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Creating Opportunities: The Story behind Spectrum Studios

August 17, 2023 Jim Pridemore Season 4 Episode 127
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Creating Opportunities: The Story behind Spectrum Studios
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Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society explores the inspiring journey of Jim Pridemore, co-director of Spectrum Studios, a non-profit organization making a significant impact in the lives of young adults on the autism spectrum. This episode reveals the mission behind Spectrum Studios, its unique business model, and how the business is creating employment and personal development opportunities for those who have aged out of high school. You'll learn about the various revenue streams they've established, including a digital photo lab and movie digitization services, all while providing essential skills and training for their team.

Get ready to be moved by the transformational experiences of Karen and Jim, and their journey with Spectrum Studios. Jim Pridemore speaks candidly about the game-changing experience at the IPI conference in Las Vegas and how it led them to introduce new services, like film and video archiving, which is now their primary revenue source. This episode is a valuable source of insights about integrating individuals on the autism spectrum into the workplace, emphasizing the importance of education and understanding. Listen and be inspired by our guests' dedication to making a difference and driving positive change in the lives of those on the autism spectrum.

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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning

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 Pixel Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Peugeot, and today we're joined by Jim Pridemore, who's the co-director of Spectrum Studios in Kennewick Washington. Hi, Jim, how are you today?

Jim Pridemore:

Good morning Gary. I am living the dream, Thank you.

Gary Pageau:

In the photo industry, living the dream. But you've got a really unusual business and dream in the sense that Spectrum Studios isn't a for-profit business. Can you talk a little bit about what the mission of Spectrum Studios is?

Jim Pridemore:

Absolutely. Yes, you're right. In the photo world we are very different. Our mission is to create opportunities such as employment, as well as enrichment, for young adults on the autism spectrum, specifically that have aged out of high school. Gary, that's the beginning, the entry to really an epidemic here in the United States and, if I can, the reason I say that is when the young adult ages out of high school, either graduates on time at 18 or ages out at 21,. The years of support and guidance that they've had all those years, their academic years, just abruptly stops, leaving the young adult and the family standing there with their hands out saying what now? So that's our mission to address that issue.

Gary Pageau:

How do you address that issue specifically? You have people on staff who are on the spectrum who are needing help with the next step.

Jim Pridemore:

That's correct. Currently we employ nine on the autism spectrum and we have a couple of interns as well, hoping to grow. So we start by we find revenue streams, product and services that we think best fit the skills of different skill levels on the spectrum. So everything from digitizing movies to running a digital photo lab. So somebody that uses computers can find a job and somebody that can only take the boxes can find a job.

Gary Pageau:

So what was the impetus for this? I mean, we'll get into your career prior to this because you're a longtime photographer. But what made you decide, hey, we want to start a nonprofit business that addresses this issue.

Jim Pridemore:

Well, my friend, that's the number one question we get for everybody who finds us.

Jim Pridemore:

It's a little bit of a long answer but, if you will indulge me, we have a son, tyler, who is very high on the spectrum, is college educated at the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree, full-time employed homeowner. As I said, he's very, very high on the spectrum. Most people don't even know he's on the spectrum until you just spend a few minutes with him. But there was a time in our life we had a young man that we had befriended, that had lost his mother and shortly after we befriended him he lost his father suddenly and he was on the spectrum, not as quite as advanced on the spectrum as Tyler, but he was also dealing with schizophrenia, bipolar and the like, and when his father passed he was headed to foster care, living in Florida, headed to foster care in the state of Georgia.

Jim Pridemore:

When we intervene, with some help from our good friends, chuck Drago, who was a deputy governor of state of Florida under Charlie Chris, helped us expedite some things and understand the process.

