What if you could turn your passion for youth sports photography into a thriving business? Join Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society for an enlightening conversation with Haim Ariav, founder and CEO of Glossy Finish and co-founder of GFcrew, as he shares his journey from fashion photographer to youth sports photography mogul. Discover how Ariav's innovative approach to providing photography as a service, rather than a product, has set him apart in a competitive market and allowed him to work with some of the largest youth sports events in the country.
In this episode, we dive into Ariav's fascinating story, from his start in multimedia to the creation of his mobile photo lab and the lessons learned from Lifetouch. We also explore GFcrew and GFcrew/Pro – two powerful platforms designed to help sports photographers grow their businesses. Learn how leveraging these platforms can help you get more clients, boost your profits, and benefit from the coaching and mentorship provided by the Glossy Finish team.
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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning
Welcome to the Dead Pixel Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, gary Peugeot. The Dead Pixel Society podcast is brought to you by MediaClip, Advertek Printing and IP. Labs.Gary Pageau:
Hello again and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau, and today we're joined by Haim Ariav, the founder and CEO of Glossy Finish and the co-founder of GF Crew. He's coming to us today from Jacksonville, Florida. Hi, Haim. How are you today?Haim Ariav:
Good to be with you.Gary Pageau:
So for the 12 people in our audience who don't know who you are in Glossy Finish, can you take us back 30 years when you got into this crazy business and bring us all up to the present day in about 30 seconds? Absolutely.Haim Ariav:
I was classically trained as a photographer, graduated from Brooks Institute.Gary Pageau:
RIP, rip Brooks.Haim Ariav:
Exactly. RIP Brooks. Exactly, it got killed by YouTube University. but I am proud to say that I did graduate Brooks when the Brooks family still owned it and got started in photography in New York City. My career started as a fashion beauty photographer. Then from there, I moved to Milan, Italy, for a couple of years to expand upon my portfolio in my career. Wow Came back to New York and this is circa the early 90s and realized that there was this thing called the internet that was starting. I said I need a piece of that. We started a multimedia company that did a lot of early, early work with. you know they called it Silicon Alley at the time, not Valley but Silicon. Alley, i remember that It was New York City Filled a successful new media company and sold it to a larger advertising agency, stayed on for a couple of years as their chief creative officer got totally bored and said I want to go in and start doing some more work, but photography is all I know. So I joined a group called A21, which bought Superstock. If you remember that company, superstock was one of the larger.Gary Pageau:
oodles of Superstock CDs back in the day.Haim Ariav:
Oh, yeah, absolutely So. I was based in Jacksonville, which is how I ended up here in Northeast Florida, went over to Superstock and kind of helped them digitize and start doing you know more Again now we're talking mid 2005, 2006 era stayed there for a couple of years And then I said you know what I got? these two young kids that are playing sports. I like photography, but nobody's really delivering photography, you know, at these events. So I started a company called Glossy Finish and Glossy Finish basically went to youth sporting events And at the time, just to go back for one second, we would basically do what I call a spray and pray, and the spray and pray you've probably heard me say this term, you know when we've seen each other and talked to each other. You know, at conferences and different places. It's when you go out and you photograph everybody and then you put it online and you pray that they buy something. So I started Glossy Finish as a spray and pray and it was an epic fail. And then I realized that why am I just focusing my attention, our photographer's attention, just on the photography of families families high-quality want sports action photography?Gary Pageau:
Now, at the time you also had, as I recall you had that mobile printing van. It was actually a printing service It was started out with. can you talk a little bit about that? Yeah, that was very different at the time because you had like walk up kiosks people could use and different things like that.Haim Ariav:
Yeah, we actually, and we still have it. We actually have two of them now and we still use them. So we built what we call a mobile photo lab. MPL was the acronym for it And the MPL basically allowed our customers to come inside and it kind of looked like an Apple store. I mean, it was clean, it was white, it had, you know, 12 viewing stations, music playing, people can interact with their photos right there on the spot, and then they would order their packages, be it, you know, be it posters or just standard prints, and we had a little area in the front of the trailer where we could print everything and families would go home with it, and it just took off. Was that a spray and pray?Gary Pageau:
type thing. Yeah, so it started off as a spray, Yeah.Haim Ariav:
