Dorian Studio is a multi-state family-owned school-portrait business headquartered in Spokane, Wash. Founded in 1914, the business as we know it came into being when young Joe Mark purchased the business. Mark had already spent a decade at the studio, working from his teenage years. Today, the Mark family has expanded the business to include a number of major school and senior photography markets in the Western United States. Currently, Dorian provides school photography and yearbook services in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
The business’ expansion began in earnest during the late 1980s and continued throughout the 2000s. Jake Mark, COO of Dorian, says the company’s growth process is carefully managed. The studio would pick up one or two schools in a new area, serving the area well, and as the accounts grow, an office is established.
“We try to gain name recognition and develop the staff in an area,” says Mark. “We have certainly have had some acquisitions but that hasn’t predominantly been the way we’ve grown. We grow school-by-school and by word of mouth.”
The company continues to be a family affair, with three Mark family siblings - Jake, John and Holly - all in management roles. Dorian Studio is a vertically integrated operation rated operation, producing their own prints, dye-sublimation products and soft-cover yearbooks.
A bullish future
Mark is bullish on the future of the school portrait industry, especially with the active role SPOA will have in shaping the future. “State data laws, like FERPA, and how they are enacted for large institutions like Google and Facebook, have unintended trickle-down effects on others like the school photography business,” he says. By making once-public information more regulated, Mark explained, the states are making it difficult for schools to operate.
“SPOA is going to help us navigate those waters and work with the school districts,” he says. For example, a studio may need ‘X, Y, and Z ‘ data point to make ID cards but if the school administration doesn’t provide access to the information, it makes it difficult to deliver an essential service to schools.
Another SPOA initiative is working with software companies to streamline image export formats. Mark observes that, years ago, the industry determined a single export for yearbook images (which is still in use today). Student Information Systems (SIS) are another user of school portraits; the lack of a standard format is causing unnecessary headaches for labs.
“Hopefully, we can get all the [SIS] companies out there to come to one format because there's a different flavor every single year.”
Mark says having a professional organization, like SPOA, represent the industry is vital to keeping school photography top of mind as an essential service for schools.
“This is a valuable industry,” he says, adding the COVID-19 pandemic brought this to light for parents and for schools. “I think people missed school pictures (during COVID). One of the major questions we were asked (during the pandemic) was when are we coming back to capture those kids at that moment in time. They definitely saw the importance of school pictures. It’s a time for optimism.”