A Developing Story
The Greniers Studio Changes Its Name, Widens Its Focus
One of the early entries was ‘S.O.B.’
That stands for Sons of Bob, as in R. Robert (Bob) Grenier, founder of the nearly 60-year-old photography business that still bears the family name — sort of — and his four sons, Larry, Dan, Chris, and Marc, who now run the company.
‘S.O.B.’ was one of several concepts floated as a new name for the Holyokebased business, which specializes in school and family portrait work, and sought a new name for several reasons, including territorial expansion and a need to consolidate many business divisions.
Ultimately, it was decided that, while S.O.B. was clever and well-liked internally, there would no doubt be problems making it work within a youth- and family- dominated customer base.
But the search for a name that conveyed fun and a contemporary focus continued and, ultimately, the company, with the assistance of the local marketing firm Darby O’Brien, came up with Grynn & Barrett Studios.
The words The Grenier Family, Photographers since 1948 accompany the new name in all marketing materials, letterhead, and business cards, said Larry Grenier, the company’s president and CEO, noting that the family name is well-known and respected in the community and the industry, and still holds great value.
But the company is pushing Grynn & Barrett, a play on words that the brothers believe conveys not only what the company does, but how it does it — with an accent on fun and outside-the-box thinking.
Meanwhile, they say the name change and the expansion with which it coincides, send a message to competitors that this family business is strong — and intends to get stronger.
“Within a part of the industry, our family name was getting trashed,” explained Larry Grenier. “People were saying that we’re a dysfunctional family, that we can’t keep the family together (a sister did leave to start her own venture), and that this business was not working well.
“We want to show those people that we’re not dysfunctional,” he continued, “and that we have plans and we’re moving them forward.”
Those plans include a physical expansion into Connecticut, where the company plans to open a second studio, probably in Rocky Hill, early next year. From there, the brothers want to continue their expansion effort into New York and perhaps beyond. With questions about how well the Greniers name would travel, the sons of Bob undertook a search for a new name.
BusinessWest looks this issue at how a family business intends to grow by actually downplaying the family name, and at how its broad expansion might ultimately develop.
Portrait of a Success Story
To announce the name change and new business strategy, the brothers Grenier took the company’s annual holiday pot luck lunch, staged Dec. 13, and turned it on its ear.
A light-hearted program began with announcements that the company had been sold (rumors to that effect have been circulating for years) and continued with the introduction of the new ownership tandem (both blind), and a display of their work. This was a set of poor, out-of-focus, badly aligned photographs that soon led staff members to realize that what they were seeing was all a gag.
But the new name and the company’s expansion efforts are serious business, said Dan Grenier, who heads studio operations for the company as vice president and director. He told BusinessWest that there were several motivations for changing an established name, especially the need to pull several different businesses, or divisions, under one brand.
Those divisions include one that he established, called Daniel’s School Pictures, which concentrates on portraits of students in grades K-11. There is another component that focuses exclusively on high school seniors (The Greniers), and still another, called Greniers ProSports, which concentrates on high school and youth sports.
These specialties have been developed over the course of the past 57 years, or since Bob Grenier, later nicknamed ‘Grin’ set up shop in the family home on Pine Street in Holyoke.
He started out with a partner, Lucien Ducharme, and the two names co-existed on the letterhead until the latter retired in the mid ’60s. The company grew steadily through the ’50s and ’60s, with wedding, family portrait, children, and high school senior photography.
In 1971, Grenier opened a second studio in the then-new downtown Springfield office/retail complex Baystate West. Soon thereafter, Larry Grenier became the first of the second generation to join the business. He was joined by Marc in 1976, Dan in 1979, and Chris in 1980.
The company saw a surge of growth in the ’80s, with the addition of the undergraduate student department, as it was called, and the sports department, which features products and services ranging from team photos to cards (similar to the ones for the pros) to championship plaques and refrigerator magnets.
Today, the company counts more than 60 high schools and colleges and about 300 elementary and middle schools on its customer list, as well as other clients ranging from the Vermont State Police Department to the Holyoke and Hartford, Conn. fire departments.
Bob Grenier eventually sold the business to his five children in 1991, and since, the company has continued to grow, while also consolidating. The Springfield studio (the company moved from Baystate West to a location on Mill Street in the late ’70s) was eventually closed, with all operations moving to Holyoke. This necessitated a larger facility, and, after a lengthy search of sites across the region, a location was found on Jarvis Avenue in Holyoke. A 24,000- square-foot, state-of-the-art studio was opened in July 2002.
Looking forward, the Grenier brothers believe they can build on their considerable success in Connecticut (roughly 50% of their business is generated in the Nutmeg State), which was amassed without an actual studio there.
Plans to construct an operation similar to the one on Jarvis Avenue are being finalized, said Larry Grenier, noting that such a facility should enable the company to secure a larger share of the Connecticut market and ultimately serve it more effectively.
The Big Picture
To take the company to the next level, and a broader territorial market, it was decided to create one name, or brand, said Dan Grenier, noting that this was an exercise approached with equal amounts of caution and determination.
“There is a lot of equity in the family name,” he explained. “But maybe not as much as we thought; it is well known in Western Mass. and Northern Connecticut, but beyond that, it doesn’t mean much to people.”
The search for a new name, he said, focused on finding something that would get people’s attention and make it clear that this was a fun company to work for and do business with.
Bob Grenier was brought in on the project early in the process, said his son Larry, noting that the company’s founder agreed that a new name would be needed to take the company into new and different markets.
‘S.O.B.’ was one of several contenders, although it was quickly confined to internal use, said Larry Grenier, and it will continue to be used in that capacity, with S.O.B. tshirts, sweat shirts, and other items for staff members.
Meanwhile, other suggestions for a new name included Churchill Studios, to connote the neighborhood in Holyoke in which the business grew up, and ‘The Brothers Grinn,’ another play on words.
‘Grynn & Barrett Studios’ emerged after several rounds of concepts and debate, said Darby O’Brien, because it conveys a sense of fun and contemporary thinking. This matches what goes on in the company’s studios, especially when it comes to high school senior portraits, where the nature of the final product is limited only by the student’s imagination.
Indeed, while decades ago, the photos were fairly static, with limited options, students today can blend their passions, modern technology, and even a little MTV to produce something truly original.
recalled one student who, wishing to pay homage to her father’s passion for the Red Sox, donned a uniform and was captured in a image in which a ball and bat seemed to be on fire.
“Our studio is built like a TV set,” he explained. “We can use a number of different backgrounds and elements to make this more than a photo — we want it be an event.”
Thus, the company wanted a name that would play with students and young parents, he continued. “And we think we’ve accomplished that.”
There was a good deal of discussion about the name change before the company moved forward, said Larry Grenier, noting that the proposed new brand was test-driven before some people in the photo industry.
“Most got a chuckle out of it; they thought it was fun, but also somewhat risky,” he told BusinessWest. “There is some risk involved, but at this point, we knew it was necessary to do something a little risky to move our business forward.
“We didn’t want something safe,” he continued. “We wanted to make a statement — to our staff, to our customers, and to our competition.”
Taking Their Best Shot
That statement is that the Grenier family is focused — figuratively and quite literally — on continuing the growth pattern that has defined the company since ‘Grin’ first told a family to say ‘cheese.’
The Grenier name will still be on each portrait taken, said Dan Grenier, adding that this long-standing tradition will not change. But the larger letters on the sign outside the Jarvis Avenue studio are reserved for the names Grynn and Barrett. They are there to make people laugh, but also take this family business seriously.
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]