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Jane Gentry has had a successful 30-year career as a CEO, Business Consultant, Executive Coach, Sales Manager, and Keynoter. In 1999, Jane formed her practice where she has partnered with her clients to improve growth, profitability, client retention, employee retention and leadership capabilities. Jane helps entrepreneurs and senior leaders diagnose and solve gaps regarding people, process and development enabling profitable growth and improving sales velocity and pipeline consistency.
Her clients realized a better articulated value, better delivered value and a better value to their bottom line. The world’s most successful organizations have brought Jane on board, including Assurant, The Home Depot, Milliken, Philips, Coca-Cola, Leidos Healthcare, Stryker, GSK, Transamerica, BlueCross Blue Shield and Mercedes-Benz.
Jane is considered one of the top voices in sales. She has been a guest on numerous podcasts and is a prolific speaker at high-profile meetings from Canada to the Czech Republic. She has been tapped to address topics including “Selling Value” to “Social Intelligence and Your Millennial Sellers” and “Inspirational Leadership”. Audiences and clients have described her as a woman with a vision, energetic and inspiring.
Jane holds a BFA/MFA from Kent State University/ The University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a CPI (Certified Professional Innovator) distinction from GA State University. Earlier in her career she was a professional stage actress. Jane lives in Atlanta, GA.
Connect with Jane on LinkedIn.
John Armitage attended California State University Fullerton and obtained a BA in Communications Photography. He worked in the industry in Orange County for 5 years and then moved to Atlanta in the early 90’s. After a few years here working in various studios, he opened his own and has been adapting and changing as the industry has transitioned from film to digital. He loves photography and all aspects of it. He also finds great satisfaction in mentoring and teaching young photographers as others helped me.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:07] Broadcasting live. From the Business. Radiox studios in Woodstock, Georgia. It’s time for Cherokee Business Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Stone Payton: [00:00:23] Welcome to Cherokee Business Radio Stone Payton here with you this morning. And today’s episode is brought to you in part by Alma Coffee, sustainably grown, veteran owned and direct trade, which of course means from seed to cup, there are no middlemen. Please go check them out at my alma coffee ecom and go visit their Roastery Cafe at 3448 Holly Springs Parkway and Canton. As for Harry or the brains of the outfit, Letitia, and please tell them that Stone sent you. All right, you guys are in for such a treat this morning. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast. First up on Cherokee Business Radio this morning with Jane Gentry and company the lady herself. Miss Jane Gentry. Good morning.
Jane Gentry: [00:01:10] Good morning.
Stone Payton: [00:01:12] It is a delight to have you in the studio. How about we start with a little bit of an overview? Mission, purpose. What are you out there trying to do for folks, Jane?
Jane Gentry: [00:01:23] We are out there trying to help CEOs and executives of businesses up to about 200 million grow. Some of our clients are growing rapidly. They don’t know that they have the right infrastructure to support that growth. We have a lot of owners that are trying to exit after COVID, and we want to make sure that they’ve got the systems intact to serve. Their businesses can continue without them or they can sell for a profit if that’s what they choose to do.
Stone Payton: [00:01:54] So it sounds like a tall order to me.
Jane Gentry: [00:01:58] It sounds like a lot of fun to me. I don’t.
Stone Payton: [00:02:01] Know. So where do you start with. It seems like a great big thing that you’re tackling. Where do you start?
Jane Gentry: [00:02:07] We start with the leader. Frankly, we start with the CEO. Most of my consulting is to the CEO and we take a look at their leadership of the organization, places where they might improve and listen a lot to what they think the challenges are that they have in the organization. Then we go back in there and dig in and figure out if we agree with them in terms of the priorities of of what they think are the challenges in the business.
Stone Payton: [00:02:39] So I’ve always wondered, what does that look like when maybe the the leader’s perception is different than than the reality you’re observing and or they’re just not equipped or prepared to have that real conversation? Or do you run into that?
Jane Gentry: [00:02:58] Sometimes we have a lot of hard conversations and in a loving way. Stone But yeah, sometimes the leader is the challenge in the organization, frankly. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re grabbing too much to things that they maybe should let go of and let other people do. Sometimes they don’t have those people in the organization, and we need to look at the talent situation in the organization. And then there are a lot of times where they think they need to start at a particular point, and we don’t agree necessarily with that. And so there’s some negotiating, some convincing on our side, some convincing on their side, and some negotiating about where’s the right place to start.
Stone Payton: [00:03:47] So I suspect you see some patterns over time. You’ve been at this a while, or are there some things that you can almost count on seeing and you probably have the social skills not to roll your eyes, but maybe internally you’re like, okay, here we go again.
Jane Gentry: [00:04:01] Yeah. The number one thing is I call chasing the shiny object, chasing the things that are not the most critical to move the business forward. And I’ll give you my favorite example. Almost every time I get into an organization, somebody says to me, we need a new website. And I’ll say, okay, well, you know what? I agree with you. Your baby’s ugly, but that’s not really where I would start. You need the strategy first, right? You need you need the plan first. You need to know who your customer is first and what the language is of your customer and what the problems that your customer has. What are the solutions you know, what are the things you’re solving for? And then we get to the website. A website anymore is just a calling card, right? Nobody in B2B is going to buy off your website. But but the thing about something like that is that you get you get something metaphorically to hold in your hand at the end of it that you can be proud of. It’s and some of the harder business challenges are a process and you it’s harder to find that thing that you can hold in your hand and go look at what we did. Isn’t this beautiful? Isn’t this website beautiful? Isn’t this collateral beautiful? Right. So I call it chasing the shiny object. And that is a that is a pretty consistent thing that that I see.
