Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good luck in 2010, everyone

So it looks like SPS is going to last for another year at least. Thanks everyone for leaving comments. I know I've been more spare with posting so let me direct new readers to one of my favorite posts of the year:

What it means to be a "Photographer" in a "Fun Work Environment"

I also just moderated some comments on older posts, so those should appear now as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Everyone loves snotty noses in photos

From the comments:
Tis the season for runny noses, coughing kids and spreading it to ALL employees. Twice this week I had 2 Moms come in with kids that "were too sick to go to school" to come in for pictures. What the hell? One kid even said "Mommy and I are both sick!" Hand sanitizer? Give me a break... what about all the things they are touching and the air I am breathing while they are coughing and sneezing? Our church has a sign up.. "If you are sick, please DO NOT come to church and infect others. OBVIOUSLY common sense does not prevail!
Have other busy season stories? Leave 'em in the comments!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Welp, good luck with this one.

Ok, so let's get this new pricing straight. Let's say you're coming in for senior pictures. You have the option of getting

-One 15 minute session to do all three outfits in where you pay $169 to get 8 sheets and a CD.

-Three 15 minute sessions (scheduled on different days), each in a different outfit, where for each shoot you pick your favorite pose of the entire shoot and get 4 sheets of that pose (minis don't count as a sheet). Total cost to you? $30. Sure, you don't get a CD, but that's what scanners and reorder sales are for.

Sears is lucky that most parents wouldn't dare do three shoots with a 2 year old.

Above all, I really hope that they don't raise your PRS expectations. That would be insane.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sears Portrait Studio has a Deathwish [updated]

From the comments, here's a rumored price change:
"Just when you thought it was hard enough to get people into collections or out of the $7.99 package SPS announces new pricing starting 10/21.

Sheets = $9.99
Enhancements = $9.99
CDs = $229.99 !!!!!
Greeting cards - get this... now there's a $10 fee to add text to the cards!
Cheapest collection with a CD = $179.99 (Same bronze cd collection as before... only now $50 more.)

Are they trying to put themselves out of business?"
Edit: someone in comments uploaded a 2 page PDF of all the price changes.

I'll see you in the comments for continued discussion. I would love if this price increase were coupled with SPS appointments getting more time and care (since appts are so low anyhow) to justify the price increase. But instead this is just going to make life harder for SPS people and make customers angry (what are you going to do? Tell them before the session "hey, everything is the same except now the price is more"?

On the positive side though, at least it would seem that the customer has the option of doing the $99 collection (without CD) that is definitly really now a better deal than individual sheets (barring any coupons they print). And we all know a $99 sale is better than a 9.99 sale. Of course, at least at my studio, the CD was a major motivation for buying the 129.99 collection. I'm not sure the CD is motivation enough to pay $40 more for the same thing. I think that that's motivation to get in the phone book and look up "Photographers"

Sunday, October 4, 2009

3.99 sheets and .89 chicken ranch gorditas

I had a request that I make a thread about the 40% off sheets coupon and the 3.99 sheet coupon. Here you are; discuss!

I like what our first commenter points out:

"OK. So you flip your customer from the so-called "trial package" to custom sheets at $3.99 per. Then you get written up for low PRS. Can you imagime if every business punished employees for selling an ADVERTISED SPECIAL? Do you really think Taco Bell is writing someone up every time they sell a new chicken ranch gordita for $.89? And I always assumed working at the Bell would kinda suck. I stand corrected. "

I'd also like to remind you that you also get punished for bringing in more customers through outreach since they also tend to spend lower amounts when they get called to come in each month.

While we're on the topic of offers, I think the free 10x13 offer is somewhat laughable. I get it that you're trying to get them used to having larger prints (that sell for 19.99 unenhanced instead of $7.99), but if you always give away a free 10x13, you are kind of not accomplishing your goal.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not that this is bad news or unexpected, but you may not have a job next year

One commenter writes:
"The company is only making 88% of its projected sales, even with those numbers having been reduced 10% from last years' sales.
At our conference call on Friday, we were told that we might not have jobs this time next year in the portrait studio....and that if we don't want the company to fold, we need to be working all weekend every weekend.
Oh yeah, and our manager just quit, leaving me in the lurch with little to no idea what to do, and five positions to staff and train in time for the holidays. Great."
On a related note, another commenter writes:
"I'd like to send a big shout out to Neil and his boss Cindy! Thanks again for firing me- I never knew life could be so great! "
This job danger could also be a made up story: we all know how the people up top like to make it seem like everyone's job is in jeopardy as a means of motivation, but still I tend to believe it.

What's new? Other than that everything is the same

Hi there. Sorry that I haven't had time to put a new post together recently. Let's use this as an open thread for conversation and go from there. Thanks for checking back!

Friday, August 21, 2009


With business coming to SPS and PictureMe less and less, they're now offering to come to you thanks to their new GoPortraits. Admittedly, I don't know much about this: are they doing it as a seperate company? Those of you in the comments seem very much against it so I'm guessing there's some stuff I'm not aware of. While I would never want my wedding photographed by them, I'm guessing that the senior pictures stuff could work out well.

The main thing is though: where are they getting the people to shoot these things: Sears Photographers aren't in any way trained about how to properly expose photos in a non studio setting.

Anyhow, fill me in via the comments or via email. Let's discuss.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Holding it down solo.

From the comments on yesterday's post:
"I am the only one who works in our studio. Yup. No Assistant manager...and 2 other girls who are flex. yeah...I work a lot. I would love for them to fire me; they would be so screwed. No one wants to work here. Guess how much I make as a manager? Come on...guess: I am probably the lowest paid. 9 bucks...YUP...9. Why? Because technically I am not the manager. Our manager quit and the AM did too. I should have when they did."

I was going to ask the community what does happen if someone like our submitter quits, but I suspect that I already know the answer: one of those flex people or a integral part of another studio would be picked to take over in her/his place.

I'm not sure how SPS plans to survive if they're working managers 6 and 7 days a week until they quit. But perhaps SPS isn't planning on surviving and is just holding out as long as their current plans dictate.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Final Jeopardy

As all of us know first hand, you're always made to feel like your job is on the line over at SPS and that is your primary form of fun-work-environment motivation. I received an email from an employee who asked a question that I'm not able to answer but that I thought that we might be able to tackle as a community. Her it goes:
"I am a current SPS employee who has, for the previous 6 years, poured my heart and soul into my studio. Since acquiring a new DM about 2 years ago, I feel I am being set up for termination. My studio is getting a "visit" late this week from our lovely DM! I think there are a couple of scenarios that could happen this week...

1: I am fired.....which is the best option at this point.
2: I am demoted.
3: He pretends like everything is fine and we all keep moving on in the so called fun company like nothing is happening.

My question is...If he does try to demote me, is there anything I can legally do to say, "No thanks"? Honestly, I would rather be fired than demoted. I will not take the demotion. I have worked too hard to have someone else try to run MY studio! I don't want to ruin my chances of receiving unemployment by "quitting". Any help for me? Any legal advice?"
Now I don't know much about this situation (I was someone who put in my 2 weeks notice once things at my studio started to get even worse and, talking to past employees now, I'm glad that I did), but it seems like to me if they say "We are demoting you," then they are effectively saying "take a demotion or get let go" which, if you choose to get let go in that sense, it seems like (since it wasn't for your own misconduct) you could collect unemployment.

But I'm not sure which is why I'm tossing it to the community.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sometimes parents can't control their children. Sometimes the parents are children themselves

An email submission with the subject "Sexual Harassment??"
"The reason behind the question marks, is because I'm not sure if you could call it that at all, considering it happens from our CHILD customers!!!! They grope and grab us and their parents just giggle. Not to mention the Fathers staring at our "Goodies" and it sometimes being caught on camera.

Just this past week i was shooting a family of 6, the children being 4 Boys. The second to the oldest was about 10yrs old. I was trying to pose them and this particular boy just kept reaching up and "Honking" (for lack of a better word to describe his gesture) my breast. I looked at him and he got the biggest Cheshire smile on his face.... i thought he wouldn't do it again, but i was wrong. I turned back to keep posing them and he continued to do it over and over and over again, i just kept swatting his hand away.

Another incident was with a fellow employee. I'm unsure of the age of the child, but it was a little boy and he was continuously grabbing her rear-end...for the entire visit at our studio.

