The Death of Another Cookie Cutter Photo Studio

The Death of Another Cookie Cutter Photo Studio

Just a few weeks after Olan Mills threatened to shut their doors, both Sears Portrait Studio, and Walmart brand PictureMe Portrait have announced that they're closing their doors permanently. Both stating that because of the digital age and smartphone photography, they're no longer able to maintain profits in the industry.

Reports from the St Louis Dispatch show that CPI Corp., which operates both the Sears and Walmart studios is shutting down after defaulting on its lenders. Sears Portrait Studio and the PictureMe Portrait Studio have posted the following statements on their website --

“After many years of providing family portrait photography, we are sad to announce our Sears Portrait Studios [PictureMe Portrait Studios] are now closed. We appreciate your patronage and allowing us to capture your precious memories. If you currently have an album or have had a recent portrait session, you can order products at [] thru April 18, 2013.”

So does this bode concern for the typical professional photographer, or is it just another case of competition failing for not adjusting to modern technologies?


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If you can't adapt to the current trends or create your own trends, you probably won't be in business long.

Kim Lee Zeung's picture

Adapt or die. That was the war cry since 2001! Kodak learned that the hard way also. . .

Spy Black's picture

Yes, but adapt to what? We are in the age of Corporate Imperialism, where corporations call the shots and decide what you're worth, what your work is worth, and what they're going to pay you. If you don't like it, there's plenty of people in places like India, Vietnam, China, and the Eastern block countries that will do it for pennies a month.

Somewhere in not too distant future, every professional photographer will be "teaching" photography howtos, workshops, how-to-become-a-pro-photographer classes, selling ebooks, and running affiliate sites disguised as photography sites. :)

The closings have nothing to do with failure to adapt. These studios didn't exist to make a profit, they were simply a way to get people to come into the store and think, "Since I'm here I might as well look around." The last time I looked at a PictureMe store display, they were barely selling portraits above cost. It was something like 10 sheets for $5.00 with no sitting fee. Nobody can do the kind of volume necessary to turn a profit at that price.

While that may be the reason the store allowed the studios to operate out of them, CPI is a separate company who is (was) out to make a profit. Yes they advertise $5.00 packages, but they expected their employees to up sell that to something closer to $100. Obviously this is ridiculous and happens rarely, thus they are closing their doors.

It doesn't happen rarely... I work for a Wal-Mart portrait studio and it can happened at every session if I do my job the way I should be... the company is closing their American stores... Canadian stores remain profitable and will continue to serve customers

I managed a Canadian location for almost 10 years, and yes, $100 is more than possible at each and every session. I think many factors contributed to the failure of this specific company, too many to list. My heart goes out to all the staff that are now left without employment :(

SCREW THE STAFF! If you collectively do bad business (which includes dropping your prices and under-performing) you deserve to be gone!

How about having a little respect for the thousands of people now out of work? The staff don't set the prices or the business practices of the company. I'll admit that there were a lot of bad staff, but there were a lot of good ones too. And good or bad, they all had to work for a company that didn't support them, didn't provide adequate training, paid poorly, constantly changed things, had unrealistic expectations, had poor hours, and constantly treated the staff like they were a necessary evil. Even the best staff member with the best work ethic is unable to perform to their utmost ability under those circumstances.

How about having self respect and not working for a person or company that treats you like garbage? How about being a photographer if you're applying for a photography job and then you won't need training? How about getting another job instead of putting up with all that you said for years? Finally, how about survival of the fittest?

I'm going to be the devil's advocate and say that most people getting a job at one of these 'studios' aren't actually trying to become a professional photographer but rather just looking for gainful employment. Does every person flipping burgers at McDonalds have aspiration of owning their own restaurant or becoming a chef at a real restaurant? I don't think so...

I'm guessing you've had a poor portrait studio experience. That's a shame, some of them were really great!

I think my previous comment may have been a little harsh in retrospect. My thoughts were that these companies established a policy of under-whelming performance by advertising CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP. Then they hired and poorly trained their staff and treated them poorly. So I see your point that it was the companies that established the poor policy and the employees were simply following their lead. Sadly, none of it is helpful as these people weren't really in it for a career, just a fast buck! Me personally, I know many truly great artists and even non-artisan photographers that have a true passion for their work and hopefully, now, they will get the business increase and recognition they deserve.

The only way it can be done "every" time is by being borderline dishonest with customers. I found that when I did get customers to make that leap, they often didn't come back, because they realized that the advertised prices weren't honest or because they didn't like being pushed and pressured. If they did come back, they usually under bought, because they felt they had to make up for spending so much that first time.

When I did my job "the way I should" (aka, with the photography and sales techniques that the big wigs, who probably haven't set foot in a studio in 20 years if at all, said I should do it) my sales and customer service scores were mediocre at best. When I threw out the rule book and did things my way (photographed more creatively and didn't pressure customers into breaking their bank) my sales and customer service scores did soared.

I also think location has a lot to do with it. My studio was notorious for having a picky clientele. Which is another reason CPI failed. It refused to break the cookie cutter mold and customize to different markets.