Stone Payton: [00:05:28] I think I might resemble that remark and we’re no, we’re 200 million, but we’ve got a good little business going here. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I’m one of the leaders of this little business and I do get sort of distracted by.
Jane Gentry: [00:05:42] Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, I had a CEO say to me recently, I’m not sure that our business will be relevant in ten years and then not too long on the tail end of that, she said, Jane, we really need a new website. And I said, Wait, I think we need to go back to the statement that your business might not be relevant in ten years and address that. I think that’s the big problem. Not not your website, right. So it is a pretty consistent, pretty consistent thing.
Stone Payton: [00:06:11] So let’s back up a little bit. I’d love to hear a little bit about the back story. How did you land in this in this line of work?
Jane Gentry: [00:06:22] Well, I had a consulting practice for 20 years. I consulted predominantly with very big companies Mercedes, Home Depot, Philips.
Stone Payton: [00:06:33] I’ve heard.
Jane Gentry: [00:06:33] Of those. Yeah, a couple of those. And then I left. I was recruited to run a couple of companies to take a CEO role in a couple of companies and turn these people down, I don’t know, ten times and ultimately took the job and with an equity backed they were equity owned. Covid aside it was one of the worst experiences I have ever had. Everybody that ever sold to this equity firm lost their money or didn’t get their money. It was really a pretty big bait and switch. And so I got I left there. And. Had, you know, kind of a hard time. Jane and Jane had a heart to heart with each other. Do you want to go back to what you were doing? And honestly, I was a little bored. In fact, a friend of mine had said before I took this this role with the equity backed companies. He said, Jane, I think you’re just putting different lipstick on the same pig. And I thought that was really very southern, but very good advice, right. So what I realized is that that experience lit a fire under me. I do not want if I can save one person stone and it sounds this sounds so like metaphysical and Jane thinks a whole lot of herself. But honestly, if I can save one owner from an experience like that, it will be a win for my career. And so my partner, who’s been doing this for for quite a while, and I have just decided that’s really what I’m passionate about, is helping these owners realize the things that they want in their business, realize that they can have a life and have a business which is really hard to do, and that they can sell their business and make money and not get not get ripped off like these poor owners that I that I got to know.
Stone Payton: [00:08:47] So sometimes when you’re going in, you’re helping them get ready.
Jane Gentry: [00:08:50] For an exit. Yeah.
Stone Payton: [00:08:52] Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah. So do you ever run into a situation where the operation is generating pretty good revenue? The sales side of it is okay, but they’re just not nearly as as profitable as they should and could be because some other things in the machine aren’t working too well.
Jane Gentry: [00:09:10] Yes, we are in we’re in the midst of a fixing a fixing all the back end financials for an owner right now who inherited the company. And there’s no there’s no job costing. They don’t know what their cost of goods sold is in the company. They don’t have a process for estimating they let their clients send the contract to them out of and they work with giant companies. So do you really want procurement from Disney sending you the the contracts is really not going to be in your best interest, right. So so we’re digging into that and helping that owner think about that business and how it makes sense to look at that business financially and how you can ensure your profitability and how you can look at some of the decisions you made and and ask yourself, was that a really good decision or was that a poor decision? Right. So, yeah, sometimes sometimes the money is there, but the profitability isn’t there because some of the decisions that are being made aren’t aren’t really in the best interest of profitability.
Stone Payton: [00:10:25] So I am peripherally around some of the things that you’re describing just because I get a chance to talk to business leaders and a couple of things that come up a lot, it’s two different retention. Sometimes they have concerns or at least they’re focused on client retention hanging on to who they have. But a lot of it too is hanging on to the to the employees.
Jane Gentry: [00:10:49] So that is the number one problem for every business on the planet right now. 30 million boomers left the market during COVID. Just said, I’m out of here. Wow. We bring in right now about 9 million new bodies into the workforce a year. And so a lot of owners are saying to me, Jane, people don’t want to work, they don’t want to work. And I say, no, honey, you have a math problem. You don’t really maybe people don’t want to work for you. And that’s a different problem altogether. Right. But the the overarching problem is a math problem. We have lost 20 some million people out of the workforce. The birth rate is going lower and lower and lower. So that problem is not going away. In addition to that, people did during COVID really take stock of who they work for. How do they feel about that? What do they want their work life to look like? I had somebody asked me the other day at a keynote, she said something about work life balance. I said, There’s no such thing. There’s just life balance, right? And people are looking at that now and are not accepting some things from their employers that they were willing to accept in the past. And so employers who are not willing to revisit how they treat employees are going to be the losers. Right. So so a couple couple examples somebody posted on LinkedIn yesterday, and I just I kind of cackled. As I was helping one of my nieces with this recently, she was applying for a job in a big company. So first off, those talent acquisition platforms are horrible because they don’t look at you as a person.
Jane Gentry: [00:12:35] They’re looking for keywords in your resume. She submitted the resume and then the platform asks her to basically fill out again everything that’s on her resume. And that’s and that’s pretty common. But is that a way to treat? Is that a way to show people that you value people in your organization? No, because you’re wasting everybody’s time. Right. So that’s that’s just an an example that has happened recently. So we have to think about about that. If the employer is not in the driver’s seat right now, you’ve got to be attractive to your employees and you’ve got to be willing to be flexible. I had a CEO say to me recently, well, the reason I don’t let people work remotely, Jane, is because they refer to that as their day off. Not their day at home. And I said, Yeah, well that’s not them. That’s you guys having poor management in your company. Right. So what, what this work at home thing has really illuminated is the lack of leadership that we have in organizations, because you have to be an intentional leader when you lead remotely. You can’t just pop by somebody’s cubicle and look over their shoulder and see what they’re doing and give some, some input. You have to be really intentional about KPIs that you’re asking them to meet and expectations that you have and when you’re going to check in and ways that you’re going to coach. So it really has required the level of leadership to be ratcheted up for people to be able to work remotely. And leaders have to start embracing that and digging in.