As far as the fathers, ugh. On more than one occasion Ive had comments made about my breasts and Ive also caught them in pictures staring at a photo with their children and wife they are obviously STARING at my chest. How can i tell?! If i have them in a floor pose and I'm squeaking a duck to get the kids to smile, i pull the Duck UP towards the camera...when Mom and the kids eyes are UP but Dads are DOWN and in my direction, we can only assume what he is looking at!"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Let's do some math

I know that this is math that we've done before, but with all that we've been talking about how hard it is to find a job, I wanted to revisit this discussion:

Let's say that you work 30 hours a week making 11.50 an hour. That means that before taxes, you bring in $345/wk. Let's imagine that you're looking to make the exact same amount of money working somewhere else. If you find somewhere that is able to give you 40 hours per week, you would only need to make $8.63 per hour. I know sometimes that it seems it's hard to find a job that gives you what you get at SPS in terms of pay, but in the end, you can take a pretty substantial pay cut and make out pretty well (and work 5 days a week).

Plus getting your sanity back is the best paycheck around.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I thought it was bad when they bought the $9.99 plus composite

People used to get around missing out getting all their poses by getting the 9.99 package and then getting a 9-image composite of all of their other poses and scanning it on their computer. An email submitter informs us of another thing that people are up to:

"We all have the cute kid/irritating mom that has 2-3 outfits and then gets the 4.99 or 9.99 package. We recently had one and played dumb and made a few comments to get her on our side and whooaaa: Out comes the truth.

After a session, she goes online right clicks to save to her computer and sends to CVS online and prints wallets, 3x5s and even 5x7s. I call home office they say there is nothing they can do: CVS should ask for the copyright. The problem is though is that the computer doesn't know what that is when you submit online have it mailed to you! not to mention the client who you bend over backwards for those cute belly/maternity pics who only buys 2 sheets then you see a facebook/myspaces and they went saved pictures from online to the computer to then post online."

As one commenter writes, I don't know why they don't just have the online uploading process automatically watermark the image.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sears Portrait Studio drives away its last customers

The latest email:
You must hit 3 appointments per day outreach. The company is coming down hard on this. All associates/managers must make 10 calls per shift. If they don't. It will result in finall/termination. You must average 3 a day.
Thank You!"
Is this going to make associates fear for their jobs? Yes. Is this fear going get them to call with every spare moment (that they don't have)? Yes. Will some of that calling be off the clock? Probably.

I'm not sure how this is even possible for many studios. It was a struggle to hit 10 outreach appointments every week for us, let alone 21.

And let's say you normally have 40 appointments a week this time of year. Is calling the same people over and over again really going to raise that number to 61? Are you really going to be able to add 91 appts to your books each month this way? You may get them to come in more frequently, but you can bet that they aren't likely to spend as much (if they show up at all).

What SPS needs right now is new customers to bring them new sources of income. They aren't going to acquire and retain customers if every time you visit SPS, you have phone calls every day for a week every time 60 days rolls around. That's how you make customers angry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This is all your fault

I've probably already used that topic title before since these kinds of issues come up so often, but this time I'm talking about outreach.

The word on the street is that these days, if you don't get your 3 outreach appointments, you're getting written up no matter what. As one commenter pointed out, when CPI makes its reports it says that sits are down because of the bad economy, but on the studio level, they tell you that sits are down because of you. Here are two further comments expounding on the problems:

Anonymous writes:
"I asked what happens if we book 100 appoinments but none of them are for the next week...yup still a write up!"

Anonymous [a different one: you guys have to start choosing names like burntoutmgr did] writes:
"Today on a conference call we were told we have to speak to 10 customers a day during outreach or we get written up. 1st time corrective action 2nd time termination. that means if im alone and booked and only have one hour to outreach 10 people have to pick up the phone and speak to me or im fired? because i control the people at home now too? where is this magical wand im supposed to have to do my job? did it get sent through UPS on my day off? one person asked what if no one answers the phone do we still get written up? the reply was i highly doubt you can call ALL the call lists and not one person answers. i think im gonna go get a job telemarketing. ill make more money and when my schedule says off at 6 ill be actually going home not calling home and saying sorry honey we cant make the movie/dinner/boat ride/5 minutes alone/anniversary/birthday party/BBQ/birth of child/wedding/graduation/too tired to procreate... OH EXCUSE ME LIFE!!! because im chained to my studio. even though i spent all day with no appointments telemarketing myself into depression and someone decides to walk in at 5 effing 55!!!"

And I also hear from another commenter that now some lower volume studios are being tasked with making appointments for larger volume studios: bringing their job title closer and closer to telemarketer.

My main problem with outreach appointments is that a good majority of the time, they wouldn't even show for their appointment: they would just make one to be polite (while I appreciate the appointment, it just makes me look like I'm making fake appointments when so many are no shows).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Let's help each other out.

There's been a lot of good information going on in the comments about two things: flex time and unemployment. One commenter writes:
"It is true there is no Federal law pertaining to breaks, but each state usually has a set guideline for employers to follow. You can easily find your state by Googling. I do know that in Cali, the law for "flex" or on call does depend on a few things like how long they expect you to take getting to work and if you are restricted as far as how far away from home you can be. If you are unable to be personally productive and respond quickly, then they must pay you to be on call at the rate of at least minimum wage. "
and another adds:
CPI's "flex shift" is not legal in more than a few states. It is considered to be an "on call" shift and employees are to be paid for the hours scheduled whether they were worked or not. A little research would probably net some of you a nice little check for all the times you were ON CALL and not paid for it.
I would love to get resources together for those still at CPI so they can know the law in their state, so if anyone has more further information, please leave it in a comment or shoot me a quick email.

And in terms of unemployment, one commenter writes:
"To the person who inquired about collecting unemployment if depends on your state. Don't willingly step down-make them demote you. You then might be considered "partially unemployed" and the state will supplement your income. You will have to report your earnings every 2 weeks and be looking for full-time employment. In my state, they pay 125% of your eligible amount if you are working."

Please also post unemployment information here as well. Let's help those that are yet to be able to get out.

On one other note, I wanted to point out one other thing: assume that every single thing you do at work is documented and trackable since it probably is. They're able to tell if you don't make telemarketing calls (they check what you check off against the phone logs). They're able to tell if you make fake appointments. They're able to tell everything you do on SAS and in the computers (since they can remotely take over/monitor any system). For your own benefit, no matter how much they screw you over, don't try to skirt around doing certain things because they'll know. Be wary: every single thing in the system has a report associated with it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Working off the clock

I wanted to further highlight an passage of the previous post
"I come in and work off the clock because I have to watch our labor"
This (among everything else in that post of course) really shows the fear that SPS instills in their workers: the workers are so worried about their jobs that they will work for free just to try and keep a number .25% closer to a goal. If that isn't taking ownership of your studio, I don't know what is.

I know that SPS doesn't allow working off the clock, but I spent a lot of time doing it. Shoot, I was already spending most of my lunch delivering out pictures and answering phones anyhow: might as well just devote the whole lunch to working. That way I could maybe get my closing tasks done earlier and not get in trouble for poor time management for taking too long to close when I have an appointment that comes in near close. Better to have a job and give away some free labor than to not have a job at all I figured since ever day seemed like new opportunity to be written up.

Other than Sears Portrait Studio, have you worked at any other dying businesses? How did your time there compare to working at SPS?

Monday, June 8, 2009

What it means to be a "photographer" in a "fun work environment"

Someone known as CPI Hostage emailed us the following well-put submission. Never before have I seen a better summary of what it means to work at SPS.

"I am a salesperson. I can make the sale count 99% of the time. Even if you bring in the 9.99 coupon, I can get you to add-on something extra. I start at the 379.99 collection, and if you don’t ask, that is the only collection I will speak about. I will cheat you out of your money. I know you don’t need 25 sheets of your 3 month old, but I make you feel guilty for not getting them. I feel sick after every big sale, and depressed after every small sale. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a telemarketer. I call you every day, leave you messages, and harass you until you give me an answer. I might have even purchased your phone number from one of your family or friends. I call you in the morning, afternoon, evening, on holidays, on the weekends. But I’m not a telemarketer; I’m giving you a courtesy call. I hate feeling that I’m driving you away from my studio, instead of drawing you in. I hate making you feel obligated to come in. But I need to make 3 appointments a day. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a multi-tasker. I can take deliver photos, make appointments, answer questions, clean the studio, check the studio mail, read the browser, grade photography, check order accuracy, call other studios for my DM (because she is too busy to do so), make sales, ring sales up, and calibrate the camera, all while trying to get a wiggly, screaming 2 year old to stand next to the #2 and smile. I feel drained by the end of the day, my feet hurt, my eyes hurt, my head hurts. This is what Im trained to do.

