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Member Profile:

Mark Hommerding,

You might say Mark Hommerding grew up in the volume photography business. Now, as the CEO of Ypsilanti, Mich.-based, he’s taking a leadership role in his company and in the industry.

Hommerding’s industry journey began in 1994, when he began working for Jolesch Photography in Des Moines, Iowa, which specialized in marching band and graduation photography. Later, Jolesch was sold to Herff Jones’ photography division and, about a year later, the HJ photography division was sold to Lifetouch.

“I was hired as a production manager but I would photograph marching bands each weekend and take care of the production work afterward,” recalls Hommerding. “Gradually, I moved into managing the local business, the graduations, the proms, etc. Then I managed a studio for five years - where I did seniors and weddings - and then came back to do more graduation work.” In the mid-2000s, the school portrait industry was consolidating and, soon after Hommerding joined Herff Jones, Lifetouch bought the Herff Jones volume business.

“When Lifetouch acquired Heff Jones, the Jolesch Photography part was kind of the odd man out,” says Hommerding. “It was not in their normal course of what they were used to, so I went to Lifetouch headquarters and told them to consider photographing graduations. I told them Jolesch ‘feasted on the crumbs’ Lifetouch didn’t want to eat.”

After meeting with management, Hommerding stayed on with the company, working from Des Moines, Iowa, to help grow Lifetouch’s undeveloped commencement and college graduation business. Over time, Hommerding was able to add 3,000 high-school graduations and triple the number of college commencements.

Despite the growth, Hommerding was frustrated by the lack of emphasis on the category from upper management at Lifetouch.

“In the fall of 2019, I had my second presentation to senior management in two years to invest in our product line, and commencements were not near the top of the list,” he said. “I realized I'd reached the limit of what I'm going to do, .so I started thinking about what I wanted to do next.”

By early 2020, Hommerding decided to begin looking for other opportunities. Considering his age, he thought he had one career move left.

“When you consider your career, each career you move you make is about a 5-7 year commitment, and then you should be looking for what's next on the horizon,” he said. “I’m thinking I've got one real career move left. At the time, I had five options on the table: one was to get out of the business entirely and two was to stick it out. Three was to start my own business. And four and five were actually were to partner with various people within the industry that I had been talking to. I decided t did not want to leave the business because I had a pretty good-sized Rolodex.

“I thought about starting my own business and knew that I was a good growth person but maybe not a good builder. So in this case, I started talking with people I wanted to partner with.”

Hommerding’s search for a potential partner led him to Skip Cerier, founder of and other portrait-related businesses. After visiting the company’s offices and production center (which is housed in converted school buildings) in March, 2020, the two agreed on a partnership.

Cerier had started American Photo Marketing in 1978, working in college commencements, graduations, senior glass groups, Greek life, etc. After Hommerding came into the business in October 2020, Cerier relocated to Texas.

“We talk every day,” says Hommerding. “Here's the thing: I knew I was getting a business partner but I got a friend and I wasn't expecting that. That's just been a really wonderful thing for us both.”

Managing the business

Hommerding spent the early months with observing the operations, especially the school side of the volume business, and asking questions. Inspired by Marcus Buckingham’s book, “First Break all the Rules,” and Michael Watkins’, “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter”, he set about learning the processes already in place at the company.

“I asked everybody in the company the same questions: ‘What's going on here? What do you think's working? Well, what do you think needs to improve?’” he said. “There were a number of suggestions but one of the ones I knew I could affect right away was to have a more robust sales effort.”

The sales effort paid off right away, with about 30% top-line growth already but, along with that growth, comes attendant costs. Hommerding relies on the experience of Cerier and financial office staff to manage budgets and cash flow.

Hommerding has organized the business around three parts: Business-to-business (B2B) sales and support, operations, and manufacturing (printing photos, yearbooks, etc.) He says having internal printing and production provides the opportunity to offer faster and more personalized services.

SPOA activities

When SPOA began, Hommerding knew very early he wanted to be involved. “I recognized the value of the industry getting together and setting some standards,” he said. “That was important to me. Second, I recognized I wanted to be involved with my peers to better understand the industry.”

Hommerding has been involved with advocacy, attending the association’s first legislators' day in Washington, D.C., for National School Pictures Day. He is an advocate of digital IDs, for example, and would like to be a part of standards-setting in that field, as well as actions to protect the rights of copyright holders.

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