So it started off as a spray and pray And we were just basically photographing everybody and putting into the trailer system and letting families come in and, you know, look at their photos, And we realized that even though we were bringing the photos right to the field, people were, like still not buying it at the levels that we needed to, because we were just photographing 100% of the players and not knowing who our customers are. So we changed the whole business and said let's just go out and find the families first, have them, prepay us, focus our attention pun intended focus our attention and cameras just on those players and then only upload those photos and only allow those families into the trailer to view and purchase and then us deliver their photos. And then we saw the hockey stick, as they say in business. The business went from, you know, from ground to a skyscraper in no time And we kept expanding upon the process of how do we refine the marketing, how do we refine, you know, the photography? what type of images sell better? And we caught the eye of a little photography company called Lifetouch back in 2013.Gary Pageau:
I've heard of them. They're kind of startup, aren't they?Haim Ariav:
I think they're now part of another company, another little company called Shutterfly. So back in 2013, Lifetouch said, hey, we'd love to acquire you and you bring you know, you and your trailers and your staff into you know, into the Lifetouch family and continue doing what you're doing. But let's have you as somewhat of a strategic executive, meaning basically to look at other divisions and kind of figure out how we can improve upon processes and quality with our other groups. And we did that up until 2017, when Lifetouch started having some of its own, you know, financial challenges, primarily in the school business. You know they just, you know, didn't adapt, didn't change, whatever you want to call it.Gary Pageau:
Well, and they had a lot of financial struggles because of the ESOP too. I mean, that's They did, they did. I mean that was the old that was kind of the the sort of democles hanging over their head was having to fund this ESOP and it consumed all their cash flow.Haim Ariav:
It did. It did. The ESOP was definitely a heavy burden on Lifetouch. So what happened was they said hey, Haim, there's two choices here. We can either take this out, you know, take Glossy Finish out to the, you know, to the woodshed in the back, or, if you'd like, you know, let's talk about you buying it back. And you know, Matt Winer and I, who's my business partner and my close friend, he and I said you know, there's a lot of runway here. We know we can continue growing Glossy Finish, let's buy it back. So Lifetouch was very good to us and we bought it back for, honestly, for pennies on the dollar, for what they initially, you know, paid me for it. And we've taken it and we've grown it year over year since 2017 and just had our best year ever in 2021, and are now on track to have our best year, 2023. So we're an independent company again.Gary Pageau:
So, reflecting back on the Lifetouch experience for a second, yeah, what was the most positive thing that came out of that?Haim Ariav:
I learned how to sell. I learned how to have better financial discipline as an executive, as a leader. Lifetouch is made up of a lot of really good people. I have a lot of friends that were there that have either since retired or are no longer there. So I have no ill will toward Liftetouch.Gary Pageau:
Well, that's why I wasn't getting there. I wasn't going to get with that. What I was trying to get to was, like you said, it was almost like a learning experience, almost like going to college. It was running the business that you have now.Haim Ariav:
I got my MBA, my photo as you could joke and say I got my photo MBA at Lifetouch. In the four years I was there I learned a lot about APV, aov, average player value, average order value, participation all the key metrics that Lifetouch uses across their enterprise. We brought in and disciplined ourselves at Glossy Finish, and still do that. when I look at, or when Glossy Finish looks at events, i put those key metrics into place and we've built, obviously, calculators for them. I can go into any tournament director and say, hey, we want to do your event, this is what our projections are and this is what our rebate is going to be. I learned all that at Lifetouch University.Gary Pageau:
Let's talk a little bit about some of those partnerships and tournaments you have, because you have some big name clients on the Glossy Finish side. Can you talk a little bit about Cal Ripken and some of those partnerships? Absolutely.Haim Ariav:
Absolutely. We're very fortunate We are the official photographer for Ripken Baseball. Ripken Baseball is basically the business that Cal Ripken and his brother, Bill Ripken, built when they retired from the major leagues. As you know, Cal Ripken is a Hall of Famer with the Baltimore Orioles. His team approached us about 10 years ago and wanted us into come their facilities. They own baseball facilities around the country and they run large-scale baseball, some softball tournaments. They wanted basically the Glossy Finish approach, the Glossy Finish quality and service at their facilities. This summer is actually our 10th anniversary with Ripken Baseball. We just continue growing with them and expanding with them and enjoy that relationship. They just opened up a new facility in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, which we now have a store. They just bought another facility up Sandusky, Ohio, that we're talking to them about as well. Then they also invested in Cooperstown. There's a large baseball complex up there which we're talking to them about as well. Very excited about that. Ripken Baseball is definitely one of our larger, most prestigious clients. We also do the National Championship for American Youth Football. It's the largest football championship in the country. Every year in December they bring in about 250 football teams and about the same number of cheer teams over a nine-day period in Kissimmee