I am a venting board. I listen to everyone's problems, yours, my associates, my DM. I listen and try to make you feel better. I can’t help that your 10x13 is the same pose as your 9.99 package. Some of you treat me like crap. Curse at me, belittle me, complain about our prices, and worst of all, criticize my photography. I have no self-esteem at work, I will stand there while you take your frustrations out on me, I can’t tell you off, I can’t stand up for myself. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a secretary. I have more paperwork to do than the President's Aid. Summary of Conversations, Site Sales, Sales by Product, Open Orders, Daily Media, Daily Closing, Timecard, Schedules. That just the beginning. I print out 3 different reports, which give the same information every Monday for conference call. I don’t ever look at these again, but when my DM comes on a studio visit, I better have these printed out. I hate the waste of time and paper. But I do it anyway, day after day. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a teacher. I teach photography, sales, time management, and customer service. I grade my associates with a happy face or sad face on their site sales. I try to motivate them, I try to encourage. But my DM is telling me to be harder, to watch closer. Instead of taking my associates aside and talk to them as a human, explaining what I need them to fix, I have to do a summary of conversation. If my associate had a bad week, instead of saying ‘Let’s put this behind us’ I have to document it, make my employee feel like a failure. It makes me feel like a monster. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a janitor. I vacuum, wash windows, wash backgrounds, dust, and organize. I don’t have the proper supplies, so I purchase it myself. I put hand sanitizer on the counter where you pay for your pictures. My DM forced me to remove it because we don’t sell hand sanitizer. I put fresh tissues on the sales table, but we don’t sell those either. I put your child on a dirty background, and lie and tell you we dry clean them. I feel dirty, but there’s nothing I can do. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a technician. I have taken apart a server and restored it on my own. I have installed motorized backgrounds, printers, computers, and cameras. I can calibrate the camera in 60 seconds flat. My hands get cut and dirty. I can easily be electrocuted, but I can’t complain, because this is what needs to be done. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am an artist. I make a so-so photograph beautiful with our enhancements. Now it would have fine in the raw, but I don’t have control over the lighting and my camera is on a tripod. I can’t take beautiful pictures; I have to take company approved pictures. I get the poses I need before I consider your wants. I know you got a tummy pose last month, but I did it in sepia this time. I feel shunted. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a mother. I have no children, but I am cleaning up your child's drool, pee, poop, and vomit. After you leave the studio, I clean up the mess you child made. I tie your husband’s tie, fix your daughters hair, make sure your necklace is straight, and tell you how beautiful you look. I sing to your child, play games, and entertain them. I’ve been thrown up on, but I couldn’t complain. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a machine. I do what I’m told. I hate my job, and dream of quitting, but don’t have the courage to do it. I have no confidence in my skills. I don’t have a passion for what I do anymore. Everything I do for you, I’ve done for the last customer, and for the next. I do everything like a robot. I hate the way I feel when I’m at work. I’ll never let you know though. Ill smile, and make conversation, and make you feel like you are one of the most amazing person I’ve met. This is what I’m trained to do.

I am a workaholic. I work 40 hours a week, but I am in on call 24/7. I have 2 scheduled days off, but I usually work 6 days a week. I answer my phone every time I get a call from one of my associates. I come in and work off the clock, because I have to watch our labor, but we are double booked at 12pm. I make sure that everyone in my studio gets their requested days off. I work on my birthday, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, New Years Day…the list can go on. I clock out for lunch, but work through it. If I get a walk-in at 2pm, and refuse them to take my lunch, I can be terminated for refusing a customer. If I don’t take a lunch and take them in, I can be terminated for not following company policy. I know this is against the law, and that it makes me crabby to my loved ones, but I have to do it. This is that I'm trained to do.

I am not a photographer.

I am a Sears Portrait Studio Manager."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Just putting this out there

I submit--for your comparison and discussion pleasure--that I was at a McDonalds this weekend that had posted all the wages for their different jobs. Their full time managers bring in $11/hr (no word as to if full time actually gives you 40 rather than 30 hours).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Also, after you hit a button on the phone, make sure you have DM approval to hit the next button

Quote from an email fwd'd my way:

"Hey all,

All of your studios will need to call/text/email you daily with the number of outreach appointments they've booked for that day at close of business.

You will then call/text/email me.

I will then have to call/email Kellee first thing each morning with the number of outreach appointments booked for the entire territory the previous day.

ALL studios will have a VERY high level of accountability for booking ATLEAST 3 outreach appointments a day. This is what the conference call will be about this afternoon, just to give you a heads up. And home office will have a team dedicated to investigating whether FAKE appointments are being please inform your people that if found, there will serious repercussions. We will execute this legitimately using all call lists and referrals and acquisition.

If you...or one of your managers are on vacation, someone MUST be in charge of doing begin immediately. You may want to host a conference call or you can communicate with each one on one. But again...this will begin immediately, beginning tonight for appointments booked today.

Just wanted to give you a heads up...and even though this is additional tracking, and will continue indefinitely, I know it will help our business. And there will be 100% accountability for this "Operation Get Sits" program.

Thank all."


Another one on the way out

This recently got sent to me. I take it I wasn't the only recipient:

"Sears Portrait Studio,
I wanted to let you know why you are losing another talented manager....
I understand the MPC, I understand controlling labor, I actually enjoy setting goals that we can achieve... I understand customer service... That IS our advertising.....I get the call lists... our customers and a reminder.... I am good at the 8 poses per session... very good in fact. I have been in the top ten for 3 years in a row. I met you in St Louis. I have moved from a low volume to a high. But, you as a company have taken away from me as an employee..I didn't even get a year end review this year let alone a raise.No company recognition, even on a district level. I have been through four District Managers, my lunch was always at the customer's discretion. Now I am damned if I take a lunch break.. ie customer service, damned if I don' I have to e-mail why.
I have to achieve three outreach appointments every day, and you won't advertise in the yellow pages. How can I "we" call the same people over and over.
I have had enough of trying to hire underpaid employees and asking them to be "on call' , I am willing to be responsible for my numbers, for my business and my employees as a studio manager, I am willing to be a salesperson PRS , photography specialist 5 star...I just wish that you as a company would appreciate what we in the field have and continue to accomplish as representatives of your company.We are the people that make your company profitable.... I am why the customers continue to come back... not the 4.99 coupons. It's because I have taken more than 15 min in the camera room, because I care enough to give them the best service in every aspect... but because you as a corporation have chosen not to appreciate your employees as we are expected to value our customers, you are losing the talent that has made you a leader in the industry.. It takes quality people to make a quality experience..and a quality product.
I am and can train quality people, but I have neither the hours or the incentive to do so..only threats and company procedure to follow. I am leaving your company, I have had enough, I have seen the "who you know" get promoted to DM and I have seen good people bypassed. I just wanted you to know that sometimes the corporations bottom dollar policies can be detrimental to your business."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sent in untrained and unprepared

An employee who's thinking of quitting after a few weeks on the job sent me an email. Here's an excerpt.
The second day I go in, the district manager is there with 3 other managers,(NOTE:there are a total of 5 employees, 4 of which are managers at my studio). Well I am sitting at the table getting ready to do my e-learning,and I overhear the district manager and the (I guess) assistant manger, whispering (talking) about the store manager after she left to go print out flyers. I thought that was so unprofessional and rude, I just sat there acting as though I wasn't paying attention, because they were whispering LOUD. As my day progressed I noticed that every time my manager was in the camera room showing me something, the DM would come in and cut her off, basically telling her that what she was showing me was the wrong way to do it, belittling the manager in front of me.
And that's of course bad enough, but what I really want to talk about this is the following:
Moving on to the next couple days of work, I did a couple of my e-learning skill assessments, and then she immediately started teaching me how to use Express, SAS, how to make sales at the sales tables, and so on. She has been teaching these things so fast, its hard for me to remember. (NOTE: What happened to training me through the training book/guide???). But anyway she had me posing the teddy bear as an infant and using the posing guide online. Posing infants was the only subject I had learned to pose up to my 3rd day of work.