Jim Pridemore:

So we brought him into our family and Karen championed his cause and we were able in the course of five years to have him graduate on time, find full-time employment with Disney, which he still employed today, absolutely living his dream with Disney and he's quite a transformation story. But the real impetus was during that time. We learned and experienced the difference you can have on the autism spectrum, sure and personalities and traits and challenges and the like. Karen also sat on the board of directors for CARD, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Central Florida, for about six years, where she had access to families with folks on the spectrum and sharing their stories, and many times the story included a period where their child committed suicide. So as she dealt further and further into the issues that folks on the spectrum face and we just became engulfed with this mission, so there's the long answer for it. That's what got us committed to the mission.

Gary Pageau:

Well, this is not that long of a story, but to continue, sir, I guess the question I'm getting to is a lot of people would start a perhaps a fundraising mechanism or a training organization or something like this, but you actually run a full-fledged operational business where folks with autism can come and learn skills. I mean, I would assume part of the thing is to build their skills, build their portfolio, so that they can either move on or I suppose many of them do stay with you.

Jim Pridemore:

Absolutely, and this is going to sound funny, but I'm going to say thank you, covid. And the reason I say that is when we moved to Washington, had retired about four months into retirement, I decided retirement wasn't for me Right. So we opened a do it yourself photo video studio here in the Tri City where people could bring their own cameras, their own photographers, come and learn how to use studio lighting and we had many of static sets or vignettes that were the folks could use. It had a lot of fun with. During that time is where we really started to move forward with the mission and we created a program called portraits with a purpose and the idea was, as we would identify folks on the spectrum that had an interest in photography, we would bring them into the studio, teach them the technical skills, but also teach them the personal skills that are needed to not only do the photography but to make sales.

Jim Pridemore:

And, as anyone knows, that is familiar with autism. The social awkwardness is the number one challenge that these folks have. But back to the story. So we had just started portraits with a purpose and COVID hit. We had had the studio open for 17 months, we were shut down for 15 months and during that time we were doing some soul searching and Karen and I had long conversations. Okay, when this COVID thing is over and we're able to reopen, we're going to be starting over again, because we were open for 17 months and closed down almost as many months, right, and so we decided that, instead of building a business that could help the mission, we would find a way to make the mission the driver and build a business around the skill sets needed and develop the products and services around the people that we serve, and that's where it came from.

Gary Pageau:

Through the intervention of our mutual friend Chuck Ross and from a star photo we were connected at the IPI conference. Tell me a little bit about your involvement like getting involved with the IPI, because it's not probably in your prior experiences of photographer group you'd even heard of and then you got involved with IPI and what that's done for your business.

Jim Pridemore:

Oh my goodness. And you know what a great question, because it really was a serendipitous type of introduction, if you will. One of the good things that happened to us was Costco decided to get out of the photo lab business, had approximately 300 wet labs. They had a reseller that was going to purchase all 300 labs. I happened to make contact with a lovely woman in Vancouver, washington, and the management chain with Costco shared our mission with her. She jumped right in and said Jim, I have a 16 year old son on the spectrum. We know exactly what's happening and what's what's about to happen. So they actually sold 299 wet labs and donated one to us. Okay, we have this wet lab had never been. The, the operator of a wet lab, have always sent things out to our labs and we're playing with this thing and saying, oh my goodness, we better figure out how to do this. You know true, entrepreneur, let's say yes and we'll figure out how to do it later.

Gary Pageau:

Exactly.

Jim Pridemore:

So during my research, just a less than a couple weeks after receiving the lab, somehow I ran across some information about I pick the conference for IPI, and I started reading and I said, karen, these folks seem to be the folks that might have the knowledge that we need. They meet in Las Vegas in a week. So pack your bags, we're going to join this right now and we're going to fly out to Las Vegas and meet these people. Best, gary, the best thing we have ever done. We just came back from Fort Worth, texas, our third IPI, third consecutive IPI conference, and I will share with you that greater than 75% of the products and services that we offer here in our 6500 square foot studio, those all came from our first I pick visit and the people that sat with us and had coffee with us understood the mission, some of learned about the mission, but we would not have had the growth we had last year had it not been for that trip and meeting those folks in IPI.

