Marco Photo Service in Ontario, Ohio, is a family-owned professional lab focusing on personal service from its 45,000-square-foot production facility. The company was founded nearly 60 years ago by Mario and Marie LaYacona; it’s still a family–owned
with Rick and Nichole Casey leading the charge. The Caseys were longtime production employees who took the opportunity to take over the business from the LaYacona family, founded by Mario and Marie LaYacona.
Marco Photo Service has changed a lot over the past five decades, starting out in the consumer photofinishing business, before getting into the volume business in the 1980s. The founders retired in the mid-1990s, and it stayed in the family until 2012.
The Casey’s met at the company, having started within one month of each other, and worked in various functions throughout the lab. Nichole handled sales and customer service and Rick was responsible for operations. They began the process of buying out the lab in 2012 and became sole owners in 2017.
Having managed the transition from film processing and printing to digital, the Casey’s expanded its sales and promotion efforts during the industry consolidation of the early 2000s. Until then, the company didn’t have outbound sales efforts.
“Nichole took on that sales role by going out and bringing customers in when labs started going away from analog workflows and other players started to enter the market in the volume market. There are a lot more options,” explains Rick Casey. “Lifetouch was scooping up volume school photographers and that was our core business. So the number one thing was to go out sell.”
Expanding revenue streams
The Casey’s also expanded revenue streams as well, including publishing yearbooks and photographing students at about 70 schools.
“(Photographing students) started as an R&D project, to be honest,” says Rick Casey. “Customers would come to us - during the analog to digital change - and ask us, ‘How do I set my cameras up?” A lot of it was around the green screen, and they came to us for advice. We could figure it out in the lab in a controlled environment but it’s a lot different when you go out.”
The Caseys decided to add some schools to understand the process better but it’s not a major focus of Marco Photo Service. He adds, though, having the experience of photographing students has been beneficial to the company’s dialog with customers.
“I’d rather do the lab work but the customers appreciate it because we understand what happens in a school,” explains Rick Casey. “We get that challenge of printing ID cards when the school doesn’t give you ID numbers.
“We also do a lot of testing with workflow software, so the customers appreciate that. It’s been a strength for us and it helps us focus more on servicing the customer.”
Marco Photo Service also has a consumer-facing website, Dandelion Prints.
“It started around the time we started photographing schools because we had a lot of local parents asking to print vacation photos,” says Nichole Casy. “At first we said, ‘No, we’re a volume lab,’ but then we thought, ‘Why not?’” Dandelion Prints was supposed to serve the local community but we’ve shipped to Florida, California, and all over the country for Dandelion Prints.”
One benefit Dandelion Prints customers have over other online services is that Marco Photo Service uses the same professional paper for its portrait work.
Marco Photo Service does all its production in-house, including calendars and dye sublimation. As these novelty items grow in popularity in the volume market, this complements Dandelion Prints, as well.
“Our assembly and sublimation department is non-stop,” says Nichole Casey. “People love fridge magnets, calendars, and keychains.”
After a good fall season, the Caseys are optimistic about the prospects for 2023. After changing some operations to accommodate the supply chain issues affecting the entire industry.
“Our buying habits have changed,” says Rick Casey. “We build up inventory so we haven't had any disruption and delivery because we have plenty of space for materials. We've been fortunate enough to be able to really build that up.”
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caseys are looking forward to re-engaging with colleagues in the volume photography field. Over the past decade and a half, the couple has been involved with numerous industry groups, including PSPA, SPAC, and PPA, but they are also enthusiastic about the future of SPOA.
“What I have learned in the 26 years of being part of those groups, I want to express to people who are part of SPOA and interested in getting into SPOA how important it is to be a part of that community of our industry,” says Nichole Casey. “Being part of that community, you get to be around like-minded people in our business, and to be around other people that share the same interests is so critical. If people are hesitant about joining a group such as SPOA, definitely do it, because it's going to help help you grow as a business person, as an entrepreneur, and as a school photographer.”