We do their national championship. We've been doing that. This will be year 12 for us there. Then we have a group out of Kentucky called Athletics which runs a lot of their own baseball, baseball, softball properties called the Baseball Nationals, the Softball Nationals All-American Group. I'm very proud to say that we just won the contract for AAU National Volleyball, the Junior National Championship. This one is massive. This is 5,000 volleyball teams with 70,000 athletes over a three-week period, literally, Gary. It's being held at a convention center in Orlando with 150 courts. It's massive. It is massive. It literally will take a little army of Glossy Finish people to manage and execute that event, but we're excited about it And we're already talking about expanding that relationship with AAU. So. But we've been at this for 17 years And things like this don't just fall in your lap because you're a startup. They fall in our lap because of the good work that we do And you know people hearing about us and seeing what we've done and having their own kids play at tournaments that we've covered and remembering you know who we are and reaching out to us. So we're excited about where we are and how, how we're growing, especially over the next, you know, three to five years.Gary Pageau:
One of the things we've talked about when we've been I don't know just standing in a hallway somewhere talking is your idea of photography as a service as opposed to selling prints, and you've always said that's what distinguishes a profitable photographer who's making a business out of shooting sports and events versus somebody going on in the weekend trying to do it. Can you talk a little bit about how a photographer should approach that and sort of the thought process behind that versus just I'm trying to sell a digital download or a print?Haim Ariav:
Yeah, no, absolutely, and that's that's a. That's a great question And I get asked this a lot. So, yeah, so. so our business mantra, the elevator pitch, is you know, we view photography as a service, not as a product. So the photographer is an artist, should get paid for their time to, to capture images and then sell those images as part of the package of their service. So think of it, you know, as you know, as as a doctor, as a lawyer, you know their service. They're basically selling you their time, right? I mean, when you go to a doctor, when you go to a, you know, a lawyer, it's a service type. We view photography the same way. So what we do now in our mantra is that we get prepaid to go out and photograph a player And if that player happens to be a rock star, you know a real stud, a pitcher, catcher, second baseman, talking baseball here, and we get 300 photos of that player And we just spent an hour of our time and got paid handsomely for that hour. So give them, give the family, the 200 photos. You know, we see the photos as the byproduct of the service And I think myself included in the in the old days and even in the life touch days, people would say you know, we'll capture your image and then I'll make my money by selling you prints or canvases or coffee mugs or throw blankets or whatever it might be. We took the opposite approach and said let's view it as a service, get paid for our time, give them the images, let them enjoy them, because I found that once people have the digital, they really don't want to do anything with them besides post them on social. They might print up you know a few here or there, but it's really they just want to have them and enjoy them.Gary Pageau:
But for the printing. You all you still offer that.Haim Ariav:
So we do. But here's what's interesting about that. So about four years ago because we track again Life ouch MBA, we track our numbers very, very closely, very religiously, and I started saying that we were selling more all digital packages and less print packages And now we're at about 75 percent all digital and 25 percent print. You know posters that we still print on site. So it's, it's it changed and the dynamic changed And we said let's just you know, and again, it's because of the photography as a service and this and the byproduct is the digital.Gary Pageau:
Unlike a lot of folks who do the spray and pray technique, they are very concerned about copyright and ownership right. They watermark damages, which, again, i have no problem with. it's their work, they can do what they want with it, but you really aren't concerned about that at all.Haim Ariav:
No, no, first of all, copyright. I think when you start talking copyright one, it's a legal term, obviously, and I understand copyright. Having run Superstock, which is stock photo, and see, I understand licensing, i understand copyright intimately. We give all of our customers, obviously, a personal license to use the images however they want. They can print them, they can do what they want with them. The chances of somebody using that image and then selling it to Coca-Cola for a billboard in the 17 years that I've done it, that I've been doing this, i should say it's never happened. And if it's happened I've never caught wind of it, so I'm not so much worried about the copyright. So when we mark it, we use the expression you own the copyright, but what that really means from a customer perspective because a customer understands that it means they have the personal license to use it. When you start throwing legalese at a customer it just confuses them and they just move on and decide they don't want your service anymore. So we just say our marketing material says you own the copyright, and I get beat up by a lot of photographers because they're the copyright thing, in my opinion, way too seriously. And I get that and I respect copyright, don't get me wrong. But really what it means is you own the personal license and do what you want with this. Make as many copies, give them to grandma, go from there.Gary Pageau:
