Posted on 8/17/2019 4:16:02 PM
Photo Studio - By the numbers:
Product services team:
“I tell my team that we’re in a really unique position because we work with so many departments across the business.”- Julie Eckert
"Our company mission, ‘Inspire Self-Expression’, is something I see in action every day at work.” Julie Eckert
Julie Eckert juggles dozens of details every day as senior manager of product services and marketing operations for DSW. She joined the company in April 2011 as a product photographer, and today she manages the photo studio, as well as the marketing operations team, which includes traffic and print production.
From moving hundreds of product briefs through the marketing process, to taking hundreds of thousands of product images for www.dsw.com, Julie and her team collaborate with many departments in the company, helping them to be successful.
While Julie enjoys the opportunity to collaborate, she still has a passion for photography. She’ll tell you she’s had two careers; here’s how it started.
Photography = Family
Julie’s passion is portrait photography. She developed that love from her dad, Jack Heuker, a professional photographer who owned a studio in Chickasaw in northwestern Ohio. She grew up helping her father in his studio, developing film in the basement darkroom, and learning the skills needed to take good portraits.
Julie graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in visual communications and technology. “I always figured I’d be a professional photographer, but I deliberately chose not to pursue a fine arts degree. I took classes to learn how to run a studio business, so I also have a minor in marketing,” Julie said. “I knew I didn’t want to do commercial or fashion photography. I love taking portraits of normal, everyday people, and through lighting and composition, help them see themselves in a different light.”
After graduation, Julie started her first career with Kent Smith Photography, a studio in central Ohio. “This was my first job, and I was there for eight years before coming to DSW,” Julie said. “While I was at KSP, I was the lead photographer, did all the graphic design work, ran our marketing programs, our social accounts, and at times…even acted as grounds crew to the surrounding property.”
When she and her husband had their little girl, Julie was ready to move on to her next chapter. “I appreciated it and I loved it day in and day out, but the hours were late and involved working every weekend,” Julie said. “So, I decided to take my passion and do something completely different. I never imagined my ‘next’ would be in corporate America!”
Through a mutual friend, she heard that DSW planned to build an in-house studio for product photography. As she puts it, she was in the right place at the right time and started her second career with DSW. She was one of six people who worked in the studio, and today she manages the team of 20 associates who create high quality, detailed images every day.
And the numbers are… staggering
The photo studio produces thousands of ecommerce images each year. In 2018, her team uploaded nearly 200,000 images of more than 44,000 products, including product in the categories of footwear, handbags, accessories and more.
In the past 8 years, the studio increased image uploads from 29,000 to nearly 200,000 (a 590% increase). Because DSW offers such a wide assortment of footwear and accessories, they use a combination of images taken in the studio and vendor provided information (VPI). This hybrid approach allows the team to adjust to drastic fluctuations in work and keep operating costs low.
“We start every morning with a huddle and assign products to the photography, retouching, and copywriting teams to ensure we are prioritizing the right product. We give priority to anything that’s in the fulfillment center,” Julie explained. “We want to get products on the website as quickly as we can because if they are sitting in our fulfillment center, the customer can’t see them online and they’re not being sold. We are really proud of the fact that over the past two years we’ve dramatically reduced time to site on fulfillment center products by improving our processes.”
The team regularly audits the website, reading reviews of the products. “If a customer says something like ‘the color of the handbag doesn’t look like what I received’, we’ll pull the product from the fulfillment center then reshoot and replace the photo on the site if needed. Accurate representation of our products is critical to the customer’s shopping experience so it’s very important to our team,” she said.
The photo studio, constructed in 2011, has custom-built sets with high-quality lighting to show the fine details in the products and to make sure it is accurately captured for the customers. They take the same approach with retouching, and carefully prep the images for visual consumption.
Her marketing operations role
Julie also manages the marketing operations team. When she took on the new role in October 2018, her goal was to take the operational success of the studio and implement new processes to streamline this part of the marketing organization.
Her team “traffics” a project from start to finish, managing through every touchpoint along the process, which starts with a product brief. The team ushers the brief to key stakeholders for feedback, ensures that revisions are made, gets the brief back into the process until the assets are approved. “They make sure that every milestone is met, and with the volume they deal with, they do an amazing job,” Julie explained. “They are a small and mighty team, and they really get things done!”
The marketing operations team also has another small team that leads all print production work, including in-store signage and direct mail pieces. That team functions like a well-oiled machine and Julie’s background with visual communications has helped her adapt more quickly into her role.
Julie believes the biggest successes of the marketing operations team lie in helping their business partners get their work done and accomplish their goals. New tools to streamline marketing processes and manage resources are working well. They’ve received positive feedback from their partners in the first few months after it was implemented.
She still loves a good portrait
Julie’s heart will always have a soft spot for portrait photography. Even with her busy career and growing family, Julie kept her father’s photo studio going for eight years after he passed away in 2011, driving the 160-mile round trip evenings and weekends to take portraits and continue the business until earlier this year.
Being away from her busy and growing family just got to be too much. “As hard as it was to do, I had to let the studio go in March. It was an emotional day for me, because my dad and I photographed in that space for more than 30 years. But it was the right thing to do for my family and the balance I needed in my life.”
She may have given up the physical studio space, she hasn’t given up portrait photography – it’s still a passion of hers. Julie and her team take the headshots (portraits) of the company’s leadership team, and you might find her taking senior pictures and family portraits on occasion. Recently, just for fun, Julie photographed her children with their new puppy Luna for a “birth announcement”.
Collaboration and Culture
Julie describes DSW as a big company that feels like a small one. “People know your name, and there isn’t any political bureaucracy that you often find at large companies. There’s an open atmosphere where you can be yourself and feel comfortable here.
She loves the collaborative nature of her job. “I tell my team that we’re in a really unique position because we work with so many departments across the business,” Julie said. “My team supports the digital channel with imagery, plus we do the corporate headshots, and that opens doors to interact with other areas we normally wouldn’t have. Because I build friendships and learn about people, I have more empathy for what they do and that makes me a better working partner. It keeps me excited about my job and keeps me loving DSW.”