In the digital age, when an abundance of photographic tools, devices and apps are at our fingertips, it takes quite a unique service proposition for a photography company to rake in the cash. Welcome to Barrett & Coe
Conventional logic would hold that truly excellent photography, like all art, is something that cannot really be taught. But this month’s franchise in the spotlight shows this for the fallacy that it is. With just a few years of experience, the work of a Barrett & Coe photographer can easily rival the work of someone who has spent their whole life honing their art. “The results are phenomenal,” remarks co-founder Andrew Coe. “We have hundreds and hundreds of forms from customers saying what wonderful photography it was.”
The progenitors of Barrett & Coe certainly aren’t lacking in experience of the field. “I’ve had a long history with photography,” explains Coe. “My family firm is one of the oldest in the world; it goes back to 1850.” His co-founder Brian Barrett has also had plenty of recognition for his portrait and wedding photography. “He’s been pretty renowned throughout the industry,” Coe says. “I don’t just mean in the UK – both in America and across Europe and winning awards in all of those places.”
It was on a flight to compete for such awards in New York State that the two met. The level of competition in America provided a stiff challenge and one neither of the photographers could resist. By pure chance they got chatting on the plane and the subject quickly moved onto how little training was available for wedding photography and portraiture. Coe recalls, “We thought, ‘There really isn’t anywhere that’s training portrait and wedding photographers.’ There was no formal training.” Neither academic settings nor government organisations had any real provisions for training people wanting to become professionals in the field. And this was all it took to spark the Barrett & Coe franchise.
Very quickly, during the first half of the 2000s, Barrett & Coe became a thriving photography franchise. Its roster of franchisees grew to 65 photographers, all of whom were producing the highest standard of work. “Our franchisees have covered weddings in the most prestigious locations throughout the UK: castles in Scotland, the Savoy, the Ritz and all the places in between,” says Coe. Rapidly, it became clear not only that the model worked, but that it was highly effective. “We found it was possible to train someone who had never done photography before to become a highly successful wedding photographer.”
Since 2009, the franchise has undergone significant change, with portraiture becoming their main focus. “That’s not to say we don’t do weddings – we do but portraits have become the driving force,” explains Coe. With a network of affiliate contracts with organisations such as the National Childbirth Association and the British Medical Association-produced Emma’s Diary, as well as large businesses such as the Activity Superstore, Barrett & Coe are able to set their franchisees up quickly and give them access to plenty of work.
But how does the franchise go about converting someone who hasn’t ever ventured beyond their smartphone camera to a successful studio photographer? Potential franchisees are welcome to attend one of of their photographic courses on a no-commitment basis, allowing them to get a feel for the enterprise and meet other franchisees. After that photographers are taught via training sessions – either two a week for three months or one a week for six months. There is also a fast-track option, which provides additional one-to-one training for those wanting to hit the ground running. “The method we use is one that Brian and I constituted together and refined over the years and is incredibly effective,” Coe remarks.
A bold claim but one that Coe can back up. “An example was Sebastien Bullinger who opened in the beginning of August. He was a chef, and he made £7,000 in his first month,” details Coe. Bullinger is an excellent example of the effectiveness of their training and the business’s ability to produce results, regardless of prior experience. “He is very good. Originally, he didn’t know anything about photography, but he’s got a real flair.”
It makes a wonderful story, being able to produce talented photographers from people’s innate skills, but to most people it would seem like something of a gamble, attaching their brand to people with no prior experience. Fortunately Barrett & Coe has plenty of systems to ensure that franchisees feel supported and customers remain happy with the quality of their photos. Not only do franchisees receive additional training when they’re starting out, covering every aspect of the business, but they receive a visit from Elaine Shepard, formerly one of Venture Photography’s most successful managers. “She will go round to each studio,” says Coe. “She’ll advise on design. She’ll do a studio audit. She’ll train them in all the sales processes and the business processes.”
Not only this but franchisees are engaged in inter-franchise quality competitions and results are published not only on a closed Facebook page but also publicly on Barrett & Coe’s blog. Finally, after the photographs are processed at Loxley in Glasgow, the results are all sent back via the central offices. “We then look at them for quality,” Coe says. “If we have any issues we will ring the franchisee concerned and take appropriate action; if they need extra training or just talking through something.” Once the images have been through this quality control, they are returned to the franchise so the results can be handed on to the consumer.
But, of course, a picture is worth a thousand words and while we can describe the effectiveness of the training, it is easier to simply see for yourself. And, as is evinced by these images, Barrett & Coe’s training produces some truly memorable results. Whether you’re a newbie who has always fancied the idea of getting into photography or a betrothed couple looking for someone to commemorate your special day, you could do a lot worse than Barrett & Coe.