As Pounds celebrates our 35th year providing quality products and dedicated customer service, we thought we’d give you a little insight into our own Chris Oelker and a sneak peak at what’s coming up!
Chris hails from Minnesota so of course he’ s a big hockey fan. Although he’d rather figure out how a book is assembled and bound than relax and read it, he’s been known to kick back at the beach with his family and is seriously devoted to the television series Burn Notice. He’s been with the Pounds team for 15 years. When we asked him what his “official” title was, he replied with his usual dry and witty demeanor, “That depends on which day it is and who is looking for me!” Chris oversees product development and marketing, so this week he’s going with the title Director of Product Solutions & Integration.
POUNDS What do you enjoy most about working at Pounds?
CHRIS The dedication of our team and the pride they take in their work to make Pounds successful. Contributing to that is what really keeps me going. We have a great team here and that always makes for a better day. Every day brings different challenges and opportunities in a photo lab, it keeps you on your toes!
POUNDS How do you think Pounds differs from other labs?
CHRIS We offer a competitive portfolio of quality products and our customer service is top notch. We aren’t a monster lab and we aren’t small either. I like to think we’re “just right” and the photographers who partner with us know what I mean. Pounds Labs is More Than A Print! We’re celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pounds Labs this year. Many of us have been around here for a while and we’re very much like a big family. There is a sense that we are personally vested in our business and we treat our customers like they are family. When they are successful, then we experience success. It’s a true partnership that is cultivated at Pounds.
POUNDS Photography is an ever-changing industry so what does Pounds do to stay on the cutting edge?
CHRIS Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times! We keep our eye on the technology and cultural trends and listen to what our customers want and need. Besides doing our own research, our vendors do a great job of providing us with guidance and supplying us with the tools and materials needed to provide innovative hot products.
POUNDS Have you seen the client base change over the years?
CHRIS Ten years ago in a film-dominated industry, our customer base was primarily regional. Now our base and potential customers exist wherever there is an Internet connection. With the onset of digital photography, there are a lot more players in the game. The accessibility of digital equipment has saturated the wedding and studio portrait market with photographers. We’ve gone from a traditionally male dominated market to 67% female base. Our customers in the 18-45-age range make up 65% of our customers.
POUNDS What is new in product development and how do you try to figure out the “next cool thing”?
CHRIS When it comes to developing new products, ultimately the photographer’s client is our target. It’s very important to listen to our photographers because they are on the front lines and know what is and isn’t going to sell. We have to offer them products that they can sell and that will appeal to their clients. Sometimes they’re trendy and sometimes they’re very traditional. We also offer products that help photographers market their business and that can be used as selling tools. We generally look at what we’re currently providing and determine a few things that we can enhance then we put those on the project list. However, most new products arise from customer and team member suggestions. Influences from other industries, media and technology all play a role. I’ve even been known to think of a few on my long car rides between Austin and Dallas each week! Often we’ll look at what we have on hand and twist and tweak it until we find we have something unique and desirable. W avy Metal is a good example of that. No one offers Wavy Metal except Pounds right now.
POUNDS There is a strong component of education at Pounds. Tell me how that developed and where you hope to see it go in the future.
CHRIS The big push for offering education stemmed from the need to educate customers about digital shooting. Years ago, when customers first started sending us digital files, some of the output wasn’t looking too good. At first we thought we were having internal equipment problems, some prints looked great and some looked horrendous. We quickly realized that it was some of the new digital photographers who needed a little help. Image sensors do not at all have the latitude of the two stops of forgiveness built into Kodak Portra film. Around 2003-2004 it seemed like we were holding workshops three or four times a week that basically covered how to custom white balance digital cameras, explained color space, and recommended image file sizes and naming conventions. Those classes eventually evolved into more technical concepts and studio workflow. As more people jumped into the digital photography business, there was a need for some business management instruction. Now we support workshops that focus on photography, studio workflow, business management and marketing. We also have online go-to-meeting sessions just about every day to help our customers become familiar with various products and processes offered at Pounds. We plan to do more to take advantage of easily accessible social media outlets like YouTube and post short instructional and informational videos.
POUNDS Customer communication is another important feature at Pounds. Pounds stays in touch with customers via email, newsletter, social media. Do you think Pounds has been a leader in this area and where do you see customer communication going in the future ?
CHRIS Getting the word out about Pounds’ great products and services is an important part of our business. Our strategy is to go where the customers are. We do that pretty well and are very conscientious about not spamming our customers with pontifications. We want to engage photographers and provide relevant and timely information. Using Facebook and Twitter allows us to get information out there quickly for the people that follow us. So of course, people need to follow us! Our emails and newsletters are specifically geared toward our customers for our “big “announcements and promotions. The Tip of the Week in PROS and Snap targets our customers as 90% of incoming orders come through these two software-ordering options. We’ll be pursuing more video that is easily accessed on mobile devices and of course we cannot rule out telepathy as the next big customer communications movement!
POUNDS Customer service is another strong component of the Pounds structure. Are there any new features in this area we can look forward to?
CHRIS Our customer service team knocks it out of the park every day. Darren, Erin, Vicky, Jim, Cheryl and Georgina, they rock! We really concentrate on keeping a personal touch in customer service. Call us if you ever have a question about our products or need a little guidance using our programs. Of course we can be reached via email and will respond just as quickly. Our service centers in the Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin labs are great resources for a little extra training and you can always get your hands on physical product if you are out and about and want to visit with one of our friendly reps. If you contact us on Facebook or Twitter, we’ll get you in touch with the best people to help you.
POUNDS What can you reveal about plans/products you are working on for the future?
CHRIS We have some imaged fine leather accessory products that are just about to launch and we’ll be coming out with some new ChromaLuxe™ metal options that are imaged metal panels floated on larger imaged metal panels in an assortment of composited positions. We’re also at work on improvements for our undergraduate school ordering, additional ordering user interfaces and some new press product options. Of course there is always something on the drawing board so keep an eye on your inbox, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and you’ll be the first to know!