Entrepreneurial Profiles

Joseph Calaminici and Ray Sliva

Citywide Corporate Photography, Inc.

Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, has a motto, "Change is good. Change creates opportunities." Joseph Calaminici and Ray Sliva are the perfect example of the simple truth and overwhelming power of that adage. The owners of Newark-based Citywide Corporate Photography, Inc. did not set out to become entrepreneurs; in fact, they were on a much different path. But when corporate life threw them a curve, they stayed with the pitch and turned it into a winning company.

Both Calaminici and Sliva worked under the protective arm of Newark-based Prudential Insurance Company, now Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU), and they enjoyed the predictability and relative safety of working for a large corporation. Calaminici was head of Prudentialís photography department and Sliva was his chief photographer. Then, on June 10, 1993, after Calaminici had been with the company 29 years and Sliva had given the company 16 years of service, Prudential announced they were downsizing and in two months, the photography department, along with its employees, would be eliminated.

In an instant, everything changed. They were devastated! But, there was little time to lament their misfortune. In two months they would be out of a job. They had to consider what was going to happen after August 1993.

Calaminici, Sliva and another displaced photographer hit on the idea of starting their own photography studio. "We were taking pictures for Prudential right up to our final day," said Calaminici. "It was pretty obvious to us that at some point they would need the services of an outside studio." With the understanding that being former Prudential employees would not guarantee them any Prudential assignments in the future, they decided to give it a try. "By this time," Calaminici recalled, "the prospect of owning our own business had become quite appealing."

Within a week of their decision, they found a location for their studio. By the end of the month, they had negotiated and signed a lease.

According to Sliva, they made a conscious decision to locate the business in Newark and service the local business market. "While at Prudential, we would occasionally be so busy we would have to hire outside photographers to handle the overflow," Sliva said. "We found that many photographers would not even come to Newark and many of those that agreed to a Newark assignment would charge an extra fee. It was as if the client was being penalized for being located in Newark." Covering the Newark market was not only an opportunity to enter a vast yet underserved market; it was a perfect fit for the owners. Calaminici was born and raised in the city and Sliva had spent half of his professional life working in Newark.

They started laying the groundwork for the business while still working for Prudential. "We wanted to hit the ground running," Calaminici said. They talked to department heads within the company about possible future assignments and networked with business owners within the city. To keep their start-up costs low, they purchased some of their initial studio equipment from Prudential.

Their last day at Prudential was Friday, August 13,1993. Citywide Corporate Photography Incorporated, minus the third photographer, who decided not the join the company, opened for business the following Monday, August 16, 1993.

In the beginning, virtually all of their business came from Prudential. Many of the department heads that handed out assignments knew and had worked with either Calaminici or Sliva in the past. They knew the pair would be dependable and that their work was first rate. As their reputation grew they secured United Hospital and Blue Cross Blue Shield as clients. They were also able to generate new business through their membership in the Regional Business Partnership. They specialized in corporate photography, portraits, brochures annual reports, conferences and advertising shots.

They didnít draw any salary in the early days. They relied on their savings and the severance package they received from Prudential to cover living expenses. They plowed all revenue back into the company. By the end of 1993, they were able to pay cash for a $20,000 van.

As the business grew and they learned more about bookkeeping, budgeting, sales projections and estimating cash flow, they were able to establish a more structured payroll schedule.

Today, Citywide Corporate Photography is a thriving business that handles assignments throughout the tri-state area and whose client roster includes Prudential Financial, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, The New Jersey Historical Society, The Newark Museum, First Union, The U. S. Attorneyís Office, Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, The Newark Mayorís Office and too many healthcare providers and small businesses to list.

They continue to be loyal to the city. They offer non-profit organizations discounted fees and they do several projects on a pro-bono basis every year.

Sliva credits the companyís success to their dedication to serving the needs of their clients. "People call us all the time looking for a photographer," Sliva said. They wonít know enough about photography to fully articulate their needs. All they know is Ė they need someone to take pictures. We take the time to talk to the client to find out what their needs are and what they expect from us." Calaminici added, "Itís very hard to satisfy a customer if you donít listen long enough to hear what they want and understand what they expect."

This commitment to customer satisfaction has resulted in a level of customer retention that most companies can only dream of. "We donít lose customers to other photographers," Sliva said. "We lose customers to attrition i.e. customers relocating out of the area, going out of business, mergers etcetera."

Citywide Corporate Photo continues to grow because they put the customer first. Calaminici sums it up this way, "Our job is not to grab the limelight, but to make the client look good."

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2001 The New Jersey Small Business Journal