Gary Pageau:

So what specifically did you gain from my, from that conference, in the sense that you said most of the services? Was it basically, oh my gosh, I've see all these opportunities and ways I can use this? Or was it someone recommending certain product lines based on your business goals?

Jim Pridemore:

No, gary, it was the first. For example, in a thousand years I would have never considered taking film in for developing, right, you know I'm like the general public. You know film is dead. Nobody's using film, right? So, partnering with uh, partnering with some labs and my PI members, we decided to give it a go and just be a dropping point for people to drop off film. Well, we actually the only one in the tri cities that takes film in, so there's a revenue stream. We never thought of One of the biggest things, that the biggest winners that we have now that we took away from that, was video archiving. We just assume, with all the gadgets out there and what have you an expensive people, would you know, be doing everything themselves. There wasn't that much film left in the world, or let's say video left in the world, and but we gave it a try and it is our number one revenue stream right now.

Gary Pageau:

You mean digital transfer? Yes, digital, transfer.

Jim Pridemore:

Yes, so not only archiving of movies, but uh photographs, slides, negatives, uh audio tapes and the like? Yeah, and of course it. It gives. It's the number one thing that provides hours for our spectrum family and creates new jobs for us right now.

Gary Pageau:

And you're doing that in house.

Jim Pridemore:

Doing it all in house Interesting.

Gary Pageau:

So do you think there's some? Because that's a very focused activity the digitization you have to pay a lot of attention and focus on it and be a kind of have a good attention to detail. Do you think that's well suited for someone on the spectrum?

Jim Pridemore:

Oh, my goodness. And more cases than not. Gary, it is perfect. Let me take a film or slide scanning for an example, if I may. Visiting with my friends at own stores and labs, I hear all the time that you know I can never retain my person that slides. That does slide scanning. It's such a boring, repetitive, you know job, absolutely.

Jim Pridemore:

Well this type yeah, this type of work is is perfect for someone on the spectrum because once they're focused in and they understand it yes, I mean you you won't have to worry about that employee leaving because they got bored.

Gary Pageau:

Well, that's interesting. Is there any other experiences you've found with processes that, as you've brought in different services, you realize wow, I've got some great talent in this story that can really, like you said, embrace a repetitive task?

Jim Pridemore:

Yeah, if I understand the question correctly, and I'm from the South, so my family tree goes straight up, so you have to bear with me. But you know what we've learned is well. We've learned the need is greater than just creating the jobs. We've learned that the need is education. If we can educate other business owners about this tremendous pool of workers and explain to them what makes them so, then we're well on our way.

Jim Pridemore:

But the challenge is, gary, is that the interview. It's not that people on the autism spectrum cannot do certain types of jobs, it's they can't get through the interview Right. And the interview because of the lack of social skills is one reason. But the interview is uncomfortable on both sides of the desk. So if we can get to the businesses and say, look, here's what you should expect for the interview, let us help you. So our mission has grown now to being able to add an education component, not only for new spectrum folks but for local businesses that would like to learn how to onboard and what to expect. So that's our mission right now. But that's what we've learned from working with these folks is man, they can do the work if we can just get them past the interview Right.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, that's an interesting point because there's so much of you know the interview process. That is, you know, once they've screened the person for their requirements or somebody's answered an ad or something like that, there is that sort of interview process which can deep six a qualified candidate If they've had a bad day or if they have an emotional issue, and imagine with an autistic person. There's also that, you know, that added layer on top of that.

Jim Pridemore:

Yeah, and you know I mean we all know when you first walk into the interview and you shake hands and you make eye contact, that's gonna pretty much set the basis for the rest of the meeting. Well, if you're on the spectrum, sometimes eye contact is not something you're comfortable with, not something you do. If you're on the spectrum is very possible. You live in a very black and white world, so you're very precise with your answers, there's no adding any fluff and and that sort of thing. Sure, so, yeah, it's, it's quite different. So, like I said, it's also very, very uncomfortable for the interviewer because it's not what they, what they have expected or are used.

