“What are the prices?” The Subject demands as he sits down to look at the proofs.
“We’ll get to that in just a couple of minutes.” I say and smile. “First I need to know what you want.”
“I can’t tell you what I want unless I know the price.”
Being a Passer is just as annoying and challenging as I thought it would be. After years of sitting by and watching others do the selling, and seeing the rage they feel after a Subject has wasted a good half hour picking favorites, deciding on sizes and finishes, and then balking at the price and hopping up and running for the door, I still tend to think that the system might need a little tweaking here and there.
Like all Photographers, I tend to think that my work should sell itself-I take good portraits and you should want one when you see it. But such is not the case, as I have come to realize over the past few years. I seldom take portraits that are worthy of being in The National Gallery, but I do take a certain amount of pride in them. Surprisingly, it doesn’t help any when the Nonbuyer tells me how much they love the pictures, but they don’t have any money.
No One EVER has any money-unless they decide they want something. And this is where the witchcraft of selling comes into play. Just as the Mystery Method can talk a cute young thing out of her knickers, a good salesman can get a Prospect to buy just about anything. I am not yet a good salesman. The fact of the matter is that I may never be a great at Passing, but sometimes my images are good enough to overcome my piss-poor skills at getting people to create a Wishlist of portraits they would like to own.
I’ve always thought that being totally honest would be the way to go. The 8x10s are $25, you want ten, and they cost $250. Nice and simple. But it never works that way at an Assembly Line Portrait Company. Maybe the First 8×10 is $25, or $35, or maybe $75-but the other nine, well, that number changes radically depending on the Finish, The Retouch, and where The Company decided to put the Discount Point. The result is a pricing scheme that is hidden away in the guts of a computer program-where the finial cost has a lotto like quality of randomness, where adding or removing a portrait can have little or no effect-or even raise the price a few dollars. Most Passers use this to their advantage, it’s another selling tool. I’m still kind of struggling with the whole thing.
A few years back there was a car company called Saturn-they were a One Price car. There was no haggling over the cost, though there was some wiggle room on the trade in and the service warranty. The idea, again, was simple:An Honest Car Dealership where you don’t have to ask for the Best Price, because it’s on the car already. They went out of business a couple of years ago-and car dealerships have continued to haggled over the down payment, the price for the trade in, and how much the monthly payment will be. Oddly, everyone seems pretty happy with this arrangement.
And so it goes with Passing Proofs. There’s a push and pull, an offer and counter offer, and most of the time the Deal goes through and we are both happy. Other times, well, not so much. But it’s a situation where we only have to put up with each other for fifteen or twenty minutes-if they really, really don’t want anything-a lot less than fifteen minutes. During this time what determines success or failure is how well the Passer controls the Subject. The key is to steer them toward the decision we want them to make-buying a bunch of portraits. We do this by asking questions, making suggestions, and recommending our highest quality-most expensive-products.
Like the Old Pros I have known, I can lose my patience with someone who wants twenty-five 8x10s and then balks at the price. Really? What exactly where you expecting the price to be? The price range on 25 8X10s is about $500 to about $3000-depending on finish, framing, and retouching options. That’s a pretty wide gap-and it’s a pretty wide gap on ALL the prices for anything from one 5×7 to a wall grouping with a 20×24 and four 11x14s. So no, I really can’t tell you how much it will cost.
How much? is a question I can relate to. I’m a cheap bastard myself and trying to get people to fork over a thousand dollars for a portrait collection is a not coming easy to me. But I have had a couple of good sales and I have sold a few 16x20s. But again, I tend to feel that it was more of an order taker situation than my great Passer’s skills that got the order. I’m still struggling with control issues and people who demand to know the price or which one is going in the Book before I reach that point of my presentation.
I’m also not quite as outgoing as most of the successful Passers I have known. I’m not big on shaking hands and complementing everyone on what great colors they are wearing. For me, all of that feels fake and comes across fake. The Portraits I can talk about, I know portraits. Dale Carnegie I’m not.
My other major problem is dealing with the long ass hours. I’m driving three hours a day round trip to and from work, because this particular Assembly Line Portrait Company doesn’t pay for a motel until its 75 miles away. It’s only fifteen miles more than more places, but it makes a big difference to me. It also makes a big difference to my Subjects, the last two or three or five of which get the zombized me stumbling through the photography and the sales presentation with my eyes drooping and my attention wandering. It makes doing the nightly paperwork all but impossible-as I can’t think straight at all by the time I get to that point.
But ALL Assembly Line Portrait Companies do that-have you work long hours, do paperwork when you are dead tired, have you driving around looking for a motel in the middle of the night after shooting all day-and so on and so forth.
It’s not that bad, for the most part. I do this work of my own free will and can always leave if the going gets too tough or the paychecks get too small. I met one of my fellow Old Timers a couple of weeks ago-he was not a happy camper and he has since quit. One of the great problems with working for fifteen Companies is that you tend fall into the habit of wishing that This Company had That Companies benefits or That Other Company’s Pay Scale or Yet Another Company’s Per Diem. This line of thinking, were all the best parts of each failed Company raises it’s glorious head, leads to a great deal of dissatisfaction with the reality of The Current Company you happen to be working for. That’s not the way we did it at Buy More-Pay Less Portraits! Uh, yeah, so what?
All of us Old Timers also have a pretty high opinion of ourselves and our portraits. Those of us with Management experience expect to be put into Management again. Trainers expect to keep training. We want regular pay plus Bonuses. In short, we lean toward the Prima Donna side and can easily talk ourselves into believing we are being ill-used and our true talents are being left to go fallow. I have few such believes any more myself. I just want to make a good living and travel the country-and Assembly Line Portraits have been my ticket to that end.
If this means I now have to learn the finer points of customer control, so be it. This will be an ongoing issue. I’m not as good at bullying people as you might think.