On my fourth day of work which happened to fall on a Friday she threw me in the camera room cold turkey and I was completely LOST. She was OFF that day as well. To top it off every session I had was GROUPS!!! I had NO idea about posing groups, so that meant every 5 minutes I was running outside the camera room asking for help. I was terrified and so unsure of everything except making a catalog on express LOL. I haven't even been trained on keeping my sessions to a minimum of 15 minutes,so all of my sessions were at least 20-45 minutes long, due to my lack of knowledge. The whole time the ass.manager was running in the room telling me to "speed it up" there are other customers waiting.
This seems to be the norm still unfortunately and a self defeating cycle for SPS. People are going to come to Sears, feel like they're getting photos that aren't up to par because they're done by new [untrained] employees, they're going to spend what the photos are worth [$9.99], and Sears is going to do poorly financially and therefore put more pressure on its people to save more money on labor, encouraging them to spend less time on labor.

This was always a ridiculous cycle in my studio. Yeah, I get that you're trying to save on labor by getting people going as soon as possible, but you can't send them in unprepared (especially with groups: sheesh). They're going to quit and when they quit, you're going to have to pay for the labor all over again when you hire the next person. I know in my studio they hired in twos since once would always stop showing up. after a few days.

Clearly it's not working when you can't keep anyone around. Something has to change: why not train people correctly and give them the time? I know it's a huge labor investment, but so is having to have the coverage to train a new person every week. I'm not trying to say that this is the studio manager's fault: I think that a lot of the decisions they make are based on the environment that's created by those higher up.

Of course, how in the world can any managers give adequate training when there's only two employees at many studios these days? (And not only that, how can they convince new people that they're going to like working there if they're overworked and run ragged themselves?)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How dare you go to the emergency room!

From the comments of the previous entry:

"So now my studio and 3 others around us only have 2 employees. 2 employees to work 7 days. We were TOLD to get rid of everyone else.

So on mothers day I volunteered for a nearby studio since I am not a mother and was visiting mine for dinner. We gotta help our own since the company won't, right? Only 5 appointments were booked in this studio. NONE show up. but as I get there I get a phone call that another studio mgr who I worked with before calls me. she asks me to call some of her appointments because her employee schedule to work was in the emergency room and she was a few hours away doing her mothers day thing with her child.

I start calling these customers who begin SCREAMING that I ruined their mother's day. I'm trying to explain that the poor girl is in the ER and that the other employee is on the way. They don't care of course because I ruined their precious plans. Well pardon me A) I was just helping out another studio so THEY could enjoy mothers day and B) doing a second favor by making these calls. maybe i should have just let them get dressed drive all the way their to find the studio not open and waste MORE of their precious day.

Some of these people demanded I leave the studio I was in to go cover that one. I was an hour away! not to mention already an hour away from my OWN studio. WTF? The mgr of the store that wasn't open kept calling me asking me what to do. At the time I had taken 2 walk ins and was answering the phones from the angry appointments in the other store. I said look lady the manager of THAT studio is on her way there are NO OTHER PEOPLE, not working, close enough to get there and cover those people. now can I go finish the customers that are here in THIS studio so at least one store is making money today?

I can't wait to quit this job. I'd rather be a cashier at a grocery store at this point rather than waste my talent here anymore. Might as well have a talentless job rather than waste myself for nothing. No incentive, impossible bonuses, and no raise."

Edit: also from the comments:

"We have a Studio right now in our district that only has 1 employee...the manager. Because the other girl was working at 2 diff studios and got in a car wreck. This happened the SAME week all our studios were made to get rid of "Extra" employees.

This is already biting everyone in the ass it seems."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Either way you lose

You're at work and you've been given a list of tasks that need to get done. When the list was given to you, there weren't many appointments booked, but with walk in appointments your day has been very full and you have made good sales numbers. Closing time is a half hour away.

Do you:
a) Check in the order packets that came in today, something not on your to-do list.
b) Do the telemarketing that is on your list for the full remaining half hour in attempts to make your weekly goal.
c) Start what closing procedures you can so that you are able to save as many labor hours as possible by leaving as close to 8:00 as possible.

Hint: Either way you're getting yelled at even if you were able to complete two of these. Make sure you have a pen at work tomorrow because you'll need to sign the summary of conversation for poor time management.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When you're not at work, you're at work

We know what a day at work is like. Let's talk about our time away from work.

Most days, I had the evening shift since the SM wasn't going to take it.

Often I would get woken up by phone call (oh how I learned to dream hearing that ring) around 9am when she got in, asking a question or accusing me of something that she could have accused me of when I was scheduled at 1. I then would go back to sleep.

I would try to not waste my entire day by getting up by 10am. Most days I would wake up feeling physically ill for the day ahead and go back to sleep. I realize this makes the work day come even faster, but still, it was hard to wake up. I dreaded going to work, especially knowing that I would be accused again once I arrived in studio.

I finally pull myself out of bed 12:00 and start getting ready for my day, figuring I need to at least need to have a small bit of time to myself before going in. Then I might receive a call saying that my schedule changed and they needed me in as soon as possible. Or I might get a call saying come in an hour later than anticipated.

Then of course I actually go to work. You know how that goes. At some point during the day I call home to deliver this disappointing news say that I'm going to be late since something has come up (last minute at-closing appt for example).

Get home, stay up late so I can feel like the day isn't a total wash, go to bed.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Call it a hunger strike

I'm not looking to stir up any trouble, but is there a way that those of you still in the fight could be better heard (or at least be in the conversation)? It sounds like a lot of people feel like their opinions and suggestions aren't being heard. Maybe there's nothing that can be done and SPS is just bleeding out, but it would be nice if the employees were at least made aware of the reasons behind why certain changes get made.

I feel like the absolute best thing you could do is send an email (so that it's documented) saying that from this day forward, you are going to take your lunch without interruptions, leaving the studio. I know that the new hours try to force a proper lunch, but it sounds like some people still aren't getting them.

Everyone should be allowed to leave the studio, eat, have get some respite from the trials of the Portrait Studio. And if they try and get upset about it, you have documentation that shows their ill will coincided with when you started actually taking a lunch.


Friday, April 24, 2009

When the upset people come back for more

A story from one of our friends at Picture Me Portrait Studio:

This morning a lady who has been to my studio...oh about 2 times. She came once at Christmas and once about 3 weeks ago to get her son's graduation pictures done.

While taking her son's graduation photos, she was displeased because I couldn't give her the same special prices that she got at Christmas time: She said I wasn't being fair with her because of it and that prices in Kentucky were way better in the Walmart there than here in [redacted]. I explained to her kindly that these were the prices and there was nothing I could do about those prices. Needless to say she gave me a bad survey all because of prices. [Even though her problem was mostly with the company and not with you, I'm sure the negative survey got you in trouble]

This lady thought she would come back again today to get more photos. I politely explained to her that I would gladly take her photos but if questioning my prices or my fairness was called into play then the session would be over. She proceed to call me an ASSHOLE right in front of all of Walmart and told me that I was an indecent human being.

I said "Ma'am, there is no call for obscenity but if you want to continue it further the police department could be here in 2 minutes for a free ride to jail." She proceeded to say it again this time with more severe words...and then the race card was thrown out. Loss Prevention for Walmart was listening to her whole commotion and advised her to leave because the police were on their way.

A big thank you to Loss Prevention of Walmart. I don't make enough to be talked to like that by any customer. We go out of our way to appease the customers at all costs and then get rated poorly on our customer service for the very things that we try to accommodate. This is why when a new job comes along I will be taking it as well...because no one deserves to be treated like that by anyone and the sheer fact the customer service refuses to think for one second heaven forbid that a studio manager might be not be at fault.

CPI is going downhill and I will praise God when a new job comes along...because it is turning me into a person I don't want to be...because that is not who I am nor who do I ever want to become which is a person with no class.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Your own title says it all

First of all, a disclaimer: I saw a lot of great wedding photos taken at Sears Portrait Studio. The photographers could really pull off some creative and inventive photos.

That being said.
Why in the world would you go somewhere expecting that you're going to get great wedding photos exactly as you like them for three dollars and eighty eight cents?