Stone Payton: [00:14:21] Well, it’s my understanding for those organizations who have done it well, who have done it right, they’ve really gotten some tremendous benefit from having their workforce work, at least part of the time remotely. Has that been your test?
Jane Gentry: [00:14:35] It has to be the right people in the right organization with the right expectations. Part of the other thing I think that leaders would get value from is revisiting the way work gets done in their company. And so when I talk to CEOs, I’ll say to them, I don’t want you to think about titles. We need this title and this title in our company. I want you to ask yourself, what is the work that happens in our company and what are the ways we can get that work done? But before we got on air, I told you I had done work with Mercedes and the chief HR officer for North America for Mercedes. Just love his brain, you know. And he he goes, he tells the people in his organization, think about how that work can get done. Can it be job share? Can it be an intern? Can it be a mom that left the workforce that doesn’t want to work full time? Can it be a boomer that retired that still wants to exercise their brain a certain amount of the week? Right. Doing something work related? Can it be a college student? To be really frank with you, college students that are sophomores Stone are more equipped to enter the workforce today than you and I were then. I was probably in grad school, frankly, so. So we have to be creative about the way work gets done because the lack of talent is not going to go away.
Stone Payton: [00:16:03] And when it comes to keeping the talent, after you’ve recruited properly, you’ve nurtured them. My instincts are that it’s so often so much more about something beyond or other than money. Is that.
Jane Gentry: [00:16:19] Accurate? It money is not the number one thing.
Stone Payton: [00:16:21] Okay.
Jane Gentry: [00:16:22] Purpose is the number one thing. And people get all freaked out about that term. We talk about it a lot in leadership, but purpose is really just look to engage employees. They want to know three things. They want to know where we’re going. They want a clear vision, a clear purpose for what we’re doing. They want to know what their part is in that they want to be able to see that they have a part in that and they want some autonomy in their job. In terms of getting the company to that to that vision and living out that purpose and purpose is really, you know, every most companies, some executives somewhere writes the mission statement and the purpose statement, and it sits on a wall, maybe somewhere in a document. But a purpose statement is really should be the lens through which you make every decision for your business. That’s that’s the point of a purpose statement.
Stone Payton: [00:17:16] It makes all the sense in the world. And it sounds so simple when you say it. Yeah.
Jane Gentry: [00:17:21] It does. It’s not. Which is why I have a job. Thank goodness. Thank goodness it’s not simple. Or I would I would be working somewhere else.
Stone Payton: [00:17:31] So. So when a company decides to engage your firm, what does the early part of an engagement look like? You’re sitting down with them. Can you kind of describe what happens in the early stages of an engagement?
Jane Gentry: [00:17:44] We do a lot, a lot, a lot of discovery. And then we do an assessment with the CEO and maybe some of the executive team called the judgment index. And that freaks everybody out because there was like, so do I have judgment? Well, I don’t know. We’re going to find out. It really gives us some good insight into what’s going on with a leader in terms of the the way that they show up at work, but the way that some of the things some of some of the ways that they see themselves or they see work in general impact how they show up at work.
Stone Payton: [00:18:23] So what do you find? Doing the most rewarding. What do you enjoy the most about the work?
Jane Gentry: [00:18:28] I love Ahas. I for 30 years. That’s the thing that gets me up in the morning is for for a CEO, for a salesperson, for somebody to have an Aha moment. That kind of course corrects maybe the way that they choose to do their work or to look at their work. Yeah, I get excited about that.
Stone Payton: [00:18:53] I bet that is incredibly fulfilling. So it sounds like great work if you can get it. How does but I’m curious and I have I play a pretty major sales role in our organization. So I’m always curious how does the whole sales and marketing thing work for a company like yours for for a practice like yours, how do you how do you get a chance to even have those conversations with CIOs?
Jane Gentry: [00:19:18] Yeah. So I’m knocking on the wood of your table, my practice even before. So for 30 years, for 30 years, 20 some years has been all referral.
Stone Payton: [00:19:32] Wow.
Jane Gentry: [00:19:34] Very, very blessed that way. Yeah. But we also you and I talked about networking or or whatever. I’m a believer in helping. So I’m I have a very large network of people, but I’ve spent a lot of time paying into that network. Yeah. Doing my very best to help people succeed. And so the, the benefit of that is those people are willing to help, help back. So I’m very lucky that way. But your radio show maybe won’t hurt. And I am invited on a lot of podcasts and things like that. So I’m out and about in the world or outand about if you’re Canadian. And and so we’re lucky that way. We are about to do a little bit of marketing, but only because I think that’s the right thing to do.
Stone Payton: [00:20:29] Yeah. And you’re out there speaking, you have an opportunity.
Jane Gentry: [00:20:32] I’m a keynote speaker, so I speak quite a bit at sales and leadership conferences in particular. Yeah, because, you know, small and mid-sized business owners are not out networking, right? They are head down in their businesses. And so really the only way to meet them is through referral or speaking at a conference that they that they choose to attend because they’re not they’re not out in the world to have having the time to go to a networking meeting.
Stone Payton: [00:21:02] Yeah, I hear you. And as you’ve clearly experienced good work, doing good work is a marvelous sales tool, isn’t it?
