Richard Leach, MD at the Huddersfield-based business, describes the move as ‘mission critical’ in the wake of plummeting revenue in the social photography department at Leach Colour.
He said: “It’s no secret that social labs in the UK are reaching a ‘tipping point’ and we all have to respond to the relentless downward pressure on margins by revisiting our commercial strategy. Some labs have already gone out of business. Others are desperately downsizing staff and premises. Part of our own survival strategy is to launch a new portrait studio in Wilmslow in a bid to drive more volume through our social lab division.”
He added: “We hope that by doing this we can both protect our dedicated and highly professional staff and continue to offer our photographer customers nationwide the quality of service they expect from Leach Colour.”
Leach Colour is no stranger to the capture industry. The business was originally launched as a portrait studio in 1891 and it has owned and run both commercial and social studios for over 80 years of its 116 year history – selling off the last commercial studio as recently as 1999.
Explained Leach: “Capture and output, the key elements of photography are embedded in our commercial genes. Throughout our history we have operated at the cutting edge of the industry and from the start of the digital revolution we have done everything in our power to ease the sometimes painful transition for our photographer customers – but now we are just managing decline in this side of our business."
"Since we moved to our 30,000 sq ft purpose-built HQ at Bradley Business Park in 2005 our wide format graphics business has more than doubled its turnover but on the social side the loss of tens of thousands of rolls of film processing business and the associated proofing business, has really hurt. The average photographer lab spend of £20,000 just a few years ago has slumped now to around £4,000. That is not a sustainable position and we have to change that paradigm quickly.”
Leach has written to customers to explain the board’s decision and to underline the company’s ongoing total commitment to the sector.
He said: “Despite all these pressures on our social lab margins we will not compromise on our high quality output or our world-class professional team of technicians. The market is moving against social labs in terms of loss of film and in increasing numbers of photographers deciding to print in-house. We’ve looked at various options but the only convincing solution is for us to get back into capture, use it as a channel for many of our products and to continue to service our professional photographer customers.”
Leach said that the new studio was not being set up to either compete with any of its own customers or to compete with the Venture organisation.
“We believe portrait photography is a discretionary spend situation. We don’t see ourselves as competing with other photographers; we’ll be competing with domestic decisions to either buy portraiture or a new television or DVD recorder.
We are certainly not trying to build Venture-style empire but we will have a laser beam focus on our ambition to entice customers into the portrait market that otherwise might not go there.”
Award-winning Edinburgh-based portrait and wedding photographer Trevor Yerbury said: “There is no doubt that the demise of film has seriously affected stability at social labs across the UK. Leach Colour has a reputation for being one of the most advanced labs in Europe and is clearly committed to a strategy aimed at providing its customers with ongoing high quality service.”