How could anywhere could make money selling photos for $3.88?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some people have a way with words

For those of you that didn't see it, I wanted to highlight this comment:

"Working at CPI was like being in an abusive marriage for 15 years; I was never good enough, and brainwashed into thinking I could not do any better. Then one day my "husband" came home and said he didn't like me anymore, and to pack my shit and get out. I did. When I run into people I've not seen in a while, they always say how great I look-like 10 years younger. That's the stress and anxiety gone from my life. So, if you love CPI so much, stick around. You'll get yours. In the end, literally."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Hours Begin

From the comments:
"I just found out about the new hours today and I have to say I am a little peeved! When I was first getting informed I heard something about more money. Then all I heard was that our studio is going to be down by half of our normal hours. Which also means I will not be getting my normal hours either. I have to let one person go, and the other one who is my best employee by far will get one day and maybe some discresionary hours? Yeah I am pretty sure that she will no longer have the same availability being as that she will need another job to pay the bills. There is no way she will be waiting around week after week to see if maybe she lucked out and got some hours. To top it off I am very sure that all of our customers and potential customers will be taking their buisness elsewhere. Somewhere that is open maybe? Closing at 2 and coming back to close? Are you fricken kidding me? What nut jobs are running this shindig? I for one am a very underpaid manager and now you tell me your going to cut my hours and I will be working by myself? What about my vacation? What if I am sick? Maybe if you give me one hell of a raise to run a show all alone but other than that I can start my own buisness and deal with the same thing. I feel we are going down and fast and I also believe that buying Picture Me studios only hurt us badly. Things were not like this a few years back. I should probably be looking for another job just in case. I will not be working in another studio thats not my own though thats for sure!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This is how it should happen

While browsing the internet looking for a press release someone commented about, I happened upon this story of how it should happen.

Yeah, that's right, I thought I'd take a negative break and post a happy story. If you ask me, the best part of the job was the families that would come back again and again and request you every time. Even in my short time there, there were kids that I got to see grow up quite a bit. Some kids were difficult, sure, but when you surprised the parents with how many great photos you got: that was a very rewarding experience.

(Ok I couldn't keep it completely negativity free): How can SPS expect to keep a customer base when their favorite photographers leave, meaning there's new associates every time they come in?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

SAS, the bane of your existence

I think SPS is the only business that requires two registers to complete a transaction thanks to SAS. From the mid nineties, SAS is a system that CPI is not willing to abandon. I know because I myself submitted it as an idea to save money as did one of my associates (only to be told that their IT people had better things to do with their time).

SAS is one of the hardest things to get a handle on for new associates and as a result it takes up a huge part of the training process. It is the least intuitive computer system that I've used and I've been computing since the 80's. Looking for customer information? Well you won't find it under the customer tab; it's under Sales. Looking for a transaction? this time it's under Customer. Plus they couldn't think of a way to make all your options visible at once (hint: smaller buttons), so you have to hunt around a bunch of different menus. In the end, it's all memorization as to where you need to go.

But once you've got it memorized, it still loves to screw up. "Oh look," you say "it accidentally added on a second collage when I used this coupon, let me go back and fix it" only to find that when you do that, it adds on a third collage. Try something else and you've got a fourth. You can't delete out any of these items. Your choice:

1) Make the customer wait while you wait in a 30 person queue to talk to tech support, also making your next appointment late
2) Modify the prices down to the correct total price and later be asked/accused about giving away 4 collages for free

Check out should be a quick painless process for the customer: click on the things they got, click on the coupons they used, and ring them out. Done. Or better yet, have the photo ordering software also seamlessly integrate with the register so that it automatically charges them. Just type in the session number and everything pops up.

Now that you don't have to pay me out of Watt's the Big Idea funds anymore, SPS, just do it for your employees and save yourself some training dollars.

It's been a while since I've been on SAS (thank goodness), so leave your experiences in the comments.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Happy Easter

From the comments:
"Our studio recently got an e-mail stating that if we beat sales for the day, everybody working gets time and a half. We were supposed to get time and a half REGARDLESS since they're forcing us to be open on a holiday!"
(Plus don't forget that you'll be paying for your easter props out of your own pocket)

edit: one commenter asks:
"What is so bad about that? The company wants TO MAKE MONEY. It's a business! Duh..."
I thought about that in making the post. True, they don't have to pay time and half to anyone. But I just imagine Easter across the business happening the same way it did at our studio. Our Easter appointments would vary year to year. Some years they might get 1-2 sittings. Other years they might get 0. Usually it was dead all day partially given that people don't expect a lot to be open on Easter. And out in the mall, you couldn't pull anyone in to get photos since the Sears was usually dead. So it's just the randomness that got me. Through no fault of your own, some poor associate might have no one come in all day and miss out on time and a half. It used to be that when an associate had to run the studio on Easter, at least you got to tell them that they would get getting time and a half as some small concession.

And on top of that, the associate can't do any outreach telemarketing with appointmentless time unless they just want to get people angry for calling them on a holiday.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Don't forget your connection pose. Oh wait, forget it.

Things at Sears Portrait Studio go in cycles. Every quarter there's a brand new crusade against something ranging from labor numbers to an element of 5 star photography. Let's use connection poses as an example, a type of pose that made up your 5 star photography grade.

First off, it was impossible to properly define a connection pose since it was an umbrella term for poses ranging from the child looking at a toy to a cute expression (this is as vague as it sounds). The difficult part was that sometimes in evaluations, we would get marked off points for not having a connection pose despite copying something directly from the training manual. Other times, photographers would get rewarded for having a connection pose and we were unable to figure out why.

The crusade ultimately lead to everyone having to go through their sits weekly to find and track their connection poses (with the free time that no one has). We also had a meeting in which we went through some sample sittings and sometimes we just had to say "You know, you're right. I don't know why you didn't get points for this connection pose" which makes it hard to enforce. Also this meeting was scheduled 2 days ahead of time and was a mandatory Sunday-before-open meeting for all associates, but that's beside the point.

Once we got everyone on the same page with connection poses and were able to get them as consistently as the vague criteria would allow, the corporate office tells us to forget connection poses: we're now going to focus on inventive/extreme angle poses and forget about tracking or grading connection poses.

Time to get on the phone and tell everyone to change their schedules: we've got a new mandatory meeting tomorrow evening.

How are the new hours working?

Over at the Open Thread they've been talking about Easter (which has a dumb way of scheduling) and the new hours the studios are running. I'll let the following comment ask the question for me:
Yeah, one of the worst things you can do in business is have unpredictable hours. Customers give up on you.

My question is how the heck is this a full time job for managers anymore? Are you in the studio every day now to make 40 hours?"
Did you lose any assistant managers when they weren't getting guaranteed hours? Did SMs have to take other people's hours so they themselves could get enough? How's working 6 days a week going?

Either way I figure nothing says "we aren't doing well" like making your store be open fewer hours.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sign and date here please

Someone emailed me on Tuesday and wrote
"Honestly, after reading your blog (which my fiance linked me to) i am
AMAZED that sears portrait studio hasn't had their asses sued up the wazoo
from their employees! How in the hell do they get away with it? That's

And in a this-is-really-wrong kind of way, they're actually very smart about it.
1) On your application they have you sign that they have the right to terminate you for any reason or for no reason. This is called being an at will employer.
2) To further protect themselves, everything is documented. Had too many coupons get used against you? That's a write up. If it happens next week, that's another write up that can lead to your termination for not fixing what you said you would fix and having fewer people bring in coupons.
3) Thanks to all the documentation, you feel like your job is always in jeopardy. I always felt like if I said "Hey, state law says my lunch is supposed to be uninterrupted and therefore I cannot take passports, deliver packets, or answer phones" that I would be seen as someone who wasn't a team player and then they would use all the documentation that they had stored up to give me the boot. Also, in terms of getting lunches, they have it documented that the DMs are yelling at you about making sure you get lunches, but in practice, it's just set up where it can't happen. As I've probably already written, my SM laughed at the fact that people expected to get lunches during their busy season shifts.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Open Thread

This is a thread where you can have a conversation about anything you would like in the comments. Have fun!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cleaning and sanitation

Submission via email:

"This quarter, we got a message from our DM stating that we would no longer be reimbursed for washing the blankets and large cloth backgrounds. If a child defecates on the black velvet, we are now supposed to clean it up with a wipe and move on. Are you kidding me? The large backgrounds need to be washed and dried in a super capacity washer and dryer to get them really clean, and I have honestly NEVER seen things this dirty! The blankets are getting stained with spit-up, babies routinely pee on the velvet, and they want us to clean it with a wipe?!? Aside from customers being upset that the white muslin is now stained with melted M&M's (thank you, idiot mother), this HAS to be against some kind of health code....right?"

I'm guessing yes. Why SPS has never paid someone to come and do cleaning on everything is beyond me. Especially now with the reduction of hours, it seems like there would be a cleaning service that could pick everything up and bring everything back in the morning. And it would give parents piece of mind that their child isn't sitting in pee from 5 months ago.