Jane Gentry: [00:21:10] It’s a great sales tool. And it’s a great way to spend your week. Just feels good.
Stone Payton: [00:21:18] So our listenership is largely made up of people who are trying to strike out on their own and and create their own future. Like the decision you made some years back. What counsel, if any, would you have to offer them if they’re considering it or they’re in the early stages? I don’t know if there was a mistake you might have made or something that surprised you or you came out of that with the three do’s and three don’ts of getting your own thing going. But any counsel you might have, I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated.
Jane Gentry: [00:21:52] If you’re if you’re early on, you’re very product focused. Right. And we’re usually not working with little bitty companies, but I would say major on the majors don’t chase the shiny object strategy. I don’t know who said culture eats strategy for lunch. If you don’t have a strategy, you’re not going to have a culture. So you have to be a certain size for that. Culture eats strategy for lunch maxim to work major on the majors and strategy is the major execution comes behind that. The other thing is don’t be myopic in the in terms of just staying so hyper focused on your business that you’re not out in the world networking. I have found in my own business that the biggest accelerator of my business is my desire to be around smart people who challenge the way that I think. And for business owners, when you’re when you’re in your business every day and that’s you show up in that building and you don’t go anywhere else. Where do you I mean, they get it from us, right? That’s one of the ways where the people that ask the hard questions and hold them accountable. But other than somebody’s like a consultant, business consultant, where where do you get your thinking stimulated from? Who stimulates you? What do you read? Who do you listen to? Who do you go to lunch with? You owe that to your employees and your culture and your business to kind of get outside your business.
Stone Payton: [00:23:29] I am so glad I asked and if I’m asked that question and I will try to remember to credit you, but I am going to tell them to major on the majors for sure. That is fantastic. I love it. And then I’d like to know how. I don’t even know what questions to ask. If I were to to begin shopping for, for lack of a better phrase, a consultant. Like how what kind of questions should you ask? What should you look for? If you’re considering engaging a consulting firm to come help you prep for the exit or just have a more profitable business? Or maybe you don’t even know what the challenge is. You just feel instinctively, Man, this could be so much better than what we’re doing here. How would you go about engaging someone?
Jane Gentry: [00:24:16] Well, I think there are a lot of smart business consultants. There are a lot, you know, equally number of them less smart. But if you can get past the point of credibility, then I think you should look at do you trust this these people? Do you trust this person? Are you willing to be challenged by this person? Do they challenge you?
Stone Payton: [00:24:46] Yeah.
Jane Gentry: [00:24:47] I mean, that is the value of a consultant is that they should be asking you hard questions. They should be challenging your thinking. And if they don’t do that, then I would give them Das Boot in favor of somebody else. But but you’ve got to have the relationship, right? Because a person who does the kinds of things that we do, we’re deep in your business. We’re we’re deep in in in conversations about your leadership and your your leadership style, your leadership effectiveness. So the the trust in the relationship and and the credibility, I think, are the two biggest two biggest things.
Stone Payton: [00:25:34] What I’m hearing from you is look for those things. Be prepared to try to ascertain and see if that really is the case with this organization or individual that you’re considering engaging and look to yourself. And if you’re not ready to participate in that way and be open and then then that’s just you’re not ready.
Jane Gentry: [00:25:55] Yeah. If you want somebody to just agree with you, I can maybe give you some recommendations. Probably not going to be me, but that’s one of the reasons that we use that judgment index stone is because it really kind of bubbles up for us some issues that maybe some of the leaders had. And I’ll tell you one thing that that used to really surprise me. The number one. One of the top things that that index shows fairly regularly is a lack of self-awareness from leadership. So if you’re not willing for somebody to tell you you’re the emperor and you’re walking around naked, as they say in the South, and you probably don’t you’re not ready for for a business consultant.
Stone Payton: [00:26:38] Got it. What a delightful conversation. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing your story with us. If someone out there would like to reach out and have a conversation with you or your partner or someone on your team, let’s give them some some points of contact. Whatever you feel like is appropriate, a website, email, phone, whatever. What’s the best way for them to reach out and connect?
Jane Gentry: [00:27:00] You can reach out to me directly at Jane. At Jane Gentry. Jane is not the fancy Jane. It’s just Jane Gentry. Our number is 7705167758. Or you can find me on LinkedIn. I think my LinkedIn profile is actually Jane M Gentry, but I’m not hard to find.
Stone Payton: [00:27:23] Well, it’s been an absolute delight having you on the show. Thank you again.
Jane Gentry: [00:27:28] I appreciate you.
Stone Payton: [00:27:29] Yeah. How about hanging out with us while we visit with our next guest?
Jane Gentry: [00:27:32] I’d love to.
Stone Payton: [00:27:33] All right, gang, you ready for the headliner? He’s been very patient over there and listening. I thought I even saw. I’m taking some notes. I know. I saw him taking some pictures. And you’ll find out why here in just a moment. Please join me in welcoming to Turkey Business Radio with Armitage Photography Inc. Mr. John Armitage. How are you doing, man?
John Armitage: [00:27:54] I’m good. How are you doing?
Stone Payton: [00:27:55] I am doing well. Well, did you learn anything in that last segment?
John Armitage: [00:27:59] I did. I did. I almost sometimes wanted to reach in and say a few things, but I thought, no, I can’t because. But a lot of things she said ring so true about the business world and leadership and and you definitely have to self assess a lot of the times just to see where you are and to go forward all the time.
Stone Payton: [00:28:22] It’s one of the things that I love about doing this work, guys. If you ever want to just meet some really smart people and occasionally get some really great thought leadership consulting, coaching, get yourself a radio show and invite smart people to come visit with you. All right. So tell us about Armitage photography. You’re obviously out there taking pictures, but I’ll bet there’s more to it.
