For Tim Kasberger, the recession is not altogether a bad thing for his Grandville-based company, Colorinc.
By giving individual photographers a way to make their colors more brilliant and their prints more striking, he is giving some people who would like to supplement their household income a way to do so more effectively.
As a full-service digital lab that handles color management, retouching and printing options, Colorinc is experiencing robust growth by reaching out to individuals who are looking for a way to take the quality of their digital photography to the next level.
Founder and president of Colorinc, Kasberger says he expects to add as many as six more people in the fall to company’s current staff of 10 full-time and four part-time employees – mostly in the production area.
Within the company’s facility at 3280 Chicago Drive, production staff process and complete a wide variety of customer orders, while three customer service representatives stay busy keeping issues under control. Individual attention is key to Colorinc's success, Kasberger says.
Kasberger’s inspiration came from his own experience as a photographer looking for help on color issues.
“What really kind of made me go was just needing somebody to nail it all the time, someone to give us good consistent color all the time,” Kasberger, 39, says. “I just started dabbling with the Inkjet printer, and I knew I could make consistent color all the time. And I thought, ‘Why can’t a professional lab nail it?’”
Kasberger began working as an independent photographer in 2001, running his own studio in Grandville. That alone was an impressive leap considering that he had dropped out of Jenison High School some 15 years earlier.
Once he left school, Kasberger’s father helped him get a job at a tool and die shop, where his co-workers began noticing the high quality of the photos he would bring in and post around his work area. A set of photos from Michigan International Speedway especially generated interest.
“Guys at work asked me to do their family pictures and senior pictures, and the photo thing bloomed out of that,” Kasberger says. “In 1999, I was working at night in the tool and die and had started the photography business on the side.”
Once he established his studio in 2001, he saw four-fold growth for several years in a row. In 2003, Kasberger began operating his digital lab on the side, but quickly discovered that the potential of his new side business outpaced that of his photography studio. It also offered him the opportunity not to rely so much on his own individual productivity to generate all the income of the enterprise.
Taking the Plunge
The launch was not without some risk, however, as it required Kasberger to make a $250,000 capital investment in equipment to operate the business. He says that investment followed extensive research before he was satisfied that a return on the investment would be repeatable and sustainable over the long term.
“I realized that with the photo studio – I called it Tim-intensive – I had to be taking photos in order to producing income,” Kasberger recalled. “This doesn’t require Tim to produce income. So we started pushing some of that excellence in marketing that we gained from TK Photo. We took what we learned there and we plugged it into Colorinc, and boom, we had 200 customers.”
Today, Colorinc boasts about 8,000 customers, and is shooting for 10,000 by the end of 2010. Although the company receives online orders from as far away as Australia, Kasberger says its largest market remains the Grand Rapids area.
The decision to focus on smaller customers, as opposed to larger institutional ones was based on a variety of factors. One was the desire not to put too many proverbial eggs in one basket. That would put the company, and its employees, at too much risk of a major loss of business and the necessity of layoffs.
“One of my things has been slow, consistent growth, and not to have a lot of eggs in a few little baskets,” Kasberger says. “If you have a customer that’s 10 percent of your business or 20 percent of your business, and they leave – I really care too much about these guys (his employees). We have a bunch of kids here and we take care of them.”
One to One
Another factor is the value proposition Kasberger believes he offers to the individual photographer – an especially important market at a time when a non-working spouse or a person willing to pursue a side venture might help his or her family considerably by earning some extra income.
Lisa Kae Ruff, owner of Grand Rapids-based Lisa Kae Photography, says Colorinc has provided a major advantage to her business, most of which consists of wedding photos and “bellies” (those of pregnant women) as well as children.
“I’m a local business, and I want to support a local business,” Ruff says. “I can drive there and pick things up. And I work late at night. A lot of photographers work third shift these days. I edit things around 4 a.m., and I got two phone calls today from their staff saying, ‘Lisa, you misspelled something. You have to resubmit this.’ That’s the kind of customer service they have, and that to me is huge.”
Ruff said she has been doing professional photography for three years this summer, and Colorinc has considerably eased the transition from the amateur to the professional scene.
“It’s not as easy as going to Meijer and sticking in your card and doing the things you used to do with your personal photos,” Ruff said.
Customer service can be a challenge, of course, when a company deals with such a large number of customers. Kasberger handles that challenge by maintaining full-time customer service staff, and by preaching quality standards that minimize customer service issues.
“As long as we’re doing our job right of providing consistent color and careful packaging, listening to customer concerns – just being proactive on a lot of those processes – we make sure we have a great product and it gets delivered undamaged,” Kasberger says.
He has had his staff write some customized customer service software to help in dealing with the large value of relationships Colorinc maintains.
“I’m always preaching to our customer service team, 'If we do our job right, if we’re proactive, we’re not going to have to worry about a bunch of phone calls from a bunch of customers,'” Kasberger says.
Dan Calabrese is the co-founder and editor in chief of North Star Writers Group and previously owned a West Michigan public relations firm by the same name. He has written for the Macomb Daily, the Royal Oak Daily Tribune, the Journal Newspapers in Wayne County and the Grand Rapids Business Journal.
-Tim and Dee Kasberger, Colorinc owners (2)
-Tim Kasberger in Colorinc (2)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved