Success Stories

Vickie & Jed Taufer   |   V Gallery   |   Morton IL   |   Website

As newlyweds, Jed and Vicki Taufer had never dreamt of owning a business: After all, Vicki, who had a degree in special education, was employed at a doctor's office, and Jed was working for his family's landscaping business in their hometown of Morton, Illinois. But then Vicki, who loved photography, began making photos of friends on the side. Soon the couple hardly had any spare time together because the hobby had blossomed into a part-time business. As the word of Vicki's talent began to spread, the Taufers started to wonder if their future lay in a real photography business. Vicki vividly remembers a six month period when they began questioning "Who do we think we are to be able to actually own a business?" Eventually their friends began to encourage them to do just that: "They got really sick of us sitting on the fence and obsessing about what to do," Vicki says. "I believe they had more faith in our abilities than we did."

"We see a lot of photography businesses that try to fly by the seat of their pants. I think we're lucky that we've found a better way."
Vickie Taufer

Getting Started

At the time, Photography by Vicki was housed in the basement of the couple's first home, which fortunately was zoned commercial. "It was a humble beginning," Vicki recalls, "not a miniature version of the V Gallery we have today. The ceilings were less than seven feet high, the space was furnished with garage-sale finds, but we did what we could, using part-time help from high school kids. The most important thing we had going for us then was an understanding that we had to learn about business."

With that in mind, Vicki enrolled at a local community college to take a business-plan-writing class. She explains: "I did the market research, studied a lot, and wrote a plan that was 60 pages long," she chuckled. "Some of it was useful, and a lot was fluff, but it really did open our eyes to the fact that we had zero experience in running a business. Working in our home, however, was a wonderful introduction to business, because we didn't have too much financial pressure on us."

A Huge Turning Point

Within two years, however, Vicki and Jed were offered the opportunity to occupy a large space in a converted bowling alley in the middle of downtown Morton. They decided to take the plunge and signed a 5-year lease. "What we did was very risky," Vicki recalls, "but the truth is, we didn't have very much to lose at that point in our lives, and we recognized that it could be a huge turning point for us. By that time we knew that we wanted a high-end clientele — which was not going to happen in our modest basement studio — and we also knew the kind of brand we wanted to create, and the new space would have just the right kind of atmosphere." And so, V Gallery was born.

Finding SuccessWare

Soon they recognized that they needed more real-world business education than you could get in a community college. "We knew we had to do whatever was necessary to make the business work," Vicki recalls, "because now we had more overhead, regular monthly payments to make, and employees to pay." So they began to invest in education by attending PPA affiliate meetings and conventions. When they went to Ann Monteith's Guerrilla Management Workshop in 2002, they were introduced to SuccessWare, which they used to analyze the financial side of the business. "Immediately we saw that we had to raise prices to lower our cost of sales if we were to have enough money left over to pay our bills and ourselves. This was a real eye-opener."

SuccessWare, says Vicki, was instrumental in their ability to start making confident business decisions. "Financial management didn't come naturally to us," she admits. "Having a management program that lays everything out in front of you so that you can get the information you need, when you need it to make good decisions is vital, and SuccessWare makes it easy. We have access to so much information that we wouldn't have without it, because if I had to make a spreadsheet to analyze all the things we need to know, it just wouldn't happen. We get that information with a simple mouse click. In a building as big as we have, and with as much as our business has grown, SuccessWare pulls everything together and puts it in a single place. Without the software, we would have notes over here, and lists over there, and we would be running in circles. The bottom line for us is that SuccessWare puts us in control."

As an example of how important SuccessWare functions in their day-to-day studio management, Vicki points to the recent decision she and Jed made to continue hosting a fashion show for high school seniors. In reviewing their SuccessWare reports, they learned that the students who had booked senior sessions the night of the previous year's event were the top spenders of all their seniors, representing some $30,000 in revenue. These figures made it clear that the event was worthwhile.

Working Together

Vickie and Jed often are asked by other married couples in photography how they manage to work together so successfully. Jed is quick to answer that question: "We have very definable roles," he says, "and the same is true with our employees. Everyone has specific responsibilities, and we all do our best to keep hands off the areas of others. Vicki's responsibility is photography, events and customer service, and I handle the IT stuff, collaborate with Vicki on image production and marketing, as well as take care of construction issues."

Construction, which seems to be never-ending at V Gallery, is something that Jed has done since the studio's early days, a time when he was still holding down a full-time job in his family's business. "By the time I took over digital workflow," he explains, "I had the equivalent of two full-time jobs, and it became evident that I had to commit to V Gallery."

V Gallery Becomes a "Haven"

As the business continued to grow, other photographers clamored to learn from Jed and Vicki, and soon they were teaching around the country and even internationally. So when the Taufers got the opportunity to purchase the entire building that housed business, they jumped at the chance, since it would allow them to expand into a space that could be used for teaching as well as for photography. So in 2006, the couple embarked on the creation of "Haven," a project that is especially meaningful to Jed. While a 7,000 square-foot facility is more than most photographers would want to take on, Jed relishes the opportunity it provides for both Vicki and himself to conduct classes as well as to host seminars taught by industry colleagues. "I have always loved to show people how to do things," he explains, "and it really excites me to develop this aspect of the business."

In addition to a spacious, beautifully decorated and well-equipped classroom, Haven includes a kitchen, bathroom/dressing area, and additional storage and shooting space, which makes the facilities even more flexible and comfortable for the studio's six employees. "We use the new space every day for shooting," says Jed, "and it has been huge in attracting people to our studio because of the larger events we can hold. It's been great to offer the space for fundraising events, and even for a yoga class. The buzz it creates is amazing."

Looking to the Future

Now that Haven is up and running, Jed says it is more important than ever to keep a close eye on finances, and he stresses how helpful it is to have financial advice from PPA's Studio Management Services to make certain that they are maximizing their investment in V Gallery and Haven. "I truly have a passion for the studio," Jed explains, "and I love to teach. So we want to make sure we manage the finances of each properly, so that one activity will enhance the other.

"We've had some awesome years in the business so far," and because we had good financial records, it helped our comfort level in taking on the building investment," he says. "From the beginning we've been going 110 miles an hour, and it's been great; but we know that we won't want to do this forever. The business has been our baby up until now, but we're thinking about starting a family, so now we're looking for balance. For this to happen, we have to be able to look at our numbers in SuccessWare and know where we are. We see a lot of photography businesses that try to fly by the seat of their pants. I think we're lucky that we've found a better way." 

You can learn more about Jed and Vickie Taufer, V Gallery and Haven at their website.

For information on Ann Monteith's Guerrilla Management Workshops, visit AnnMonteith.com.

Next: Susan Michal: From Musician to Photographer

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