Gary Pageau:

Are there any tips you have for employers who may be interested in hiring folks on the spectrum to you know help with that process? I mean, is that, do you provide any you know information, because I mentioned you're becoming a resource now in your community for that you know? Is there like two or three things you'd say you know? If you're interested in hiring someone on the spectrum or are aware that this applicant is on the spectrum, what are things you need to keep in mind?

Jim Pridemore:

Absolutely. First thing, feel free to reach out to Karen or I at any time and we can. We can help you with that. It's just an understanding that the personalities are gonna vary so much. But you know, one example of a reason to hire somebody on the spectrum is, for the most part, gary, they don't go out on Friday night, have a big old Friday night call sick on Saturday, so you just don't have these call offs all the time. The longevity is there once you train them, if you understand how to do it, to be patient and what have you. So, yes, we would be maybe a good contact point for for Learning more about that.

Jim Pridemore:

Just be prepared to understand that you have to look past. You're not gonna get the social butterfly right. What you're gonna get sometime is somebody who's very could be very stoic, be very black and white. You may not think they're paying attention to you because they don't make eye contact. Another trait is they may delay in responding to a question or a conversation you have, and it's not that they're not hearing you, it is just the way that they process. And again, every individual is different, sure? So in that case it again. They just they may be a little slower like that. But once you get through and you get them trained in an area that they're comfortable, they appreciate it and Love to just keep doing what you need them to do what percent of your business Approximately is.

Gary Pageau:

You know in-house stuff that you produce and stuff you outsource, because you've got a crazy array of services here you got, you know you do custom shirts, you do gifts, you do digitization, you do classes. It's also your community center with some Output services in there.

Jim Pridemore:

I Love that because, again, since our main focus is the is the culture that we we have here in the studio. I'm glad you said that we're kind of a center and that's we want people to understand that we only outsource probably less than five percent Wow of the product and service, so even direct to garment printing. We do here disublimation printing. We have in-house do-it-yourself photo and video studios people can come and use. Yeah, so we're. Again, our goal is to do as much as we can here to create Employment and more hours for our current spectrum family and you found the equipment and all these things to do these things through IPI.

Jim Pridemore:

Yes, through the most part. Yes, of course, having 30 years of photography studio experience behind us, equipment wise on that side, we already had that. But everything else, yeah. I can't think of anything that we bring in, or a supplier or vendor we have that we weren't introduced to through IPI.

Gary Pageau:

So you've been having this run for about two or almost three years now. What's the long term plan for spectrum studios?

Jim Pridemore:

Well, gary, our situation is a little different than other nonprofits. The majority of other nonprofits rely on fundraisers and grants and the like. And don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. In our early stages we sure welcome that help as well. But the business model for spectrum studio is set that eventually we become a self sustaining business like any other business. But the business is and we hope in the near future not only run by those on the spectrum but will be company owned by those on the spectrum. At that point our goal is to determine can we duplicate this process and other areas here in the Tri City? And then, of course, you know we're happy to teach anybody in United States how to do this, as long as they're committed to the mission.

Gary Pageau:

So how can people reach out to you if they want more information about spectrum studios and the work you're doing with folks on the spectrum?

Jim Pridemore:

Absolutely. They can email me at jim at spectrum dash studiosorg, or feel free to call us at 509-579-4278. And we'll do everything we can to help them.

Gary Pageau:

Great, Jim. Listen, it was great meeting you in Fort Worth at the IPIC convention and look forward to seeing you in the future at future IPI events and seeing your business and your and your nonprofit grow.

Jim Pridemore:

Gary, thank you so much for inviting us. Great meeting you and looking forward to another meal with you.

Erin Manning:

Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at wwwthedpixelssocietycom.

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