Greg Chalmers is the charismatic director of both Fabric and Napier Wedding Photography companies. Greg really is the epitome of his brand and this is one of our favourite Entrepreneur Stories. Here's what happened when we caught up with him...
Hi Greg! So tell us how did you get started in photography?
Oh there's a question… I worked, fleetingly, for the BBC as a cameraman filming car racing. At no point previously had I ever shown any interest in film work or even car racing for that matter but what I realised I enjoyed about it was thinking about the composition of the shot and whether there was any other meaning that was hidden within it i.e. contrast, juxtaposition etc. As you can imagine this did not exactly go down a storm with the Top Gear crowd so I was let go.
At this point my dad had suggested getting involved in stills. A seed was planted; I bought my first set of kit and off I went. I taught myself the fundamentals and wangled a job as a photographer with a newspaper.
I should note that at that time I was playing football at a fairly high standard. I thought I got the job on merit but it later transpired that my new boss needed a striker for the office football team so I was hired. This story only came to light around 2 months ago when I was asked to photograph his wedding and he used this anecdote in his speech.
Anyway… the press work acted like an apprenticeship. I was asked to photograph so many different things in the one day so my skills were being tested and were constantly improving!
One tip I would give every single photographer is at one point work for a newspaper! Because in my industry half of the job is pressing the shutter the other is dealing with the public - the skills that you learn whilst shooting for the press will carry you in great stead into whatever area of photography you wish to get into.
How long have you been in business now?
Honestly? Since I left school I’ve always done my own thing. I have always wanted to work for myself I think because both my parents are self-employed and I have been surrounded by small business my entire life.
Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted from the business?
At the beginning, no. I knew I wanted to take photographs and I also knew that I didn't want to work for anyone else so I started Fabric. At the outset Fabric was basically a trading name so that I could get PR work but due to my location I was getting more and more wedding enquiries.
I didn't want to dilute Fabric’s brand or message so at that point Napier was born! I love what Napier has become, it really is my pride and joy! In the short time we have been actively chasing the wedding work we have never been busier. Because of that I have been able to take on freelancers and give them an opportunity to express themselves within the framework of the company!
There was no initial plan but I’ve taken hold of every opportunity presented and developed them.
In your industry do you have to consider local competition?
With Napier, we had to look at what the competition was offering, however, It all seemed to be very similar as far as the end product was concerned and rather than raise the standard and battle on quality a lot them would cut the price; it was a race to the bottom.
This is what puts people out of business and one thing I will never do is undercut another supplier to get the job. Apart from it being unethical I believe in our product far too much to cheapen it. Some may see that as being greedy or mean, however, the reality is that we spend a huge amount of time not just shooting but retouching too! I would love to say that the beautiful images we produce came straight off the lens like that but the reality is that’s just not the case.
How did you choose your location?
I live in Cardross a small village in Scotland nestled between the Clyde and Loch Lomond, an area in which there are nearly 800 weddings a year! Why go anywhere else!
What is the most difficult thing about running a photography business?
The most difficult thing is time management. I would gladly shoot all day every day however that just isn't possible. People always say to me “It must be amazing travelling around photographing beautiful people in beautiful locations all the time.” My reply is often, “sorry it’s Friday and I haven't taken a picture this week".
There are so many other responsibilities actually photographing someone feels like a treat sometimes!
And what is the most interesting thing?
The most interesting thing, especially with Napier Wedding Photography, is looking at something that, when you’ve seen it enough times, can be very mundane and boring then applying an entire new skill set to it and turning images of it into something exciting and innovative.
How do you market yourself? How do you feel about digital marketing and its growth, is it bad or good for your business?
I have been incredibly lucky in that marketing has taken care of itself. What I mean by this is that because, as far as the wedding photography is concerned, our style and approach was so different that other suppliers and more importantly venues got behind us as they were also tired of the "traditional" approach. They promote us through their onsite wedding teams and through using our images to promote their venue. It is marketing but we’re lucky our work markets itself.
Having said that - I also strongly believe that people buy people and because of that I myself have become an extension of the brand, hence the alternative quiff, piercings and professional style e.g. getting into the Loch to get the best pic and create the best memories. The key is to make that I myself and those who work for me represent the brand in a manner that reflects its mission
As a young entrepreneur what did you find were the biggest challenges when it came to understanding tax and business planning?
True Guidance! When I was starting up I used Business Gateway which at that time was being run by people who had never been self-employed. I feel that the support I needed wasn’t just advice on actually running the business or bringing the product to market it should also have been about managing work life balance and making sure that personal goals are being achieved.
The pressures of self-employment are not 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, they are ever present and for some people, myself included, that is a huge weight on our shoulders. It was hard to attend a “guidance” meeting and be told by someone (who has a degree in business management but has worked in an office for 10 years) that you should be doing this that and the next thing. In my mind I was thinking "I have been working since 6 am this morning and after this meeting I am going back to work do not tell me about work life balance you have been lucky enough to experience the rush hour".
My advice to start-ups would be to seek out someone with experience, someone who can tell you what they wish they’d known at the beginning.
What’s your best business story?
Maybe not the "best" story but one that holds a special place in my mind is the one about the day that the Napier took a huge leap forward was the day, nearly a year ago I was shooting a wedding down on Loch Lomond and the weather was awful. Really awful. But I managed to get the couple out onto a rickety old jetty and I waded into the Loch, with my kilt on I might add, to shoot them (in a photography sense of course or that would be a very different story).
I didn't realise at that point there were so many guests watching from the venue and it was at that point our social media really took off. People love to post pictures and videos and comments about the alternative stuff we get up to like wading into lochs, climbing trees and hanging off boats.
What’s been the best project you’ve worked on?
I shot the after party photographs for the MOBO's in 2013. What happens at the MOBO’s stays at the MOBO’s.
How would your customers describe you in 3 words?
Quirky, creative and innovative.
What’s next for your business?
With regards to Fabric; expansion, expansion, expansion! We are in the midst of a sea of change for our wee company - can't really say too much right now but we are chasing the big fish!
With regards to Napier we are hoping to take it international and start trying to promote not just our brand but try to inspire more younger people in other creative industries to question the norm and take it upon themselves to not sit back and hope for and opportunity… go out and make your own!