Ayers Studios: What Makes the Right Stuff for 25+ Years?
Do you remember where you were when John F. Kennedy died? How about when the Twin Towers fell? On September 11, 2001, I was hosting a focus group of photographers, reviewing a product my company was building. At the time I was the Sr. Vice President of Fujifilm e-Systems, developing software for Fuji digital imaging products. As news of the attack came in, we all gathered and watched the events unfold in horrific detail.
Standing beside me was an amazing photographer whose comforting presence and words will always be a counterpoint to the agony of that day. While the entire nation stood still, it was my privilege to get to know Michael J. Ayers, Master Photographic Craftsman.
Michael Ayers is one of the world’s best wedding album designers. From a little studio in Lima, Ohio, he has developed a widespread reputation of artistry and success, recognized as Wedding Photographer and Portrait International (WPPI) Photographer of the Year and receiving a Leadership Award from the United Nations. His Pop-Up wedding albums have been exhibited worldwide, viewed by tens of thousands. He has lectured across the country and internationally, including in Canada, Mexico, and Europe.
This month it was my pleasure to reconnect with Michael to interview him. A loyal customer of H&H Color Lab for over 20 years, he and his wife in 2012 celebrated their 25th year in business, a fantastic achievement given that only about 1 out of 20 studios survive more than a decade. Another milestone in 2012: a finalist for 5 years, Ayers Studios was (at last!) named West Central Ohio Small Business of the Year by the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce. As Michael said, “In the words of Winston Churchill, ‘Never, never give up.’” For the Ayers, the fifth time was the charm.
Turned to photography to escape computers, now “The Jack of Speed”
Michael reminded me how he got his start in photography. He was a civil engineering student in the 1980s, when the whole field was turning to computers. “I decided that I didn’t want to live my life behind a computer, so naturally, I turned to my second love: photography! And now that digital has come of age, I live my whole life behind a computer!”
Also known as “The Jack of Speed,” Michael prides himself in speeding up the entire process, from shutter button to print presentation. His digital skills are among the best for custom white balance, determining perfect exposures, and Photoshop tips for productivity. He teaches a course called, “How to Become The Worlds Fastest Photographer.”
“The customer is always right”
I asked Michael the key to his success. He said, “The customer is always right, even if they are wrong.” For example, he got a call from a woman complaining about a photo with a scratch on it. The photo was 10 years old, but without question he replaced it free of charge, “even if the cat did scratch it. I have always felt that if you work hard and give a great product with spectacular customer service, then clients will return and tell their friends!” Certainly that has been the case with the Ayers’ business. A glance at their social media tells the story, for work done long ago or yesterday:
Best advertising? Word-of-mouth
The Ayers spend zip on advertising; everything is word-of-mouth. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t out there selling. They give generously to their community and volunteer on several boards. Michael is a Scout Master, as well. Through these relationships, potential customers see what the Ayers are made of. It’s cliché but true: people buy from those they like and trust.
While much of Michael’s career has been as a portrait photographer, now nearly 60% of his business comes from corporate clients, including Anheuser Busch, Hilton Corporation, Debeers Diamonds, and many more. Like his personal clients, most of this work has come by referrals.
So although he is known as the “Jack of Speed,” I think he warrants a new title: “The World’s Most Versatile Photographer.”
Michael was chosen by the Republican National Committee to photograph Mitt Romney at the Campaign Rally In Defiance, Ohio, October 2012.
A lifetime of remarkable events
While Michael and I were together on 9/11, we also share other events in our collective memory that are a world away in meaning and emotion: the lunar landing, in 1969. Michael told me that he was lucky enough to photograph Neil Armstrong about 18 years ago. He had planned to photograph him again this summer, but unfortunately the man who first stepped on the moon passed away in August.
That’s one small click of a shutter, but one giant gift to our memories? Til next time.
All the best,