One of the best things about my new job away from SPS is that I'm no longer responsible for cleaning the entire place from top to bottom. Even with a magic eraser, that white vinyl would take an hour to clean in and of itself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Let's Celebrate Those Who Escape!

The comments section of this thread is designated for people that have quit. Let's all share in the excitement, shall we? I'll get it started with this story I received via email.

"Up until February of this year I was employed with Sears Portrait Studio. After nine short months I had made it from Associate to Store Manager. Recently CPI added two new additions to its ranks. Both are formally from Radio Shack, a business that has basically gone under! They have added new systems on top of an already existed system and has every one under them scared and running in circles to try and make the new systems work! Write up are flying every where and every studio is playing the blame game with their co-workers trying to keep their own job! I knew what was about to happen after my District Manager came back from a conference in Dallas and sent out an e-mail saying we were going to go to Monday and Friday conference calls, and a lot was about to change. I pushed myself away from the studio desk and and took a deep breath, I knew what was coming down the road, just as what is happening now! I said aloud "I will not be this person!" I immediately sprung into e-mailing her back. Subj: I Quit Effective Immediately! I closed down the store and as I drove away, there was this over coming feeling over me! I could breathe again and I felt like me, happy, spirited me! I feel sorry for my fellow co-workers and friends, but they are the ones who stay with it! I asking them, "How are you working for a company that is being micro-managed by two people whose previous company went bankrupt?" I am now self employed selling cosmetics and our motto is "People and Love!" I am ME!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Death Pool

How much longer do you think Sears Portait Studio has until it goes under? Leave your guesses in the comments so that later you can link it to your friends and say "I called it!"

To make it extra fun, let's guess the specific date they declare bankruptcy or close their doors .
I'll guess the announcment comes 12/31/09. Maybe that's too pessimistic a guess, but it seems like they would do it after their most profitable period and before things got really slow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fix CPI: Turnover

Sears Portrait Studio has a huge problem with turnover. It seems that my situation was not unique in that many newly hired people don't last more than 2-3 weeks.

What I really don't understand is that, from what your comments have recently said, is that now that times have gotten increasingly tough, the response seems to be "fire people that aren't making PRS numbers and hire new ones" as if this will magically make people spend more money and be more satisfied

It won't even help you save on labor when you fire that 3 year person (who got one raise and is now making .50 cents more an hour once she finally got it fixed in payroll) and hire a new person. Yeah, the new person will make less, but you'll have to spend your time to train the person and also have to pay someone to cover the studio while you train them*.

I'm not sure if I even dare ask this question, but readers, how would you prevent people from quitting? I can't think of a good answer other than fix everything else we've talked about in previous posts. In other words, make it so this blog doesn't need to exist. I would love to change this blog to "Sears Portrait Studio Is Not That Bad" but get the feeling that Sears is more likely to go under than it is to be "not that bad"

*note: not taking the time to train the person also costs you money since they won't get photos that people want to buy.


The word on the street is you guys are doing a lot more paperwork these days? Give me a summary and I'll post about it.

I find it hard to believe they're adding even more paperwork. When I was working they switched from 15 minutes of closing paperwork to 30 minutes: most of it duplicate information or information that could always be printed in the future if need be.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fix CPI: CDs

CD's as low as 9.99!
...if you have already spent $100
...and the 9.99 CD only has one pose.
...otherwise it's around $70-$119.99
...[but shh, we'll sell it during the reorder sale for 19.99]

Everyone wants their images on disc. But in order to get that, they need to spend about $120 (either to buy the CD by itself or to buy a collection that has a CD). It's one thing when they've seen the pictures and can say "I want all of these" but how in the world can you convince someone "Digital images important to you? Hey, come on down to have your photos taken by someone you've never met. I hope your kid doesn't act up, because the CD is $120 no matter how good the photos are."

People want their images on CD. It seems to me that these days, it's actually preferred that you get your images on disc. What would you do to change CD's if anything. The main problem I see is that if you make them cheaper, your people that normally do collections, might only do the $60 CD. But would more 9.99 people do the CD instead? I think the CD sets the max price that you will likely get from your customers. Sell it for $60 and no one will buy anything that costs $80 (they can print it themselves. This is likely why the CD is $120 and the target PRS is (or used to be) 120.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Fyi, writing "I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT!" on the memos you use to communicate with staff is not sufficiently motivating or encouraging, and I don't believe that you believe it especially when everything else you say says otherwise. It probably looks good when the DM comes to visit though.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fix CPI: Motivation

I don't think I'm being too reductionary when I say that the motivation to do well at Sears Portrait Studio is that you get to keep your job.

If you do poorly then you're out the door. That goes without saying at any job, but the problem is how doing poorly is defined. Have a bad week due to some 9.99 coupons dragging your average down? That's a write up.

Really if you ask me, the main problem is at SPS, there's no such thing as a good week. There are weeks when you do ok and therefore made your numbers and then there are bad weeks where you didn't make one of your numbers (be they sales numbers, five star photo numbers, labor numbers, telemarketing numbers). I didn't see much of any positive recognition (not counting the very forced "let's talk about what you did well" before the "let's talk about where you are doing horrible" potion of meetings) while I was at SPS. And, numbers aside, staff often sees their schedules change the day before they're supposed to work: days added, days lost, frantic calls asking someone to work. People switch their life around for the job because they feel they have to or they won't be a "team player" aka "someone with a job"

What's the best way to make staff feel motivated to do their best without putting their jobs on the line? How can you make the staff feel appreciated and valued?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How do they do it?

I want to interrupt the Fix CPI posts to ask a question. We've already discussed how at SPS, there's plenty of opportunities to move up in position since people quit so often and we discussed how my DM was someone who went from seasonal help to district manager in about 2 years.

But on the other hand, I don't know if you've looked at the company newsletter ever, but every once in a while, there would be someone in the newsletter where it would be something like this: "Congratulations to Ms. Person who, after nine years with the company, has been promoted to Studio Manager."

How do people last that long? Is it related to what some posters have said: how things used to be enjoyable at CPI and now are not (making those first nine years a breeze relative to the stuff they're about to have to endure)? I know that for some, working with the cute babies is enough to help them endure all the bad stuff, but nothing could make me endure for nine years.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Clothing choices

Image from deleteyourself. Looks like a Sears Portrait Studio collage if you ask me. If you can't read the shirt it says "Waterhole B.I.T.C.H. Beautiful Intelligent Talented Charming and Horny.

What are your worse clothing choice stories? While I had my share of people coming in wearing ridiculous shirts and getting the 9.99 package, the thing that surprised me the most were those that came in wearing horribly wrinkled graduation robes, take photos only in those, and then spend $250 on a package.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fix CPI: Coupons

Coupons. They bring people in, but then people can end up spending 4.99. With people looking to save money [I feel like that is the phrase I'm going to use in every post], what are your custom conversions at? SPS can have a very busy day that requires two associates to be there, but if that second associate just ends up selling 4.99 packages, those extra sits have actually lost you money since you had to pay an extra person to be there.

What, in your opinion, is hurting you the most? Is it not having enough sits, or is it having too many coupons? If you're running single coverage, it's of course best to have as many sits as possible; there's no need to have an associate sitting doing nothing. But we also all know how having a day where two coupon-users kills your PRS and your job security.

Now, I don't know a lot about marketing and I venture that a lot of our readers don't either, but if you put yourself in the shoes of marketing, what would you do? More coupons? Fewer coupons? Different coupons? Better targeted coupons?

Friday, February 27, 2009

"Full time"

I wanted to highlight the following comment because of how well it shows that things are getting worse. Studios are beginnning to cut hours to the point that studio managers have to basically live at the studio:

"Recently CPI has changed the hours of operations on some "test" studios (soon to be changed in all studios). In my studio our new hours will mean we are only OPEN 35 hours out of the week. That means, as a studio manager, I have to work every single hour we are open every single day. It's ridiculous! It also means that my assistant manager's hours will be cut down to practically nothing and my other staff... well... sorry?

