Beware of Portrait Innovations

I try not to use my blog as a platform for ranting, but Portrait Innovations has me so angry, I want to spread the word, so other people don’t have the same bad experience we’ve had.

We went to Portrait Innovations last year for the third time for Christmas photos (we’d had some other pictures done there as well over the years). We started with our Christmas portrait. Actually, that’s the only reason we were there–to get a Christmas picture of just the children together. Even though we had the first appointment of the morning, we had to wait for the “Christmas studio” to clear, because the other family scheduled walked in the door first. OK, fine. So, we finally got in the room, 20 minutes later than I was expecting, but we were still doing OK. The children had their picture taken, and it was a decent picture, even though I wasn’t thrilled with it. The photographer wasn’t, in my opinion, very good with children, and certainly not good with a child with autism, which is unfortunate for a portrait studio that caters to families, but whatever.

So, I thought we were done. They had taken at least a dozen pictures, and I knew that out of those, at least one would work. So, I was ready to go over to the computers and finalize my order. And that’s when the real trouble started. (Let’s keep in mind here that Moose has autism, and when he is in a strange place, for a long time, doing what appears to him to be nothing, he freaks out. He may cry or shriek or just try to leave, but he doesn’t always do well with unfamiliar situations.) They began telling me that I “had” to go into the other studio, and have pictures taken with a different background, and with different groupings of the children, as well as individual shots. I explained that I didn’t want any of that, that I came solely to take a Christmas portrait, and that we were done with photos. I was again told that I “had” to go in the other room for the “rest” of our session. I told them in no uncertain terms that I would *not* be taking any additional pictures, and that I would leave without anything at all if they continued to persist. At that point, I was told that “this one time” they would let me just select my picture, but that they “don’t do things that way” and that if I schedule an appointment, I “have” to do the pictures the way they say.

That’s funny…the previous two times I had been there for Christmas portraits, I didn’t “have” to do any of that. Yes, there was the traditional hard sell when it came time to order, but I was expecting that. They didn’t try to force me into other rooms for additional pictures, and actually had, in the past, seemed kind of relieved that I didn’t want anything extra, because they were, of course, overbooked, and running behind.

So, I didn’t know what to think. Did I just end up with a really bad photographer, or a photographer having a really bad day? Did their corporate outlook change somehow? I had no way of knowing, so I’ve kept this experience in the back of my mind all year, because I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

I called our local Portrait Innovations this morning, and explained my situation. I wanted to come in when they first opened (not a problem, they still have early appointments available), and I wanted to take only a Christmas portrait of all four of my children. That’s all. And I explained why: I have a son with autism, and if he is forced to sit around and wait, we will not be able to get a picture that is worth buying. I also explained that it would be in their best interest to work with me, because if he has a meltdown in their studio, he will start shrieking (nothing I can do about that), and it will make the experience unpleasant for us, the employees, and their other customers.

Even after hearing all of this, I was told on the phone that we could start with the Christmas background, but that we would also “have” to take some pictures with another background. Of course, they reassured me that it would be “really fast” (what a joke! Because taking pictures with children is ever “fast”), but we would “have” to do it.

Now, I get that these companies need to make money. And I know that the way they do that is by getting people to buy more than the cheap-o package. But I also think they could show a little grace to a family that has a child with special needs. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the second background could just be pulled down like they do at Wal-Mart. But to have the second set of pictures taken, you have to go to a different room, which almost always already has another family in it, and often has at least one other family ahead of you to get in it next. That all adds up to a very long wait, bad enough for children, but unbearable for a child with autism. Not a great business model.

I could just schedule an appointment with them anyway, and then make a fuss like I did last year. But I’d rather not do business at all with a company that is so rigid in its sale tactics that they can’t understand that not all families are the same, and that it may not be possible for us to make it through the appointment done their way. So, I’ll take my business elsewhere, and I’ll encourage others to do the same. There’s just no reason for any company to show that little compassion to their customers.

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