When it is picture day at school, and the kids are all lined up with scrubbed faces, odds are that their grins are directed at someone from Lifetouch. One of the largest US portrait photographers, employee-owned Lifetouch runs about 700 photography studios in J. C. Penney and Target stores nationwide and some 15 stand-alone FLASH! Digital Portraits locations in half a dozen states. In addition, Lifetouch takes baby, family, business, sports, and special events portraits; publishes church directories, yearbooks, and memory books; and offers multimedia production services. The company acquired smaller rival Olan Mills late 2011. Founded in 1936 as National School Studios, Lifetouch operates in the US and Canada.
The takeover of Olan Mills (for an undisclosed amount) reflects Lifetouch's growth through acquisition strategy. However, the company has largely targeted regional operators; its purchase of Olan Mills unites the top two in the church photography business as well as strengthens both companies' financial footing. The deal follows Lifetouch's purchase of another family-owned church photographer, Busson Photography, in mid-2009. Based in Ohio, Busson Photography has operations in 25 states and customer roster rich in faith-based organizations.
Earlier in 2009 Lifetouch's school portrait business, Lifetouch National Schools Studios, acquired family-owned Bryn-Alan Studios. Tampa-based Bryn-Alan has operations in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Texas and specializes in photographing high school seniors. Its integration built upon Lifetouch's 2006 acquisition of the North American school photography operations of Jostens, which solidified Lifetouch's leadership in the school portrait market. Lifetouch reportedly takes about 30 million student photos a year.
Another driver of Lifetouch's strategy is technology. Shortly after purchasing Bryn-Alan, Lifetouch National Schools Studios shuttered a production facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, resulting in the loss of some 130 jobs. The closure came as part of Lifetouch's switch to digital photography, which rendered the Tulsa plant redundant. The company has since boosted its production capabilities, adding digital printing presses to its operations.
With the advent of digital photography, Lifetouch has begun offering retouching services, such as erasing scars and acne, whitening teeth, and fixing a bad hair day. The school photographer says about 10% of its portraits are retouched for an additional fee. Beyond the cosmetic, the company's SmileSafe Kids Program allows authorities access to portraits and pictures of missing children, when needed, and when authorized by the children's parents, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. – less