Because, in the end, you want. what you're looking for is repeat business referrals, customer satisfaction, which is going to build your business over the long term. Fighting someone over posting a screenshot that they took off their camera, roll off a gallery and they didn't take the watermark out that's not a valuable use of your time.Haim Ariav:
It's not. And again because we're now 75% prepaid, meaning we only photograph the players who prepaid us. let them enjoy the photos. I've already taken my money off the table And so if they want to post them, i mean we deliver all of our higher res un-watermarked images to them digitally and they can do whatever they want with them.Gary Pageau:
This business model has been very successful and you rolled it out, actually offering it to other people. Can you share kind of the idea behind that idea that you're going to now open the Kimono, if you will, and provide people with the same platform that you're using in a product or service called GF Crew?Haim Ariav:
Yeah, so GF Crew started about three years ago and it was quarter to four actually. Yeah, you know what It may be actually before. Wow, time is flying and we're getting all together here. We started GF Crew four years ago and GF Crew started basically as giving independent photographers the opportunity to use the glossy finish process and technology that we've built and used successfully for their own business. And we started a Facebook group four years ago. It's now, I think, at about 5,500 members, Got a lot of people using it, And basically we show them and tell them and share with them all the different tips and tricks that we've used successfully and then also give them a PWA, a progressive web app that they can use for their own business. And a lot of the guys that have been using it and I believe you're in the group and you've seen the success stories they're making some very nice money on an annual basis doing this as a side hustle, because they simply shifted their thinking and followed along our model the glossy finish model, which is get prepaid before you go out and photograph And we've had a lot of success with it, so much success that we actually have now launched GF Crew Pro, which is allowing photographers that want to take it to the next step and use the same platform that glossy finish uses. So think of GF Crew.Gary Pageau:
What's the difference? So the people I mean, i mean, and not from a price standpoint, but from an offering standpoint, because from my, my understanding, gf, crew, vanilla or basic, if you will, what are we going to call it? Yeah, we're going to call it like sharing the marketing plan and the techniques and you offer the media credential and some other things. Correct, but it's. But it's really you're on your own, you're running the business.Haim Ariav:
Correct. So GF Crew, we're going to call it. You know, now that pro has been released, we're calling the original version GF Crew light. So GF Crew light is really just a very, very small sliver of GF Crew Pro, which is the same platform that Glossy Finish uses. Gf Crew light allows pre-sign to up customers, get prepaid, get money, create on the back end an album that's waiting for photos then to be uploaded into, and then notify those customers and and and. Very, very simple process that works very efficiently.Gary Pageau:
There's text to the Yeah, there's some texting that they can communicate.Haim Ariav:
You know very rudimentary CRM sort of thing Exactly very rudimentary CRM and they can text the customers when the images are ready and the customer clicks on a link and then the you know the gallery opens up on their phone and you know they live happily ever after. And when you know, when they read, you know when they photograph more for that customer in the future, the images go into the same gallery and they can see everything in one spot. GF Crew Pro, which is the platform that glossy finish uses. It's a really incredibly robust CRM. Now. you can schedule photographers, you can assign games, you can communicate with the customers in real time via built in texting application. There's invoicing. you can set your own pricing, you can build posters. It's it's. it's an incredible platform that we've spent, you know, 17 years building and have now rebuilt it to be a true sass, And that's that's what Pro is. Pro is basically, in a nutshell it is the same platform that you know has built Glossy Finish into a multimillion dollar business. It's now giving photographers the opportunity to go after large scale tournaments and events like glossy finish.Gary Pageau:
So really GF Crew light, I should say, is designed more for the person starting out, maybe the photographer who wants to add this to their existing products and they don't want to really make it a job or a business. And GF Crew Pro is really for the person who really wants to take it. The next level Maybe have a team of photographers, maybe have a sales person who's going to pitch tournaments and schools and things like that Is that really the difference?Haim Ariav:
That is actually that spot on. That is, and I should hire you to do all of our marketing and advertising.Gary Pageau:
We should talk after this.Haim Ariav:
That is exactly it. Gf Crew light is really for the independent photographer that's looking to do this as a side hustle to expand upon their existing business, and it gives them the tools to do that. Gf crew pro is for the photographer that wants to do this full-time a business.Gary Pageau:
And it can be done because you're doing it. That's the difference.Haim Ariav:
