Rimagine featured as Shanghai Stuff’s “Business Story”

The folks at Shanghai Stuff wrote an interesting article about us and our story on their high-profile website. You can read the entire article below or visit the Shanghai Stuff website here.

Business Story of the Month:

Model airplanes, Swedish meatballs, and an emergency trip to Carrefour

How 3 entrepreneurs used guts and marketing smarts to start China’s first international photography company – and changed an industry along the way

The photography industry is traditional. Individual photographers build up their portfolios over many years – if not decades – honing their craft and all of the intricacies of shooting and retouching the perfect photo. Photographers generally work their craft with the support of apprentices and assistants to lug heavy lighting equipment and set up shots. Invoicing, keeping records, renting studios and dealing with clients tend to be the bane of photographers, who would rather to spend their time on the actual craft.

In 2004, three Shanghai-based entrepreneurs put their heads together and decided to start a photography company that would eventually turn the industry on its head and make clients completely re-think their business processes. Germans Lorenz Wagener and Christoph Lienke, along with native Shanghainese Jiang Lei, were working in various marketing and business fields when they decided to join the China entrepreneur’s scrum.

Working with various companies in China, they realized how much time was wasted when brands were forced to ship their products from the Chinese factory to Europe, the US, or Australia and set up the photo shoots there. If they could shoot the photos before the products left China – or even before they left the factory – they could help these brands cut down the lead time before producing their marketing materials, utilizing the cost advantage of taking the photos in China and saving even more money on logistic costs.

Rimagine co-founder and General Manager Lorenz Wagener explained, “We all started in business management, but not any of us were photographers! We were on the other side of the table. We were buying retouching or photography services.”

First jobs
Rimagine’s first job flew in from Shenzhen: model airplanes manufactured in China, and sent to Europe to sell in toy stores and through model retailers. Wagener convinced the company they could do the job quickly and on the cheap, so within a few days they had a closet stuffed with miniature Boeing 747s and Mirage 2000s.

“All of us quit our jobs; we quickly found a very small apartment, which hadn’t been renovated. In the beginning we were working with three managers and just one photographer and one retoucher – it was kind of crazy!” said Wagener.

Working in the cramped, cold apartment during the freezing Shanghai winter, their first lesson was making sure to get the shot that the client wanted. After three tries, they finally captured the look and feel that the client was looking for, and five years later the model airplane company is still a Rimagine client.“It’s not easy to retouch the photo on the computer when you are freezing and wearing thick gloves. Also, the heavy lighting kept knocking out the apartment’s electricity.”

With this first success in hand, the team started cold calling companies to drum up new business for their venture. They managed to set up a meeting with a senior manager at Ikea.

“After two weeks we met someone from Ikea and he told us, ‘great, bring us your book.’ We realized we didn’t have a portfolio so we went to Carrefour and City Supermarket and literally brought products and hardware to get a portfolio done!”

With their new portfolio in hand and a few convincing meetings later, they soon found themselves shooting all of the Ikea canteen shots. Rimagine’s famous Swedish meatball shots are still in heavy use around Asia.

The marketing connection
With this strong start, Wagener and his partners quickly find small and medium companies that needed shots, particularly merchandize that the clients needed shot quickly and at a reasonable price. Rimagine moved to their present location – 1,000 sqm and equipped with three full studios to handle any type of job. They also built up their “talents”: photographers, assistants, account managers, retouchers and graphic designers that would make their company more than a simple photography studio, but a full-service photography company. Rimagine now has 21 of these talents from five different countries, based in their Shanghai office.

The company, through the account manager assigned to each client, can handle all of the requirements behind the shot, and solve any problems before the photographer is even involved. “Anything you need you get it through one account manager who can instantly say yes or no. It results in quick decisions. We can connect with the marketing managers, and help them solve their problems,” said Wagener. Company-wide workflow software, in-house processes and a knowledge database help keep the teams on track and organized.

The partners’ backgrounds in marketing made it easy to communicate with the clients. “We listen very well to our clients’ needs and expectations. We first talk about what kind of photography would be ideal in this situation, because we have marketing backgrounds. Even general branding issues and strategy issues, because we can connect to our client on a deeper level, even before we get to the photography. We have long and good conversations with all of our clients.”

The future
After five successful years, 225 clients, almost 1,000 full days of photography and 25,000 hours of retouching, Rimagine is celebrating their anniversary in style. Besides throwing a party, Wagener is thinking about the future and what might come next.
“We may set up satellite offices in other countries. We know that at some point our key talents need a bigger vision, so our vision is to really become truly international, to have offices in the US, Europe and Australia and better service our clients.”

Wagener is still modest about their accomplishments in such a short time. “It’s not building a rocket to go somewhere, it is a service industry. You have to take the right talents for the shot and trust them.”

A big thank you to Shanghai Stuff for this nice article!