John Armitage: [00:28:46] Oh, yeah. There’s photography is a whole industry of various factions, I would say. I mean, I’ve been shooting product photography for the last 35 years, so I’ve been doing it a long time. And you end up over that time shooting just about everything possible. And so there’s nothing that comes my way nowadays that I don’t say, Oh, okay, this is how we’re going to do that and this is how we’re going to do that. And a lot of it just takes a lot of experience. And, you know, as I also one of my big passions is to mentor an intern, other photographers coming out of school. And one of the things I tell them is, you know, you have to fail all the time, because if you if you don’t fail, that means you know everything. So you have to fail constantly to make sure that, you know, you are not making mistakes at the critical moment.
Stone Payton: [00:29:42] So when you say product photography, this could range from food to to widgets.
John Armitage: [00:29:49] Exactly. I, I do a lot of food. I used to do a lot of work for racetrac gas stations and doing all their food. I have only Mexican brand foods is one of my current clients. So yeah, I do a lot of tacos and I’ve shot.
Stone Payton: [00:30:05] You’re making me hungry, man.
John Armitage: [00:30:06] I can’t tell you how many tortillas I have shot, but I mean, one of the one of the nice things about working with Ola, as they’ve been very good about afterwards, you know, we have all this product that we can’t really restock, so I have the ability to give it to food organizations. One of them is Logan Co-op, which is around where I live. And it was really hard to give away like two pallets of tortillas, I’ve got to.
Stone Payton: [00:30:36] Tell you now, did you start out with a focus on on product photography or did you sort of migrate to that over time?
John Armitage: [00:30:45] Well, when I was younger, I wanted to be a photojournalist. And I as I went to college, I actually went to photo school. There was an actual college for it out in California, Cal State Fullerton. And so during that time, you one of the requirements to graduate is to have an internship. And so this is one of the reasons why I like to host interns as well. But I went to a guy named Jack Eden. He’s unfortunately passed away now, but. He taught me a lot of things, and it was one of those things where you walk in and go, This is where I’m supposed to be. This is what I want to do. And I pursued it ever since. And even in the face of many people going, Oh, you shouldn’t do that. It’s so hard. It’s so difficult. But, you know, I just have the philosophy of if whatever it is you’re going to do, if you put yourself into it 100% and don’t. You know, listen to these people that are telling you no. In fact, it just emboldens me more to say, really, you’re going to tell me, no, no, I can do it. So I just went on and on. And there’s there are paths to take to get to certain levels. And, you know, I’ve noticed each of those inclining paths as I have worked in the business and work with other photographers and worked with studios, large studios. And now that for the last 20 years I’ve had my own studio. So it’s over. Actually, it’s over. Norcross. Right off Jimmy Carter.
Stone Payton: [00:32:18] So do you find yourself working with someone in a marketing capacity in these firms or you’re working with the owner? Like, who are you interacting with at the company?
John Armitage: [00:32:28] Oh, it all depends on which company it is for old Mexican brand foods. There’s a nice gentleman named Enrique Botello and he is their marketing person. So he gets together with me and we he tells me what they need and I try to provide them the best way I can. If it’s because there are some just product shots that are that are just for the Web, for Amazon, that are tortillas on a on a white sweep, not too exciting, but occasionally there is a better opportunity to do some more lifestyle type of shots where, you know, I have to I hire a food stylist. There’s a lot of really good ones out there.
Stone Payton: [00:33:07] You got to hit the brakes here. What? What in the world does a food stylist do?
John Armitage: [00:33:13] My food stylists are women and men. I shouldn’t say I don’t want to be sexist, but I’d say a majority of them are women. But a few very good men do this and they really just make food look good. So. So I don’t know. They can cook and they make things look juicy and fresh and they have all kinds of little tricks of the trade to make the food look fantastic. And without them, you know, the photography is not going to look good. It’s like we can’t do food photography without them and they can’t get jobs as food stylists without us. So it’s a symbiotic relationship. Rachel Day Long is one of my favorite food styles out there, and I’ve used her several times on old Mexican brand foods shoots and she is just phenomenal. She gets in and she sets everything up and has all the little accouterments that she will put into to make it look fresh and and be fresh. And so many times you just want to look at it and just it looks so good. So.
Stone Payton: [00:34:25] Rachel. Deadline Well, I appreciate that because now I can send her an invoice now.
John Armitage: [00:34:31] Well, I got you know, I got to plug the people that help me.
Stone Payton: [00:34:34] Absolutely. You know, so do you do you walk in sometimes and they whoever they is and sometimes it varies, know exactly what they want and sometimes they don’t. And you find yourself in a little bit of a consulting role both.
John Armitage: [00:34:48] But yeah, there’s a lot of times when people come into the studio and they’ll say, After about 20 minutes, I’ll go, I never realized how much there was to this. Yeah. And you know, in today’s day of cell phones and iPhones and social media, I mean, the photo world has changed quite a bit, I’ll bet. And so a lot of people aren’t so concerned with quality as they are with, you know, quantity of of content because they’ve got to feel content all the time. And it’s important for companies to have a social media person to do that, but they shouldn’t substitute their product photography to their social media person. I mean, it’s not it’s not at all the same thing. So like one of the more recent shoots I did was for Hoots, which is a offshoot of Hooters, which is Hoots Wings. And I had a really good experience with them. They came in I had actually had two food stylists on that job, actually. I’m sorry, three one just cooked one just fried food out back because we didn’t want to smell like big giant French fry. And we also had a video crew in to video do some video for them. And because when you once you make the food, it’s it’s not going to last for that long a period of time.
