Haim Ariav did what many entrepreneurs dream of doing: He started a business, grew it into a success and sold it to a big national firm.
But then, last month, he bought it back.
His business is Glossy Finish, which takes photos of young athletes at youth sports events. He operated it for seven years before Lifetouch came knocking and bought his business. Ariav kept running Glossy Finish for Lifetouch, a national photography company that specializes in school photos.
The business grew, but Lifetouch eventually decided it wasn’t really for them. Now Ariav is back running the company. This week, he’s at a youth football tournament in Kissimmee with 185 teams from 50 states. That’s about 4,000 kids, or more importantly, the parents of about 4,000 kids as potential customers.
Ariav is 53, grew up in Arizona, was educated in California and spent about 20 years in New York as a fashion photographer.
But 15 years ago, he moved to Jacksonville to run SuperStock, a stock photo agency headquartered in Southpoint. He spent 2½ years as president and chief creative officer.
“I was spending all of my time with lawyers and accountants,” he said, and missed the photographic side of things. “But I really loved the quality of life in Jacksonville.”
So, he looked around for a business to start. His daughter was playing softball, his son was playing baseball and professional photographers were out there taking photos. But he wasn’t impressed with the way it was being done.
“They’d take the photos, but then post them on an archaic website,” he said. “And if you found it, you were in luck.
“Or some photographers would shoot all day Saturday at a tournament, get them printed at Walmart and put out a bunch of prints on Sunday,” he said. “You could sell a $10 print that cost you 30 cents, so the margin was there. But there was a lot of waste.
“I thought there had to be a better way.”
So he brought the computers to the field in a customized trailer and created a more efficient way to organize the photos. Ten or 15 minutes after a game, parents and their kids could look through the images and choose the ones they wanted to buy.
Ariav operated Glossy Finish for about five years before he spoke at a conference about his business. Executives at Lifetouch, the leading school photography company in the country, were there. They told him they’d tried youth sports events and didn’t do it well.
They hired Glossy Finish to photograph a few tournaments for them. In 2013, Lifetouch bought the company. Unlike a lot of startups, Ariav said selling it wasn’t really in his plans.
“My goal had been to franchise the model,” he said. “But I realized that building a business and building franchises was different. So I thought this was an opportunity to get resources and grow it.”
So he ran it as a division of Lifetouch. He added a second trailer and permanent stores at the Cal Ripken baseball facilities in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. But eventually, Lifetouch offered to sell it back.
“They were focused on schools,” he said. “And when millennials showed up as parents, they were looking for different products. They wanted digital delivery, not photos to hang on the wall.”
So after selling it to Lifetouch for about $2.5 million, Ariav and Matt Winer, his operations manager, bought the company back for what he called pennies on the dollar.
They’ve got seven employees and hire freelance photographers for the events. They’ve got 12 at the football tournament in Kissimmee. They only shoot tournaments, not individual games. They primarily work in the Southeast, but will work a football tournament in Dallas next month.
Being in the larger company had its pros and cons, he said. He learned about managing, budgeting, operating skills.
“But there’s a lack of speed with bureaucracies,” he said. “When you’re dealing with technology, it’s very hard to compete with competitors who can change on a dime.”
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296