Friday, December 5, 2008

iPfH values

As I've told you in previous posts, my father started this company 30 years ago. Although I've been hanging around this place my whole life, I never really knew the business intimately until a few years ago when I starting working here full time. Before that, I ran through the dark rooms with my sister as a kid, raided the snack room, and visited my dad for lunch every now and then. That was really the extent of my involvement. I never imagined that I would be sitting here today as an employee of In fact, I really resisted getting into any kind of business at all. And I mean seriously resisted it.

I majored in creative writing in college and wrote all kinds of essays about how materialistic I thought our society had become. I imagined how great it would have been if I was born back when most people lived on farms and actually saw the results of their labor in the fields, rather than in numbers on their bank statements.

I went to college just north of the Adirondack State Park, went camping, climbed mountains and tried to figure out what I could do with my life that would be both fulfilling and pay my bills. My first job out of college was as an AmeriCorps volunteer doing trail maintenance in Maryland State Parks. I thought that was a pretty good start.

After that was over, I came home for what I thought was just going to be six months or so. I asked my dad if I could have a job while I figured out my next step. He put me to work mounting slides and packing prints, and about six months later I found myself doing customer service.

What was really surprising to me then - although looking back on it now I suppose I should have known that I would have all along - was that I really enjoyed my job.

I really liked working at a desk for a business.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that transformation, trying to understand why exactly I was (and am) so content. I came to realize that it has to do with the values that serve as the foundation for this business - the values that my father instilled in our company policies.

Shortly after this realization, I asked my dad and my brother to have a little meeting with me. I sat them down and thanked them for the opportunity to work with such good people. I thanked them for the way that they treated me and my fellow employees. And I thanked them for the way that they had structured this business.

I always imagined business to be all about money. And while it is to a certain extent, that's not what it feels like here.

We aren't a retail store that stocks items that people purchase. And we don't really fit into what would be defined as the service industry like a custom print lab or a restaurant. We're more like partners with our customers. We help them create prints that they need to run their own businesses or etsy shops or to hang in galleries.

That in itself, that partnership, really shapes the way we do business here at We see ourselves as having a working relationship with our customers. So instead of treating each order as an isolated commitment to produce a certain number of prints and collect a certain amount of money, we treat each order as an opportunity to build on that working relationship.

We do that in a few ways. First, we do our best to produce excellent prints and slides. If there is something about the order that we think our customers might not be satisfied with (the image that they submitted may be low resolution or they may have accidentally requested that artwork be cropped), we actually contact the customer ahead of time to make them aware of the issue. Many times this results in orders being cancelled. You would think we would try to avoid that. But, more often than not, the customer places a new order later in the day from a new file and this time around we know that they'll be satisfied.

If for some reason the customer still isn't satisfied, they are covered under our guarantee. We guarantee all of our work 100%, regardless of whose fault it is. This one makes my job particularly stress free. If a customer calls and they need something fixed, we fix it. That sounds pretty simple and straight forward and not really much to brag about, but that simplicity is exactly what's worth bragging about.

We answer the phone when people call. We won't put you on hold or make you talk to a robot. If we don't answer because the lines are busy, leave a message and we'll call you back right away (usually within 30 mins). Then, once we're on the phone together, your problem should be solved within ten minutes.

That's it - you call, we answer and your problem is dealt with.

Our customers are really happy with the way that we treat them - and they tell us about it. It isn't uncommon that a customer will actually use the word "love" when they talk about how satisfied they are with their experiences with our company. Being on the receiving end of that is a pleasure. I'm actually smiling right now typing this, because it really does feel great to feel so appreciated by our customers.

Also, we're not just working with your average, everyday consumer here. We're helping a special group of people; we work with artists.

Artists are fascinating to work with.

Artists are people who are headed down a path that is not easily defined. They are creating art, courageously standing behind their work and presenting it to the world. It's not an easy thing to do.

These people, our customers, are coming to us because they need help realizing their dreams. And I don't mean to imply that we play a large role in that realization. The part we play is small, but important - important to the artist.

Being a part of that, working to help someone along that winding path, is really fun. I mean, of course, there are bumps and dead ends and wrong turns that come in the form of an unexpected color reproduction or a print being damaged in shipping or a file issue. But because we treat our customers like our partners, because we actually help them negotiate their way through these issues, even the tough things are a breeze.

So, I changed my mind. I decided to stick around and work for the man. That man, as we've already discussed, happens to be my dad. And as it turns out, he's a pretty cool cat.

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