John Armitage: [00:36:10] And if you’re going to make it for still photography, you might as well have the videographer in there to do the things that you want on video as well, because there’s that’s one less cost that they have. But the big thing probably about today’s photography is that it’s all digital. And years ago I was a film guy, you know, four by five and, you know, sheet film and Polaroids. And, you know, we heard of, you know, the digital cameras are going to be better. And we never thought that. Was going to happen, but eventually it did. And they are they are really fantastic. And the great thing about it is it brings the cost down. Huh? Because before we’d have sheets of film, you’d have to purchase process and Polaroids that you’d have to test your image. You know, you’re when you’re when you’re doing your shot, you put a Polaroid in and pull it and you look at it and go, okay, well, you know, this is that that’s that chick focus, all these kind of things and all of that is gone for. So for each shot you would do, you’d spend about 30 or $40 in processing and Polaroid.
John Armitage: [00:37:17] So when you start adding that up ten, 15, 20 shots a day, that gets up to be a pretty hefty bill. I had been on a job once with a couple of friends of mine for a clothing company. This is back in the film days and after we figured out how many images they were going to need, it was like, you know, 60, 70 page catalog and it was like 400 shots or something. And so somebody we all looked at each other. Okay. Who has a credit card with that can put $90,000 of film and Polaroid on? We’re all like, none of us. So, you know, that’s a that’s a huge savings to most businesses. And it and it really cheapens the cost of photography immensely. And and now clients get a lot more photography done during the day in one day than they would have in years past, because there is no film to process. There’s no waiting for it to take a look at it, make sure everything’s okay. And, you know, instantaneously right there and there’s a big screen on your computer and, you know, it’s it’s really kind of a beautiful thing to watch. It really is.
Stone Payton: [00:38:29] So how did you get started, man? Did you mentioned that you went to school when you’re doing something before that or you knew pretty early on this was your path?
John Armitage: [00:38:36] Well, actually, I was in I was in the military for a few years, active duty. And during that period of time, my father passed away a young age. He was 48, and he was never really happy with what he had decided to do with his life. He wanted to be an actor. And so he. Didn’t pursue acting and he went into a career in business. Yeah. And he worked for Alcoa Aluminum for many years and we moved back and forth across the country a several times. But he passed away when I was 20 and I was still in the military and when I got out six months later I said, you know, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Yeah. And because I really didn’t have a clear vision of that and I said, you know, I really want to do something I enjoy doing because I’m going to do it the rest of my life and I better be happy doing it. And photography, which is something that had always piqued my interest that I had done when I was a little kid, a guy at a down the street who was having a garage sale. He gave me a rolly camera when I was like eight years old. And I was taking pictures all over the place. And and then later on in high school, I took photography classes and the teacher said, Hey, you got a great eye for this. And one of the weird one of the strange things was there was in high school, you take these kind of tests that are trying to evaluate what you would do. Well.
Stone Payton: [00:40:03] I remember that test. It didn’t say anything about running a media company.
John Armitage: [00:40:09] Yes. Well, you know, I fill this thing out. I didn’t even really look at it. And then years later, I found it as I was, you know, going through stuff when I was about to move and had to get rid of stuff. And I found this thing and it said communications photography on my you should do that. So it was almost like, you know, an omen, I don’t know. But it was weird that, you know, those kind of things have happened. And just another reinforcement that this is what I was supposed to do.
Stone Payton: [00:40:34] Have you had a mentor or mentors along the way?
John Armitage: [00:40:38] Oh, many, many, many.
Stone Payton: [00:40:40] Yeah.
John Armitage: [00:40:41] Jack Eaton was a big one when I first started out. A lot of photographers out in Los Angeles. And then when I came here, I started working for some catalog studios. Quadrant Quadrant was a big one and three score there. They’re both gone now, unfortunately, but there was always a great camaraderie in those in those studios that would be anywhere from 5 to 40 photographers every day shooting, and it’d be like 40, 50,000 square foot spaces that everybody’s trying to squeeze in and get enough equipment to do what they’re going to do. But everybody was very helpful and friendly. And, you know, when you had an issue, they would come over and help you out and say, hey, you might want to try this and you could go over and look at what they’re doing and see their sets. And so it’s a real it was a real training ground for kind of getting up your production and you had so many shots you had to do every day. And I mean, they ranged from, you know, things on what we call things on white, stuff on white, so to speak. Nicely put, but all the way up to a huge room sets where you have walls that are put up and held up in place and curtains put up, carpet lay down, hardwood flooring laid down.
John Armitage: [00:41:58] You’d have assistants that would come and help you set all this stuff up. You’d have a stylist assigned to you to help you, you know, fix the room up or whatever it was that you were doing. And it was a it was a great learning experience. A lot of great photographers. I guess. I want to point out one guy, Mark Perfect, is one of those guys. He he always had this ability to no matter what he shot, it looked fantastic. And so I really paid attention to him a lot and what he did. But there’s a lot of other people. Laura Bullock It was another woman that not not as many ladies in photography, but the ones that are there are really highly skilled. And Laura Bullock was one that taught me how to shoot glass, you know, because we were shooting glassware for Macy’s and for Bloomingdales. And there’s techniques to make it look really good because when you just point a light at something that just doesn’t always do it, there’s reflections in all kinds of little nuances that you have to do to make something look appealing and sexy, so to speak, to consumers that want to purchase it. So you really you really have to understand, you know, what you want, what your client wants to be conveyed in their product.