That's the difference And the biggest thing here is it's not a franchise, it's a software platform, it's a licensing, but it's truly a partnership. So, besides getting the Glossy Finish brand, which we're not licensing or franchising the brand We are allowing independent photographers to have access to all of the tools, the marketing, my time to help coach them on how to go larger-scale winning tournaments and passing things along. I mean, there's a couple of GF crew pro users that are on board that we've already fed them events for this summer that we just couldn't do. Glossy Finish couldn't do, because we just don't have the bandwidth to go after more events, because we're already committed to Ripken and AYF and other partners. So we pass that And that's part of the partnership. So that's, i think, the best part of it all is, not only do you have the software and the tools now to do it, but you have my time, matt's time, our team's time to help you be successful with it. Because that model basically works. There's an initial startup fee, there's a small hosting fee on a monthly basis And then there's a percentage of every transaction that flows through the transaction, flows through the platform per transaction And that's how we, so the more successful they are, the more successful we are. So we're trying to feed our partners using GF crew pro. More work There is.Gary Pageau:
I mean just to say GF crew light is still basically free, if you will, i think if you buy, do you still sell the package?Haim Ariav:
Yeah, yeah, so we have a starter kit that we sell. That's not necessary to start it. But GF crew light is only. You only pay when you use it. So, there's no. There's no annual subscription, there's no monthly subscription, there's no upstart cost. It's basically a $5 per session fee to use it And a 3% credit card which goes straight to the merchant.Gary Pageau:
You're not getting rich off GF crew light, that's for sure. We're not. We're not, we're not So. But on the other hand, the GF crew pro, it's a business and there is some investment involved. Can you just kind of top line some of the commitments you're expecting from pro partners?Haim Ariav:
Yeah, absolutely. So. You really need to commit to pro financially, right. So there's an upfront cost and I think it's just under $5,000 to get set up. There's a monthly hosting of I think it's 195. So just about $200 a month And then it's 8% of any transaction that comes through the platform from very, very similar to how a franchise runs, and that's it. So if you're not using it, you still obviously there's an upfront cost, there's that monthly hosting, but then there's no 8% if there's no transactions coming through it. But we're vetting our GF Crew Pro partners very closely. We need to make sure that they're committed to this. We don't want to set somebody up for failure. That's not, that's not our intent. We don't want to waste their time, we don't want to waste our time. But if somebody commits to GF Crew Pro, we want to make sure they're as successful as possible And that's the way we set it up. So there's actually a dedicated site to it. There's a gfcrew. com/, where people can go and read about it and also obviously reach out to me directly or join the GF crew group on Facebook. We talk about it a lot And then and that's where and we're not taking away GF Crew light. That'll stay. That'll still be its own little sliver of the whole platform. But GF Crew pro is really where I see the future And we're not looking to make this. I mean, you know there's not a lot of people or companies that do or want to do what Glossy Finish does at the scale that we do it, but you know the ones that do. This is the platform of choice, in my opinion.Gary Pageau:
Well, because you do have a decade and a half of development on this And there are things that are you've made all the mistakes And now you can And still making mistakes And still making mistakes, but we correct it.Haim Ariav:
My sales approach on this is very simple. It's like we built it and we use it right. So we're not just a bunch of software guys out there that developed the software for this niche vertical action, youth you know, youth action, sports photography We're basically a company that built a platform for ourselves that's now allowing others to do what we do. So we're we're basically building competition for ourselves, right? I mean, if you think about it, people who have this tool can now large-scale after events. You know at the size that we do. The mantra is if there's a bug in the platform, we have that same bug, you know, on our platform, right? Trust me, we're going to fix it as quickly as possible because we need it for our own business, just like they needed it for their business. And that's the beauty of GF Crew Pro.Gary Pageau:
Well, that's great Haim, listen now. You mentioned before the URLs. Is there any other ways you want people to contact you if they're interested in either pro or even just having you do their tournament?.Haim Ariav:
I mean, obviously my email address Haim@ glossyfinish. com. And I would suggest that if they're even remotely interested and just kind of learning more about what we're doing, is join our Facebook group. It's GF Crew on Facebook And we also have a website, GFcrewcom, and those would be the easiest, fastest ways to learn about what we're doing with these two models.Gary Pageau:
Well, thanks, Haim. It's always great to talk to you and look forward to seeing you over the summer, hopefully at an industry event or a tournament or something.Haim Ariav:
Absolutely Likewise. It's always great to talk to you and see you, Gary. Thank you so much.Erin Manning:
Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixel Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www. thedeadpixelssociety. com.