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The Duckboat Theory - PPA Today

The Duckboat Theory

By Mariah Ashley

duckboatpicblog.jpgTrue or False? Wealthy clients understand the value of quality photography and are willing to pay more to get it. I would argue false and site the Duckboat Theory. But first let me share a cautionary tale.

When you last tuned in, the snappers were on a roll having "gotten their groove back" by breaking the terrifying losing streak of zero booked weddings. Inquiries started rolling in from the "right kind of clients." One inquiry, from a potential bride we'll call Mindy, seemed particularly promising. I've paraphrased her email here, but you get the idea...

Hello Snappers,

We're getting married on June 21st at our estate in Newport, "Summer's Shore" at 555 Fancy Pants Blvd. We'd love to get a proposal for your services for the wedding and also for the rehearsal dinner at the La Dee Dah Yacht Club the night before. We've heard great things about your company; everyone I've talked to says that you are the BEST! Please call me at your earliest convenience, looking forward to hearing from you.


How exciting! I thought to myself as I googled "Summer's Shore" and found that the property sold for $6.8 million to the current resident (Mindy's dad). This was the second highest sale for the year in a city that boasts more than its fair share of mansions. The realtor's website described the property as, "including three acres of rolling lawns that meet Newport Harbor, sprawling views, and an 11,000-square-foot residence which has been renovated with the ultimate in detail, quality, and finish."

What a relief! I could have a conversation with Mindy that did not include her balking over our pricing! Finally, here is a client who will know and appreciate quality when they see it. I called Mindy brimming with confidence.

We had a great conversation. Her description of the wedding was everything I imagined it to be. She was working with all the best people in our industry--planners, designers, florists and they had all confirmed we were the photographers for her. Then Mindy mentioned the Duckboat.

"My father owns a Duckboat. You know, an amphibious vehicle. He wants to drive it from the La Dee Dah Yacht club into the harbor and motor me right down the aisle."

I pictured myself camera in hand charging across Newport Harbor and leaping from the Duckboat as we hit dry land like I was storming the beach at Normandy. It would be an understatement to say that this idea tickled my fancy. She had me at Duckboat.

I told Mindy about our team approach, our high-end products and our attention to detail. I threw in a healthy dose of enthusiasm and a few humorous anecdotes for good measure. I was on fire! I put my feet up on my desk and listened fondly to the "oohs" and "ahs", and the "fabulous, that sounds perfect(s)!"

Only one hurdle left to jump: the pricing. Pish posh (emphasis on posh) this was hardly going to be a hurdle...more like gingerly side- stepping something unpleasant like dog poop on the sidewalk. Oh, watch out! Don't step in that and ruin your Jimmy Choos!

I casually dove right in with my recommendation for her collection. Mindy's generous "oohs" turned to a single "OH!" An "OH!" with a loooooooooooong pause and the dull thud of my feet leaving the table and hitting the floor.

Mindy couldn't get off the phone quick enough.

"Well thanks, I'll discuss this all with my parents and let you know. The one thing they may have an issue with is the price."

Jaw, meet my feet. Feet, jaw will be joining you on the floor now. A problem with the price? Seriously? The last I checked a Duckboat would belong in the "discretionary income" category would it not? Our minimum investment is exactly .001% of the purchase price of their home. If I had a dollar in pennies and paid you that same percentage I'd have to cut one penny into a thousand pieces to do it.

How could I have been so sure about Mindy? Is she not EXACTLY the type of client I should be attracting? What the hell went wrong? After beating my head against the table and lying stunned in a heap of unpaid bills on the floor a phrase floated into my semi-conscious mind..."Looks good on paper."

Some people look good on paper. Take for instance a blind date that Trish had a while back. This guy seemed like a good match; tall, good looking(-ish), gainfully employed. The problem was when they met up for coffee he was wearing pleated pants.

 **Side Note... many of you men are going to wonder to yourself what's wrong with pleated pants. I have two words for you...Flat Front. Get them. Unless of course you want pretty girls to flee from your presence.

So, Mr. Pleats looked good on paper but clearly was not a match for my fashion-forward partner. Mindy's family definitely looked good on paper too, but we were not a good match for them. They had a certain budget in mind and we were above it. Despite being told by every other vendor in a 50-mile radius that we were the best, they were unwilling to loosen the purse strings and make room for us in the budget.

And you know what? That's fine. I don't want anyone to book us who is uncomfortable with the price. Enthusiasm for the Snap! experience is what I love most about the people ultimately book us. Our clients often spend more than they thought they would initially, but make room in the budget because they recognize and appreciate the quality of our work. These people do not own Duckboats, but they know a good thing when they see it.

Moral of the story?
Don't judge a client by their stock portfolio. Or if you prefer, clients who drive ducks do not necessarily lay golden eggs. And that, my friends, is the Duckboat theory.


" They had a certain budget in mind and we were above it. Despite being told by every other vendor in a 50-mile radius that we were the best, they were unwilling to loosen the purse strings and make room for us in the budget. "

The reason they were unwilling to loosen the purse strings is this photographer didn't give them a reason to. High prices, by themselves, are nothing more than high prices. If this photographer had a more polished presentation, a more polished close, and all the other factors necessary to loosen those strings, they might have experienced a different ending. People with money to spend didn't get and stay there by being stupid, they need to see value. If that value had been present, this theory would never come up.

Great article, I have always believed that one should never count anyone else's money and never believe everything you hear. Too many people talk the talk without walking the walk.

It works the other way too. Growing up my friend's dad owned an insurance company, not an office - the entire company.

One day he walks into a cadillac dealership ready to purchase a car with a check in his pocket. But, oh no, he came in wearing blue jeans and a tee shirt. After twenty minutes nobody bothered to say boo to him. In fact they ignored him.

Annoyed he went and purchased a lincoln Continental with every bell and whistle they could ad with the check in his pocket. Appearances go both ways. Don't let appearances change how you server your prospects or your clients. This was 40 years ago, but I remember it to this day.

I live and work in a region that is far from wealthy. The average selling price of a 2,200 sq. ft. 4-bedroom home on a 1/4 acre lot is $160,000. But in this market I've been successful in booking about a dozen weddings in the past 8 years that were obviously six-figure affairs. I did not change my marketing promotion at all for these families. I learned my approach years ago from Gary Fong. I only request a commitment to my minimum ($3,000), and that's it. Then I make them a pre-design, knowing up-front that they're not at all obligated for anything over my minimum (that's a 50-page album for the $3000).I tell them, "My motivation is to create so many outstanding images that you'll feel you can't live without them!" (Three times, I've booked a 50-page album and ended up selling a 150+ page two-volume set. They had no obligation for any more than 50-pages. The rest was up to me.)

My biggest wedding photography sale so far has ended up to be $12,500, and the majority of these have ended up in the $8,000 to $9,500 range. Granted, these are not my "usual" weddings by any means. But with this strategy, I know I can book, carry my weight, and win with these high-end affairs.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on May 18, 2013 8:43 AM.

PPA Benefit Reminders: Your Copyright Resources was the previous entry in this blog.

Photography Industry Survey Results and Preview: A Two for One! is the next entry in this blog.

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