Previously published in Success Magazine by H&H Color Lab, 2018
An interview with Jason and Rebecca Weaver, Mac Brown Photographers
Mac Brown Photographers have been customers of H&H since 2004 – sixteen years!
As H&H celebrates it’s 50th year in business, we wanted to repost this article from the archives of our 2018 Success Magazine, featuring Mac Brown Photographers as they celebrated 50 years in business in 2018. Like H&H, Mac Brown Photographers is a multi-generational, family-owned company. Still going strong, their 50+ years in business is quite a success story! We know you will enjoy reading this article, which features just a little bit of their journey and what it takes for success through five decades in business!
When did you first realize you wanted to get into the photography business with your family?
Rebecca Weaver: I had been in the photography business with my father since I was about 8 years old. When I was a junior in high school, I became interested in pursuing marketing for a career. That same year, I went to Imaging USA with my father. Someone at the show said I could make my dad a lot more money with photography if I learned Photoshop. So we got a student copy of Photoshop and I started learning how to use it. I started getting more and more involved with the business. I knew I wanted to major in marketing, and so it just made sense. My father was working as a high school counselor full time at that point, doing the photography on the side. When I graduated from high school, he was going to work at a college as a full-time counselor. At that point, however, he decided to start the business full-time. Then my mom came into the business. My mom’s mom also does all of our bookkeeping. She is 91. Jason came on full-time in May—he was the CIO of a hospital previously. Mac Brown Photography has been in business now for 50 years!
Jason Weaver: I had been second shooting with Mac for a few years at weddings. In fact, I was the “flash on a stick” holder. In 2001, I received my very own 20d for Christmas. In February of 2002, Mac was sick, and I shot my first wedding without him. Since that time, photography has been my passion and I love it.
You have a two-generation business that has thrived. To what do you attribute your success?
RW: David Drum with H&H Color Lab has always said that multiple-generation businesses thrive. I agree. I think the important thing is that you have the primary foundation for the business from the previous generation. My dad keeps us grounded. We have been able to take that expertise and incorporate it into the digital world. Where my generation thinks of things in a different way than my parents, we have been able to combine ideas to reach multiple generations of clients.
JW: Changing with the Industry. Taking on industry challenges and never having the “same old same way” mentality.
What has been the primary focus of your business in the past, and is your focus changing looking forward?
RW: Daddy first started with weddings. Now I do children and babies, and Jason does the seniors and the sports. We do about three weddings a year. Having a child of our own, it is just not a good fit with our schedules to do weddings. We have switched over completely to portrait and studio work, plus the volume side.
JW: Senior and sports. These areas of our business is my passion and we are always changing and forward thinking.
How do you keep in touch with customers through the years to nurture repeat business?
RW: Our primary focus is Constant Contact. We have 10,000 people in that email database. We send out email newsletters about once a month about things going on in our personal lives and what’s going on in the business, along with any special promotions. Social media is also big. We do Facebook and Instagram.
JW: Social media is a must.
What are a couple of things that make you more successful than other studios?
RW: One thing is the relationships that we build with our clients and the fact that we focus on quality and a quick turnaround time.
JW: Not just taking awesome pictures, but creating an experience they will always cherish.
You excel in specialized portrait sessions. What role does your marketing play in creating demand for these sessions versus word of mouth and your products?
RW: Five or six years ago, we started the “big reveal.” We created hype and a marketing campaign around the idea of creating high demand for a scarce product. In January, we list our dates for the big reveal. We don’t say much else about it until June. Then we start reminding people about the date of the big reveal—usually toward the end of July.Then we do a countdown on social media. We create big hype around the idea of the big reveal.
The big reveal is a special portrait session with a limited number of slots available. I once had a customer call 45 times to try to get a slot for this promotion. This year, we sold eight of these mini sessions in the first three hours. People want what other people have. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. This year, we’re offering 12 of these special sets. Christmas is obviously a big part of our marketing for the year.