Stone Payton: [00:43:13] And now you’re mentoring others. Yes. What is that like? Are you enjoying that? I sense that you are.
John Armitage: [00:43:19] Oh, it’s it’s one of my passions. I really do enjoy it a lot. And they inspire me as much as I inspire them there. I mean, what I try to do is to help them through the the ups and downs and most of the downs that we all experience. It’s just like a parent trying to tell a kid not to do something or touch that hot stove, but, you know, they’re bound to do it anyway. So I press them to, like I said before, to fail all the time. And because through your failure, you’re going to find out what to do the right way. But they’ll come to me with different ambitions of shooting. Different kinds of photography. So sometimes they’re what they want to do. I asked them, I say, Well, I want you to pick out, you know, ten pictures, ten, ten photos you see on the Web or in magazines to emulate for your portfolio. You know what? What do you want to see in your portfolio? And so they’ll bring them to me. And now and some of them were like, Well, I would like to do this, but it’s just too hard. You know, I’m like, Is that what you’re going to tell your clients? It’s too hard. You know, I can’t do it. My friend down the street, you know, he can do it because he’s better. No, you want to you want to like I said, practice. I mean, it’s just about like, everything else. It’s practice, practice, practice. Like brain surgeons, they don’t go into brain surgery right out of medical school. You know, they have to go through a long period of time to get to that level and to provide that kind of service. And there is definitely differences in I mean, you give a product to five different photographers, you’re going to get five different shots. There’s no doubt about it. We all have our own little styles and our techniques, and I’m currently trying to help pass those upon pass those along. I’m in the process of writing a book about photography and lighting.
Stone Payton: [00:45:20] You got to come back when you book out.
John Armitage: [00:45:22] Well, it’s going to be called Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, because we you know, there’s an old saying of my mother’s because she always, you know, did everything around the house, of course. Right. And she’s like, I’m the chief cook and bottle washer here. So anyway, I’ve I feel the same way when I’m at my studio because I’m a one man show and I hire people when I need to. I keep a list of very good, strong freelance people that I hire, hire assistants and stylists and all kinds of folks to come in to help me put up sets, build sets, food styling style clothing. One of my clients is USOC, the Olympic Committee. And we do a lot of their their social media apparel. And I’ll be I’ll have three sets going on, three cameras up, three stylists, and they’re all working there, each of their their stations there. And I’m going from one to the next shooting, you know, clicking off images, because once we get the lighting up for most of those, you know, they want to keep it consistent. And one of the advantages but having a big enough studio to do that and have three sets going at the same time, you got to keep focused. You still have everything else to worry about. You have to worry about your your stylist. You got to worry about your assistant. Make sure everybody is keeping busy. You’ve got to keep the clients happy. The art directors are there. You’re trying to make sure that they’re getting what they need for the project they’re working on for that client. So it’s it’s quite a it’s quite a show, actually.
Stone Payton: [00:46:48] You know how bed it is. So, so in your world, probably not unlike Jayne’s or earlier, I guess there’s mastering your craft, but then you’ve also got to run a business.
John Armitage: [00:46:58] Yes. Yeah. I mean, we’re we wear many hats. We were all the hats. That’s why Chief Cook and bottle washer. But I mean, could we do it? We have to do it all. We have to I mean, I’ve I’ve hired Anna here. Anna Smith is with us today. She’s a marketing consultant to marketing. And she has done a fantastic job for me with my social media stuff and really gotten my name out there. And, you know, it was probably the best decision I made for the longest time. I didn’t really need to market myself. I had some really big clients that would keep me busy all the time. But with COVID and the changing of, you know, social media being brought on and people think that, you know, the cell phone is going to be the end all to the photography needs it. It came time where I had to actually get out and start hitting the bricks so well.
Stone Payton: [00:47:52] It was a good call for whatever my opinion is worth. I’ve gotten to know Anna a little bit over the last year.
John Armitage: [00:47:56] Yes, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I think it really is.
Stone Payton: [00:47:59] So let’s talk legacy for for a moment. Your passion just comes through. So it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that you plan to do this till your last day.
John Armitage: [00:48:09] Well, they’ll probably bury me in my studio.
Stone Payton: [00:48:11] Yeah. And do you have any plans at all for maybe bringing someone in and having or exiting in some fashion or passing the baton? Or are you there yet thinking about that stuff?
John Armitage: [00:48:25] Yeah, of course. I think about that stuff. It’s difficult to find a younger person, of course, though, that wants to come in and commit the kind of time necessary to take over the business because, you know, they have to have the clients as well and they’ve got to my clients, trust me. I mean, they come to me because it’s what I do for them is, is I work very diligently and that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how much they pay me. Some clients pay more than others, depending on usage rights. That’s a whole other story. But. You know, I work 110% for that client. I will. I do the shooting, I do the retouching, I deliver the product. And so it’s it’s a lot of work, probably more work than sometimes benefit of of monetary benefit. But it’s just something that I love to do. I can’t I just can’t help it. I’ve always loved it and I’m still passionate about it.
Stone Payton: [00:49:26] Well, I can tell. And so can anyone listening to this to this conversation. So what’s next? Are you going to branch out into any other arena? You’re just going to stay in this lane and just get better and better and keep trying to serve more folks or what’s on the horizon. You got the book?
John Armitage: [00:49:41] Yes. How’s that for an answer? Yes. All of those things. I’ve got the book trying to come out here where it’s being edited right now. And I have branched out to do. I’ve actually started a new thing with car photography of guys that have their fancy cars. They’d like to come into the studio. I take a nice, beautiful picture of it with them in it. If they want, they can hang on their wall because there’s a lot of really neat cars out there and a lot of guys really enjoy that great Mother’s Day, Father’s Day gifts for the mothers out there. And anyway, doing that, I’m also I give classes on weekends, basic photography classes. I’m planning to branch out into more advanced classes. But, you know, I can’t give away all my secrets.
