“Why are these pictures so expensive?” The outraged Subject says after she is told the price of two 5x7s. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Well.” The Passer says in his calm, monotone selling voice. “We are giving the Church a free directory and we also have to pay for our traveling expenses to come out here and take your portraits.”
I’ve been around the Passing Table off and on, but I have never been a big fan of the whole selling part. But the times they are a changing, so I need to pay a bit more attention to the Pass. Being the mega-nerd that I am, I’m reading books and watching workshops on how to sell. Of course, the modern world of selling is a little different from the old hard sell of Assembly Line Portraits.
My favorite war stories about the Pass come from the Golden Age of selling pre-printed packages. In those halcyon days of yore, you would go in to have a portrait taken and two or three weeks later you would come back to view actually paper portraits. Since the Photographer never saw these images, there were often one or two that had the eyes closed, or kids moving, or some other problem with the image. This would leave the Passer with fewer images to sell than they would like. Some Photographers also liked dropping poses when it got busy. This could turn a $129 package into a $39 and that wasn’t good for anyone.
Of course, having real photographs for sale meant that the Passer was free to be a little creative in his or her sales techniques. It was a pretty common practice to tear a photograph in half when a Subject said they didn’t want the picture. This would encourage them to buy the next picture before it also went into the shredder. I heard stories about a few Passers who used small clotheslines that they would hang the photos from. If the Subject said ‘No’ they would dramatically light a match and set the portrait in question on fire. Ah, those were the good old days.
Also in those glory days it was great to be a Passer. The Company would send you a couple of hundred portrait packages and you tried to sell them. The ones that weren’t bought were to be taken out back and tossed in the dumpster. But there was no one from the Company there to watch you toss them out. Hmm, maybe if you called all those Nonbuyers and offered the $129 package for, oh say, $20 they might be more willing to buy them. So after the official sales were over, some Passers found they could make an extra couple of thousand dollars a week during the busy season. Not too bad when you consider that the big earners in those days were raking in a whooping $30,000 a year. This was not a practice sanctioned by The Company and they tended to fire anyone they actually caught.
At the Photography Table, I also had a range of junk for sale. Lockets, Key chains, small frames, and the Company Club Program. The commission on these sales was pretty small, but I found a way around that. I just asked for a bag of key chains every time I saw my Manager. She was happy to get rid of them, as no one else liked selling them and The Company kept sending them to her by the hundreds. So I sold the key chains and kept the money. At $5 for three photo key chains I was making an extra $20 dollars or so a day. Since I was often being paid about $50 a day, this money came in handy and I was a motivated seller.
Over the years I have been a Passer once or twice. Selling is HARD. As an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer I was trained to move people through the Photography session quickly and easily. I learned to bully people into sitting still while I took the required five shots and I still have to stop people from hopping up and running off today. This drill sergeant mentality doesn’t really translate well to the Pass Table. Most Assembly Line Portrait Photographers have a very basic sales technique-So, do you want anything?
The best Passers I have worked with are either women or gay men. They are all extroverts and laugh out loud at just about anything. They use a lot of hand gestures, they smile a lot, and they look you in the eye when they tell you how good you did in the camera room. They are often over the top, but can switch gears when they need to-they can be calm and quiet if that is what it takes to get the sale. My general persona is a little more laid back and I have never found it easy to channel Richard Simmons.
Passers are seriously focused people who use everything a Subject says to get them to buy portraits. What appear to be random questions to me, are questions that will help the Passer pin the Subject into a corner and trap them in a logic loop. Of course, that’s not how they would put it. The Passer would say something more along the lines of: I ask questons to better determine the Buyer’s needs and help them get exactly what they want at the best possible price.
Photographers tend to veiw selling in a negative way and this can make the process of selling difficult for us. We are perfectly happy to reap the benifits of a Passer who can get blood out of a turnip, but we are not so interested in doing the squeezing ourselves.