To top all that off, we were recently told on a conference call that if we drop below 32 hours a week, then the shorted time will be taken from our PTO time [a combination of sick days and vacation days]. So if I decide one week to only work 5 days, then whatever hours I'm short will come out of the measly PTO time I have. We are forbidden from taking unpaid time off. I think that too is ridiculous. We aren't salary workers. We are hourly. If we want to work less hours, it means they just pay us less! We used to be able to take unpaid PTO with DM's approval provided our studio was covered. Now, we have to basically work 6 days a week with no break but measly pay."
I don't know how Sears can expect to get good assistant managers any more. People that have any kind of relevant experience or skills aren't going to work for the small number of hours. This is probably why, a couple months ago, there were rumors of the assistant manager position being eliminated (which, to date, we've heard nothing of). Eventually, it seems to me that they're going to realize how few hours the assistant managers are getting, eliminate the position, and fill the gap with associates that they get to pay less.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The revolving door

There have been a lot of great comments on the previous entry about the horrible conditions at Sears Portrait Studio, and I wanted to highlight a few. These are in response to another comment that suggested that if you try your best, you'll always be safe from losing your job:

"I was fired for low studio numbers...I did everything in my power to get the numbers up. I was a loyal employee for 15 years. I worked holidays and nearly every weekend; hell, I didn't even take a sick day my first 5 years. I hung in through all the changes and daily BS. My reward? A DM who lied about studio visits, posted my job online before beginning any corrective action, talked smack about other studio managers to me, and played favorites on a regular basis. Don't kid yourself. You are ALWAYS REPLACEABLE. "

And another commenter writes: "The problem with this job is the company feels we are easily replaced. on a recent conference call we were told to interview people weekly so those who are underperforming can be replaced immediately. you CAN and DO get fired for low numbers.and good luck actually getting people to take the job at the lousy starting pay. we are so easily replaced and yet it takes a dedicated person to fully do this job and give good customer svc. we hire any old person off the street and expect a miracle. thats why this company is in the toilet. START WITH THE EMPLOYEES. find your sales rising. (oh look i wrote in caps that means IT WILL be done right?)"

Did you catch that? People are being told to interview people when there aren't even positions open. As many SM and DMs that have had their jobs posted know, nothing says "we don't value you" like actively seeking out new people to do your job.

I left this company about six months ago thinking that it couldn't get any worse over there, but clearly it's gotten worse.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fix CPI: Business model

The CPI business model is more or less the following: bring in people, take great photos, use sales tactics to sell them sheets at 14.99 each, bring them back.

Is this sustainable? I mean, yes, it's incredibly profitable to sell a product at 14.99 that costs you about 17 cents in raw materials, but it doesn't help if you only get a few customers a day. And, thanks to coupons (which will be another day's entry so save up those comments!), some customers pay just 9.99 for their entire package of photos that it took your associate an hour to take.

Times are tough and people are learning how to spend less. I know that the people at Sears take great photos, but how can you continue to convince people that your photos are so great that, rather than spending .26 cents for a cute 4x6 print that they took at Walgreens, they should instead pay many times that for a sheet of 4 3.5x5's, all with the same pose.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Readers, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the problems that CPI faces and figure out what (if anything) they can do to make things better for you. Let's talk about the different aspects of the way that SPS is set up and discuss how you would change them. If you have topics you would like to discuss, let me know.

Let's start with PRS. Working at Sears Portrait Studio means you've got a lot of associates that are part timers, many of them students. In theory, since they're there 10-15 hours a week, they're not that invested in the well-being of the company (not saying this is true, I'm just going through the reasoning). When you as a company want to make more money, it makes sense that you would try to get their average sale up. Bring their average sale (or anyone's for that matter) up, and you bring in more money.

The main problem, of course, is that in practice, everything isn't tied to average sales. For example, when SPS calls people during outreach telemarketing, those sittings typically spend less. So you could have someone who brings in 10 extra sits for herself in a week, but this would reflect on her negatively, since these sittings would bring down her PRS.

We all know how closely PRS is tied to you having a job or not, and as a result, everyone feels like their job is in jeopardy when economic times get tough and people spend less.

Would you change PRS? How would you track job performance? How would you motivate staff to bring in more money? It's easy to say what doesn't work (and if you ask me, PRS has a lot of problems), but it's far more difficult to figure out new ways of doing things.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

From the front lines

I wanted to highlight a comment we received just this morning from upsetcpiemployee:

I am a current employee in upper management and things are not getting ANY better, only worse. Since hiring J[name deleted]and K[name deleted], PRS has become a major topic. They have gone to the extent of yelling and degrading TMs, DMs and even studio managers in front of their peers, because we have people who are running lower numbers, and heaven forbid we have not terminated them immediatly after having a bad week. The thought of retraining people (even those who were hired just before Christmas and got the minimal training to begin with) is out of the question. No, we are to terminate them and find replacements. Like we can find people who will work for 7.50 (and that is on the high end in some of the studios across the country) and get 10 hours max. GOOD LUCK.

I feel for all of you that struggled at all levels with this company, and only pray things will change. I miss the old CPI, when we believed in recognizing our top performers and developing those who struggled. Heck, this year we are not even allowed to have awards ceromonies at any level. How is that for recognition! I am sorry that any of you had to feel the need to "fudge" your numbers to keep your job. [This was a comment on the "Screw over your employees" post] We failed you as a company, and I really do appologize. At the same token, I say "we" as if I am Home Office and I am not. I too am constantly worried that my job is on the line, and feel the pressure that the two new additions (J--- & K-----)have placed on us. I am glad I found this site just to speak my mind. I love what I do, and I have for a long time. I love watching associates and managers grow from when the were hired or promoted to becoming tops in the company, but that has been taken from me, and I miss it. Now it is just like our customers at Christmas lately with the lack of staff we have had, a cattle herd. We are not developing anyone, we hire them, give them the bare bones training, and give them 30-90 days to sink or swim. That is not fair to our managers, our employees and definatly not fair to our customers.
I hope Renato himself reads these comments, because we need to go back to the days of developing a staff and creating future managers in all studios. And you cannot get there by the constant turn over. And you certainly will not get there by having people like J--- and K----- come in and take a hatchet to our company and degrade all employees, whether they are on the top or bottom, they will find something they can complain about.

For those of you still employed by CPI, hang in there. It was not always a bad place to work, and I hope some day it will get back there.And please do not "fudge" numbers, ask for help. Any good leader will help you get through a tough time!

[Readers, come back for tomorrow's entry; let's discuss how Sears Portrait Studio can be fixed.]

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Screw over your employees

One thing I see come up from time to time in submissions we get from associates is the complaint that studio managers steal all the good sales.

I've gotta say, as an assistant, this was something I did. I had to. The company constantly put me in the place where I always felt that if my sales didn't go up by an average 10 dollars that week, I would be in danger of being fired.

So when a new associate came in who obviously wasn't going to last more than two weeks (hint: 95% of them) and they happen to make a $200 sale of photos I took while doing sales training, of course I'm going to enter my code in the register. This will result in the associate's average not being as good, but they have a lot of leeway during the first couple weeks. I would never take credit for a later sale when their PRS really starts to count for their own job security, but early on, who wouldn't? You've gotta do whatever it takes when it feels like you might lose your job.

If only everyone didn't always feel of the brink of being let go.

Monday, January 26, 2009

As if it getting a raise wasn't impossible already

Our latest submission deals with one employee's quest to get the wages promised at the interview.

"I am going through a situation with SPS currently even though I've been gone for the past month. After about 3 months working there, I was dense enough to not look at my pay stubs and see that my hiring manager put me on for $7.50 an hour instead of the 8.50 that she told me from the very beginning. And I'm sorry but I know people that work at Target who make more than $7.50 and I'm pretty damn sure if I would have known she hired me for $7.50 I would've rethought my options. However, she said $8.50 and after finally checking my pay stub I realized I was getting gypped.

This is not the first time this particular hiring manager has done this. One of my co-workers overlooked her pay stubs as well and noticed that she hadn't received her two $.50 raises for the past year and when she went to the manager she said she would 'take care' of it and apparently never did. My co-worker later heard from the asst. manager that the hiring manager was almost going to fire her so payroll wouldn't find out that she never updated this girls pay. Fortunately she didn't fire her because if she had that would've counted as a lawsuit against the store and in the end my friend - the co-worker - got back her money which amounted to well over $500.

But now, it's my turn and I was only hired for a seasonal position. I quit before they even got to lay me off and I was told that I would receive my retro-pay with my last paycheck and guess what? I didn't. I'm almost 100% my manager didn't even call or email or talk to payroll about my situation at all."

Anyone else have similar problems? The above problem might not even be the studio manager's fault. I know at my studio, one of the associates had the problem that she was getting paid too much. She told the studio manager who tried time and time again to get it fixed. Eventaully, the associate said "I'm going to tell you one last time and if they can't fix it, they can't fix it."