Stone Payton: [00:50:32] So so the book is close. It’s about done. We’re getting close to publication.
John Armitage: [00:50:36] We’re getting close. We’re getting close a couple of months maybe.
Stone Payton: [00:50:38] And what was that process like for you? Did it come together pretty easy? Did you struggle over pieces of it?
John Armitage: [00:50:44] You know, I, I started writing it during the first opening salvos of of COVID, and it took me like maybe a couple of weeks to put it on paper. Wow. Because it just came spilling out. I’ve been you know, I had been thinking about this for years. Yeah. And, you know, as I as I work and one of the reasons why I did this was because as my interns came in, they would, you know, I would be setting something up and showing them how I set it up. And they’re like, Why did you do that? And I’m like, Well, that’s a pretty good question. Why did I do that? And what’s the difference here? And what’s the difference there where I put this card or I put what kind of card up in there, how big a card it is? And so I found myself having to articulate very specifically what I was doing, because we do it so naturally after after a time. Sure, we just do it automatically. And we we don’t really think about what we’re doing because it’s just a second nature. And suddenly I had to stop and go, okay, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why am I putting this here? Why am I putting that light there or this card here? And I started to come up with ideas to help kids, young photographers, to understand how light is reacting. Because it is all about light. It’s not it’s not the camera. It’s not you know, photography is a study of light, so a camera’s only as good as the person behind it.
John Armitage: [00:52:12] So you have to train them to see in great detail, especially in product photography, because once you take that picture, it’s there. I mean, there’s no there’s no getting around. Whatever is in that shot is in that shot. And you can’t once it’s published, you can’t cover it up, you know. So if there’s some weird reflection in your in your product because you didn’t see it, it can be troubling, especially to your client, like, well, what was this? You know, what did you do that for? I remember when I was working for Jackie and we we were taking a shot of this glassware, of some glassware, and there was this big blue spot in it. We’re like, What is this blue spot? You know? And and finally we realized it was about a Windex sitting on the table across the way that was reflecting ever so slightly, but a little sliver of blue. And so you never know where that is going to be coming from. So it’s very important to be very critical of what you’re doing and how you’re putting things in there. Because one of my basic laws that I teach my students is everything reflects everything. It doesn’t matter what it is, everything reflects. And so you have to really understand that and understand how reflections work and in different situations and flat surfaces and in round surfaces as well.
Stone Payton: [00:53:36] You know, I don’t a layperson, certainly not me, would never even think about that.
John Armitage: [00:53:41] And that’s our.
Stone Payton: [00:53:42] Thing about shiny things reflecting.
John Armitage: [00:53:43] Right? Well, that’s what our job is. So that you’re looking at it going, oh, this is what this photographer doing. You know, it’s got to look great and it’s got to be that thing that you’re going to have in your hand that that the clients want want to see. It can’t look bad, you know? And that’s why there’s a lot of, you know, funny things done to especially food to make it look better.
Stone Payton: [00:54:07] Right.
John Armitage: [00:54:07] We try especially try not to oversell something. And there’s also some legal ramifications. For instance, Campbell’s alphabet soup. You know, they used to have, you know, the bowl of soup and you’d have the little letters, you know, writing something.
Stone Payton: [00:54:27] Yeah, I remember. I’m old enough to remember that.
John Armitage: [00:54:29] Yeah, well, they ran into a problem because their noodles didn’t float. They would sink, so they would put marbles in the plate underneath it. And that was.
Stone Payton: [00:54:41] Not.
John Armitage: [00:54:43] Good. And so they said, you can’t do that anymore. So now whenever you see an ad for alphabet soup, it’s always in a spoon. You’ll see a little word in a spoon instead. And so there’s little things that we you know, that we know in the industry that that happen. And but like, if you’re shooting ice cream for, let’s say, carnation ice cream, I mean, you have to shoot their ice cream. You can’t make fake ice cream, which is just powdered sugar and Karo sirup. But you can do that if you’re you’re just putting ice cream in as a prop, right? That’s not a problem. But ice cream is a whole different ball of wax. You’re working inside of a freezer that has dry ice lined in it and the style is down in there and trying to go and you have to get it really hard. And then you only have like about 20 seconds once it goes on set before it starts melting. So you have a couple of hero stand ins that the stylist would make and you get all your lighting right. And then the last second time for the hero and they bring that out of the freezer and they sit it on your on your set and you go for it.
Stone Payton: [00:55:54] So what a fascinating world. All right. So what’s the best way for someone to reach out to you, have a conversation about this, probably sit down with you and talk with you a little bit about it before we book all the stuff. Right. What’s the best.
John Armitage: [00:56:05] Way? Best way is just to call me directly 404 2475458. And you can go to my website, which is Armitage photo and that’s an Armitage’s actually a lot easier than you think. It’s three words arm it an age and you put them all together.
Stone Payton: [00:56:25] Fantastic.
John Armitage: [00:56:26] Sounds like a mouthful, but it really isn’t.
Stone Payton: [00:56:28] Well, thank you for coming in and talking with us. Man, this is fascinating world.
John Armitage: [00:56:32] Thank you. It’s been a great, great pleasure.
Stone Payton: [00:56:34] All right. This is Stone Payton for our guests this morning and everyone here at the business Radio X family saying we’ll see you next time on Cherokee Business Radio.