Woodard Photographic, based in Bellevue, Ohio with seven locations in north-central Ohio, is a senior high school portrait powerhouse that began in George and Karen Woodard’s basement in 1965. Now co-owned and operated by their son, Marc, and an outside family member, Roger Wilburn, Woodard Photographic has maintained its primary focus – high-end senior portraits – while steadily growing its business to encompass much of the region surrounding northeast Ohio.
Woodard Photographic is an extremely savvy business-minded company that hasn’t lost sight of the art of photography in the process. The company quickly branched out from its Bellevue roots, touring high schools in north central Ohio and into Michigan in a mobile studio.
The mobile studio became the basis for the addition of one location after another. Woodard Photographic’s Ohio locations now include the company headquarters in Bellevue and another location in town, along with locations in Akron, Brunswick, Columbus, Perrysburg and Westlake.
“In 1990 we opened our first branch office and have since done away with our mobile studios and gone to seven locations across Ohio whereby we provide a high-quality, on-location look. We provide mainly senior photography and the rest of what we do draws from that work in the schools and the community,” says Marc Woodard. “We are vertically integrated; we’re one of the few large scale photographers that maintain their own lab.”
Woodard Photographic’s lab is now 100 percent digital. The company began integrating digital technology in 2000, converted all the studios over to digital in 2001 and added large-format inkjet production about five years ago. All of Woodard Photographic’s printing is centralized at the Bellevue headquarters. “We pride ourselves on the quality of our photography and we centralize to maintain that quality and convenience for our clients. We have drivers that go to our locations with supply drop-offs and to pick up work, and orders are direct-shipped to our clients,” says Woodard.
When Woodard Photographic first added large-format inkjet printing, the company used it mainly to print posters and other promotional displays. “It was basically a support printer,” says Woodard.
“Now we print posters, banners, table runners, wall murals and borders. This past summer we took a real hard look and decided to integrate re-sellable product lines to our mix as well. From a sublimation standpoint, we’re printing license plates and dog tags, plastic license plate frames, can cozies, yard signs and other promotional add-ons. We have so many different products going it’s not even funny, but it opens up whole new avenues of printing. We’re geared toward doing intricate design work, mass producing it and adding personalization to the image,” adds Woodard.
The challenge in the Facebook age is to maintain the connection with the client and provide products that evoke the original emotion of the photo session. “We’re trying to create an in-studio experience that they can’t produce on their own at home. As we embrace inkjet it opens up a whole new level of product line. You can now offer a high-end leather coffee table book or wall murals and borders. You have to think differently and be smart enough to do it to make money as a professional. You have to give a reason for the client to come in, and that comes down to experience and emotion,” explains Woodard.
The addition of a Canon iPF8300 in July and another one from LexJet in October helped Woodard Photographic begin to fulfill that goal of providing unique large-format products to its client base. Woodard is especially impressed by Photo Tex, a repositionable adhesive fabric that can be re-used.
“A lot of our ideas have come through talking to LexJet, watching the videos and reading the blog, and Photo Tex is the coolest thing I’ve seen in awhile. Because of our large client base we don’t put any product out there until it’s fully tested, so I printed a 16×20 sample of Photo Tex, cut it in half, put half in my office and the other half on a westerly facing side of our building on brown metal where the sun would bake it in the summer,” says Woodard. “I put it up on July 8 and brought it back inside after eight weeks or so and held it up against the print we kept indoors there was maybe a 10 percent change in the quality in terms of fading. Then I scrunched it into a ball, pulled it back apart, applied it to the wall and smoothed it out, and you couldn’t see any wrinkling. This is what excites me. We ended up creating some wallpaper products for our schools where we can affordably print self-adhered wallpaper for doorways, school spirit banners for seniors and created a whole new market for us. It has less to do with our photography and more our connection with satisfying our clients’ needs, the schools we service. This allows us to sell some other cool things to them.”
Ultimately, says Woodard, it’s about creating differentiators as the photography market continues to evolve. As digital was the big wave earlier in the century, inkjet has the same potential, coupled with advancements in social media and all the doo-dads – iPads and whatnot – that go along with them.
“The big thing our industry has to deal with is creating value for the client so they want to own our printed products. The Jake and Emilies, as we call them, are sophisticated and increasingly dependent on electronic images on their phone and not necessarily interested in prints,” says Woodard. “So how do we make money as an industry if they’re simply putting their electronic images in their phones and we’re not getting paid for printed images? It’s a struggle, but it’s also an opportunity for those who have a vision of what’s possible. I really think it’s an exciting time in the industry as the transformation takes place. We went through a huge transformation with digital and we’re going through a similar one now.”