The Price of Naugahyde

Naugahyde is the original fake leather. Developed by the US Rubber Company in 1914, naugahyde is a composite of knit fabric backing with a leather textured PVC plastic coating.

When I was about 9 years old I accompanied my mother to a furniture upholstery business to get a reupholstery estimate. Our beloved naugahyde sofa had developed a huge tear across the seat cushion (both sides) after years of daily use. The well-worn sofa was proof my family watched way too much television. Our family wasn’t rich and my mom figured reupholstering the old sofa would be much less expensive than buying a brand new one. So, when the upholstery guy finished punching numbers into his calculator and announced a price much higher than my mother was expecting, she was clearly surprised. It’s the first time I ever witnessed “sticker shock”. My cost-conscious mother paused for a few seconds, then said, “Well, do you have anything cheaper than naugahyde?” The guy dropped his pencil onto the desk and gave my mother a stern stare, saying “Lady, there ain’t nothin’ cheaper than naugahyde.” I instantly knew this embarrassed my mother and the experience was so jarring to me I’ve remembered it all these years. 

Fast-forward to today. Far too often, I find myself on the other end of that “sticker shock” experience. After delivering what I believe to be a very reasonable pricing estimate for a commercial photography job, some of my potential clients recoil and express their surprise at my quote. Like my mother dealing with the reupholstery man, they ask if there is anything I can do to make the job cheaper. In those moments, I feel like saying, “Lady, there ain’t nothin’ cheaper than naugahyde”.

My business model is based on a very simple concept: Deliver top quality professional commercial photography at a price well below the standard market rates. Despite my nearly 30 years experience as a full-time professional photographer, my rates are more aligned with those of an advanced amateur versus a well-established pro. Those who’ve worked with professional commercial photographers previously instantly understand that I’m offering them a bargain. My steady, repeat customers typically come from this group. But, I also get my share of newbies. Whenever someone expresses surprise or shock at my rates, I have to assume they are completely inexperienced with commercial photography and they haven’t done any research on the issue before contacting me. Clearly, they don’t recognize or appreciate I’m offering them a bargain.

The uninitiated are often hung up on things like an hourly rate, how much I’m charging per photo or what it would cost if I eliminated the post-production Photoshop editing. It’s foolish to focus on these irrelevant issues. The only thing a client should be focusing on is ROI (Return On Investment). Will the photos I provide enhance your sales or won’t they? As an example, is it smart to pay $250 for professional product photos that will eventually result in $50,000 worth of product sales? Cheapness is short-term thinking. Quality product photography at a reasonable rate should be seen as an INVESTMENT in your business, not merely as an expense.

After talking it over with my father, my parents decided to go ahead and get the old sofa reupholstered with new naugahyde. It was much less expensive than a brand new sofa and the investment paid off. My family continued to enjoy that sofa for many years to come. In fact, I understand it’s still in use by the family who bought it from us back in the late 1980s!