupon codes, Facebook and email blasts.
SmugMug tips ‘n tricks
Once the revenue was streaming, McCauley focused on maximizing the SmugMug features that deliver the most ROI. From proof delay and customization to social media marketing and price lists, iSmile evolves its practices to take advantage of new features. “Our customers' efforts to crop sometimes fall short. We proof delay every gallery for two days to give me time to personally review each order, making sure every image is cropped perfectly for whatever size print our customer chose,” she says. “It's an amazing way to keep watch on quality control.”
McCauley pays equally close attention to her price lists and offerings. Some features, like digital file sales, have proved to have additional marketing benefits beyond the sale itself. “We love this [feature],” McCauley says, explaining that, on a tip from SmugMug Support Hero, iSmile began speculatively photographing events and selling the print-marked images at a low cost online. “People are now paying us to put the iSmile name in front of them,” she grins. “It’s awesome.”
It’s tips like that that have led to a long-term partnership. “iSmile would not exist today without SmugMug,” McCauley says. “In this world of very tough competition, SmugMug gives us an economical way to add tremendous value to our customers through the use of galleries. Our customers' out-of-town families can see baby pictures the same day they're taken, and order as many prints as they want online. SmugMug is a household name for an iSmile family, and we couldn't be more grateful we have them for a partner.”
Opening iSmile just three months after her husband planted the idea in her head.
Developing diverse revenue streams, including on-location shooting, an in-schools arm and digital print sales.
Favorite Features… Ease of use
• Ability to price galleries differently