In recent months, there’s been a lot of investment and business activity in the school and events photography space. Lifetouch and Jostens have both found new owners and, north of the border, long-standing Canadian firm Edge Imaging announced in late October Walter Capital Partners made a “significant investment” in the company, with the intention of building the Burlington, Ontario, company into a national brand.
The Dead Pixels Society recently spoke with Dan Boudreau, a 25-year industry veteran with stints at Jostens and Lifetouch, who was appointed CEO. He owned his own school photography business in the ‘90s, Photogenic Plus, that was acquired by Jostens in 2001. Boudreau stayed with Jostens after the Lifetouch acquisition in 2006 and was most recently Sales Director, Eastern Ontario responsible for approximately $30 million in annual revenue.
Edge Imaging President Dave Pond and CTO Mike Watkinson remain with the company. Founded in 2005, Edge Imaging is a vertically integrated operation, emphasizing customer service, quality, and security, the company says.
“It’s a privilege to work with Mike and Dave,” says Boudreau. “Edge Imaging is a fantastic company. My immediate goal is to build a relationship with the entire organization and work on brand building. Our vision is to get the company across Canada, by organic growth, by acquisition and by expanding our team to include key individuals in core growth areas. The majority of our business is now in Ontario, and we are expanding our presence in Vancouver and BC.” Today, the company serves elementary schools, high schools, and university, and has a smaller amount of sports organizations as customers.
Boudreau adds part of the appeal of the Edge Imaging opportunity was the vast technical prowess of the business, coupled with the lab’s strong focus on security. In Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is a federal privacy law for private-sector organizations, specifically how businesses – like school photo labs – must handle personal information – like photos, names, records – in the course of commercial activity.
“In North America, when you are in school photography, you gather information on the student,” explains Boudreau. “With PIPEDA, that information has to reside within the company and stay safe. Edge Imaging has taken a leadership position in the industry, including procedures taking photos, retrieving the information, and every handling of the information, safeguarding it from point A to point B. At Edge, all data is kept in-house, whereas others send the data to a third-party vendor.”
The changing digital landscape of the school photography market also means new opportunities for Edge. In the analog era, a school photography company worked with the school as a middleman and had little direct contact with the end consumer, the parents. As the market shifted to the online, parents began ordering directly from school photo websites.
New products delivered differently
“Parents still want to buy a photo print, year-to-year, but how it’s delivered is different,” says Boudreau. “Parents also want the digital image, too, which is an adaption for the market. This shift is only going to continue.”
He adds, through this direct connection to the consumer, schools are happier they no longer have to interact with parents regarding school photo issues and Edge Imaging benefits because feedback is direct from the end user. The arrangement also allows Edge Imaging to market directly to consumers.
Edge Imaging also provides an array of other services to school boards, too, including pictorial directories, identifications, yearbook images, directional signage and even school awareness banners promoting healthy lifestyles. The company’s Edgeview Photo Database software is an electronic student database.
Being vertically integrated does have its challenges, adds Boudreau, especially with seasonality. Spring programs (along with sibling photos) and sports teams help even out the production flow.
Boudreau adds the company is looking at new and innovative products to capitalize on its technological and secure base. For example, the Edge Loyalty program offers parents a convenient way to link and view school photos year-over-year, which can be printed as a composite photo.
“Most companies in Canada are not able to offer kindergarten through high school portraits, and be able to show that to parents,” says Boudreau.