Friday, January 9, 2009

From a DM's perspective

I just received this as a comment on an old post and found it too good to just leave hidden and squirreled away. Not that this will be much of a surprise, it’s not easy being a district manager either. I’ve added topic headings to each paragraph but mostly left everything else unchanged. The following post is long but great.

I actually agree with 100% of the complaints I see on this site. But, I would also like you guys to see what we see in DM land

Being a DM, Fake Appointments I was a DM for 5 years, and recently lost my job this fall due to performance.(we were way in the red)Before we jump on managements back and make them out to be the bad guy...I think we need to look at ourselves. I had 15-19 studios at any given time. Part of my job was to look at your no show/cancellation rates. And investigate the issues. I would simply pretend to call the customer and confirm the appointments. In every single location I would find fake appointments being made. In the studio. That’s frustrating I realize that is was most likely not the management - but it was still happening. In every location.

Outreach We also would have to investigate the validity of these appointments - I'd say 40% of my districts and the other districts that I looked after due to DM maternity leave...medical leave...etc... were also false. The amount of energy that went into making false appointments astounds me. Why not just book the real one ? But here's the thing... I hated trying to sell to you guys that outreach wasn't telemarketing. Because no matter how you slice it, it was.

Labor I hated telling you guys you had to go down to single coverage during the*off* season. So I would discuss it with you all on conference calls and then during one on ones -I would end up giving you extra coverage anyhow. Believing that you would hold up your end of the bargain and get those extra appointments- be it smile searching...via phone or acquisitions. That never happened. You still ended up with the extra labor though. I was such a sucker, and this is why I no longer hold my position and have gone back to being a studio associate.

The hours kept My point is - there are good DM's. They know what it is like being from the field and do their best to work with you from that point of view. We have families to take care of, too. And DM's do not make a lot of money. Contrary to popular belief. We work 7 days a week. But we sign up for that. We don't sit on a couch eating bon bons taking calls while watching all my children. We have check ins from studios and forms that need to be filled out showing what we worked on with you guys, etc. Our office days are usually are longest days of the week. Usually not getting done until 9 or 10 at night...and trust me...those TM's expect us to start our day by 630/7am.

Dealing with upper management We also get yelled at, screamed at, told we are failures and that our people are failures. We keep all of that from you guys. That’s no way to motivate a team. Studio-Field has no idea what our calls and our visits are like. We protect you guys from all of that. You really and truly have no idea. V.P.'s and CFO's look at your numbers on a report...and ask why we still a studio manager who is doing so poorly. Without knowing anything about you or what you do in your studio. We try to explain what hard workers, go-getters, PRS drivers, photography gurus you all are. They just wave all that off. All that matters is the end result. If it were your business - would you write them a check from an overdrawn account week after week? We get asked that a lot.

Lending a hand Ever wonder how you have more outreach done on some weeks than you thought? Well some DM's get so tired of getting yelled at over a studio shooting 25 customers in a week and booking one outreach appointment...we just do some for you. you use 100 hours to do that...let's say I even give you fifty hours to handle the 25 customers. What did you do with the other fifty hours? Someone has to do it, right? Why not the DM ...not like we have anything else to do.

Spending your own money - I have never told someone they had to spend their own money to hold an event. I lay out the ideas/options. But also gave them plenty of ideas for events that cost 0 dollars. I spent thousands on event kits to be passed around the district. (that I don't get reimbursed for.) in hopes it will drive business. For what? For some studios not to book a single appointment ... or for other studios not to even bother picking up the kit on their scheduled day. (and I always paid mileage and drive time and if you couldn’t get the kit I made sure I brought it to you.) Or my favorite - the only sittings shot with the event kit were associates family. Why? It was very frustrating. And for those of you who are going to tell me that DM's get reimbursed... I'll just tell you only sometimes and at certain times of year. So when I spent hundreds of dollars per event kit...I could submit a pro forma and it didn't always get approved if I did it on my own accord. And then to get the kits back... with half of the props missing or damaged. Well that was the straw that broke my camels back. I stopped buying new things. I expect wear and tear from kids. Most of the damage was not being stored or transferred properly. Just not taking care of things. It was always very disheartening.

The Team My people. I loved my team. I bragged about them, shared their work with everyone including the higher ups at corporate. We were so photography driven. I taught my people how to shoot like a private studio in the high end of town would shoot. None of this cookie cutter malarkey you see on passouts or coupons. My people were bad ass. We usually got yelled at for thinking outside of the box and we never were five star. I would look at all the five star studios work outside of my district every round. I would pull up hundreds of their sittings and it would never even compare. It’s easy to get a five star by using mechanics. Five Star studios rarely ever have WOW photography. It’s all mechanics. How boring. I found our work far more inspiring and our customer retention rate was huge because of it. But we were never given any credit. We got bitched at instead. I’d be more than happy to share with any of you the model released work we shot if anyone wants to leave an email address.

PRS. Pre photography really does work. I could go into studios and only one or two in the district would actually do (sitting card review) pre photo. Why? If you know it works - why just blatantly ignore instructions? And I'm not talking doing pre photo in the thick of it. I'm talking in January... blank session cards. Same thing goes for session planning. I always got a lot of lip service from my people. But when I inspected things, it didn't happen. This is probably where I failed. If I performance managed everyone who wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be. I'd be running 18 studios by myself. Even though my team didn't do what they were supposed too, I still loved them and went out on a limb for them all the time. If they only knew how many times I had to go to bat for them to keep them from getting fired because of performance their heads would spin. I put my name on the line time after time because I kept expecting them to just listen to what I was saying. I guess they just didn't want too. And I didn't want to fire people over small things like I was directed, so I lost my job. I blame myself, yes. As you can see though, I’m not 100% at fault.

Contests Corporate stopped letting us buy gift cards and contest prizes, etc. any of you that have got them in the past year... that's money out of your DM's pocket. Not reimbursed. TM'S stopped approving those things a year ago. I was always buying gift cards... I even offered up cold hard cash for contests. The sad thing is, half the time the associates didn't know about the contests. And only half the studios would ever participate. I'm sorry if you think fifty dollars isn't enough. But that's all I got. If I didn't take the money out of my own pocket-there would’ve been nothing offered. No contests. Then you'd be complaining about that. I never once told my people how they were supposed to spend their winnings. Some chose to use it on their studio for a morale booster - some would keep it. My philosophy was that you do what you want with it.

DM's as “corporate”I read this entire website today. I think one thing that is lost in translation is that DM's are not corporate. They are also field management. We don't make rules. We have to enforce what's brought to us. We think the 4.99 sucks too. We think you’re abused by customers all the time. We think that you guys having to always go against LY...instead of just focusing on this years profit also sucks. We also think the bonus programs are ridiculous. Going against LY with a bad economy is a joke. We also think the appointment scheduler is a joke. We fight your fight with corporate all the time over it. but then when they investigate and find you have fake appointments in there...we're the ones made out to be the idiots. But we still take it. We think the single coverage in a high volume studio is insane. But we also know some of you schedule how we expect you to in the browser. then carry a paper schedule of what you actually do in the studio. We are on that.

Not all DM's are idiots. There’s so many that do go the extra mile. Before you judge, I'm just saying walk a mile in their shoes. It’s really hard to give a fair opinion on something unless you've been on both sides of the fence. I have been. I love what I do, and will never leave the industry.

Closing thoughtsYou guys work very hard for little glory. And there are a handful of you out there who do everything 100%. But seriously. Not everyone does. Trainers out there know what I'm talking about. You see it in studios when you visit.
I believe in the plight of the studio manager. I'm one of you. But I won't judge another’s position without knowing all that it entails. I could go on for hours about this...and some of you would have your minds blown at the abuse we take/took as DM's. (I still have a hard time saying I’m not anymore.)

Friday, January 2, 2009

A chance to win money you should already have

A submission from a reader:

There was a $100 incentive once in our district to be awarded to the studio manager that reached a particular benchmark. I was the winner. About a month later, when we were being asked to buy things for the studio with our own money (as we usually were), I mentioned to her that I didn't have the cash to put up for supplies and props. She said to me "What about that $100 you won?" I said, "I used it to buy groceries." She said, "That was meant to be spent on your studio." I was shocked. Why was I working so hard to win a prize? To win money to be spent on props and supplies for my studio? Those are things that the company should be paying for anyway. What a lousy incentive.