In marketing your studio, how do you create the boutique feeling and expectation of paying for that experience for your customers?
RW: It is not anything we really market, but because we have been in business so long, that is the reputation and experience we have. There is an expectation that customers will spend a thousand dollars—which can be a good thing and bad thing. Customers know going in what things are going to cost. Sometimes, however, it turns people away that decide they don’t want to spend that much.
Our sets are really elaborate—sometimes we have reindeer, and sometimes we have a special session fee. It just depends on what they want. One challenge is separating the two types of photography—volume work (schools and portraits) from the boutique type photography—and helping the customer understand the difference between the two.
JW: Creating the experience.
How do you ensure consistent experience and branding from initial contact through the session and follow-up appointments?
RW: We have recognizable packaging—that is Mac Brown packaging. It is a black box with a gold stamp. Our communication is consistent between what the customer hears from the assistant and what they hear from us. It’s from what they smell. We have a gardenia blower that we have set up all year long. We like keeping all the senses consistent. That is all part of our branding. We keep the logo consistent. With our senior marketing, however, we do adjust the branding a little bit each year, make it a little trendier. They like more fashionable, new-looking things, but our logo remains the same.
At what point do you discuss pricing with the customer?
RW: Most of the time when people call, they start asking questions about pricing. We discuss this up front. In our boutique studio, we do not provide digital files for printing purposes. We get asked about this a lot. We keep things very up front and honest. I understand that we can’t be everyone’s photographer. In the beginning, I thought we could. But we realized that that isn’t the case.
We email our clients ahead of time with pricing information and a price menu if it is requested. When they come in for the proof book, we give them more information about the pricing and the products that work best for the images. Ninety-five percent of the time, when I recommend a product, it is purchased. They make the selection of products when they have their image book in hand. I am really pushing for in-person sales. We currently just don’t have the staff to support full-time in-person sales.
JW: We are selling during the session, but price is not discussed. They see this during the sales meeting.
How do you nurture lifelong clients?
RW: You just treat them like family. Lifelong clients are family. Kids refuse to let other people take their pictures. I see them at sporting events, ballet, at school. So having that relationship makes them want to keep coming back to us.
How important is your relationship with your lab?
RW: It is huge. There is no way that we could be as successful as we are without the lab. Our customers demand high-end products. They demand something new and different each year. I collaborate with the lab to create special products that I know my customers will love.
JW: It’s by far the most important part of the post-experience. H&H is part of our family, and without them, we would not be able to change as our industry changes.
How do you strike a balance between life and work?
RW: You just have to learn. I am a control freak. I had to learn to be a better delegator and keep the marquee off my back. Being able to delegate has been huge. Now that my daughter is in preschool, I am usually at the studio around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. When it hits 5 or 5:30, we try to close up for the day and go home.
How do you define success?
RW: I think success is being able to wake up every morning looking forward to what you are doing that day. That is a successful career and a successful life.
JW: Living each day to its fullest with a positive outlook no matter what is thrown your way. Maintaining a balance in all areas of your life, and always having time and resources to pursue what you are passionate about. At each session, I think how blessed and awesome this career is. This could be the last time this family is together or the last image taken of this person. Give them something they will cherish—not just a picture.
About the Author: Mac Brown Photographers
Rebecca Brown-Weaver began her career sitting on the dark room counter while her Daddy, Mac Brown processed film. From there she began to work special events, weddings and sessions during her school years. After graduating from the University of North Alabama with a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a concentration in Marketing in 2003, she became full time at the studio, specializing in newborn, children and family photography. She received her Masters in San Antonio making her the second generation to achieve this milestone.
Jason Weaver began his career at Mac Brown Photographers in the studio’s IT department and has steadily progressed to a senior, sports and family photographer at the studio. He received his Craftsman degree in San Antonio and was the SYNC 2015 Photographer of the Year.