I know, it’s a funny play on words isn’t it? But if you’re from Canada that’s the truth of it. Seniors up here have grey hair, dentures, plastic hips and use Ben Gay as perfume.
For years I had travelled to the United States and listened to speaker after speaker talk about their “Senior” markets, images and clients. It was such a lucrative market that some photographers were strictly senior photographers. Then I would go home only to hear negativity and a “can’t do” attitude up here from my colleagues who would complain that it won’t work here, that we don’t have a senior market here. Half right I thought. Some had even claimed to have already tried it with no success. It was creating a product that no one wanted. Canada is a traditional place, we don’t like change I would hear. “People just want cap and gown graduation portraits here”, would be the standard voice.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, it seemed ridiculous to me that something so exciting and that a product that was so relevant not working here. I mean we all watch the same television shows and read the same magazines and watch the same movies. How different are we??
So I first tested the waters by offering a black and white portrait with every grad session we did, and found that the simplicity of the look, the uniqueness of black and white (which was unique ten years ago in my area) was a great seller. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know the kids better and enhance their experience here.
“Hmmm… I am on to something,” I thought.
That winter I heard Michael Redford talk about his Ambassador program and I decided to go for this all the way.
That summer I acquired 2 to 3 graduates of the surrounding 6 high schools and photographed them with a new spirit, and a new fervor, as I ventured outside my studio and used graffiti walls, junk yards and abandoned areas and buildings as backdrops. It was exhilarating to move away from the stuffiness that was seen in high school portraiture to this high fashion look. I made 18 Art Leather 8×10 albums – archaic I know! – but that was the style then, and distributed them to the “Ambassadors” that year. For their part, all I asked was for them to show their albums to their friends.
The response was incredible. I was booking 70 sessions/sales sessions a week. I went from $7000 a year in sales to $180,000. This wasn’t counting the rest of my business of weddings and families, which all benefited from spin-off business. Within a few years we were grossing almost $600,000. The impact of being successful in this area was crazy. The Nova Scotia Provincial Government featured my studio as a part of their campaign about Nova Scotians who came to life – we had vignettes filmed and they aired on prime time television and in movie theaters all over the country. I made the front cover of RANGEFINDER and got involved with the most exciting hip group of photographers in the world with Seniors Ignite. This group is at the forefront of the business and the trendsetters of the industry.
I succeeded where others failed because I believed in the idea of change. There are many photographers who do what I do now, and it isn’t unique to me anymore. So we are changing things again with RATCHFORD NEXT TOP MODEL, a modeling contest where the winner gets a real sit with a Canadian modeling agency and also travels to exotic locations with Seniors Ignite! We had our first one last year and did it as a runway fashion show type. It was a success, but next thing you know competitors are following. Hmmmmm what’s next?
How about bringing in a celebrity to host it? We are currently working with the local government and businesses to sponsor such an event. The price tag? $40,000 plus, but with sponsors and governments you would be surprised that all of this can be paid for – it just takes work – but wow, think of the participants and the impact on your community!
I truly love the kids I meet, and stay involved with their lives beyond high school. I’ve been asked to be Godfather of their kids and asked to toast their weddings. That is validation!
See more of John’s work here.