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Mike Bryand has found the secret to success in Wilmington, NC, with both a fresh take on local photography and sublimation. He’s been a photographer for most of his life, but had only gotten into the business side of his art about 20 years ago. He started shooting pictures at car races, but found that his own unique take on pictures of local landmarks, beaches, piers and lifestyles were what really sells in this coastal region.
“It’s a good niche,” he said. “I remember being in downtown Wilmington a few years ago, and a woman was looking through my prints. She said to me, ‘I see my whole childhood through here.’ That’s when I realized that I might have something.”
After spending several years selling prints from his Wilmington series on the Riverwalk and other places in the heavily trafficked downtown area, Bryand and his wife, Allie, opened up their own gallery, where he now sells giclee prints of his photos on stretched canvas of all sizes. Bryand’s photographic style begins with a beautiful picture that he takes with his camera. Then, he spends hours upon hours editing his photos and enhancing them with artistic filters, strokes and embellishments using various graphic programs. The results are incredibly vibrant and unique images that are steeped in the history and culture of the area.
A few years after selling his prints at various regional art shows, Bryand came across a vendor who sold sublimated coasters and cutting boards. He loved the image reproduction quality and the profit potential of selling his prints on smaller products. Bryand started out making mobile phone cases, but soon learned that this product didn’t make sense for his market. Though they sold okay, there was too much competition for him to remain competitive.
Bryand went back to what he’d originally seen in sublimation and decided to test out coasters as a new product focus - and found an incredible new revenue stream for his business.
“As soon as I printed the coasters, I knew I had a winner,” Byrand said. “I offer them as single products or in sets of four, and you can choose any four images you like. People want to be able to have a variety of images that are important to them.”
Adding coasters to his product line enabled Bryand to make back his investment in his desktop sublimation system almost immediately, and soon he was offering both trivets, tiles and tabletops to his gallery. The products have been perennially successful in his market, which focuses on both local consumers and tourists, and even has people collecting them.
Bryand credits taking the time to test the market and find high-quality products that resonate with customers as a crucial part of his success.
“The substrate is really important. We tried many different products and found that the Unisub hardboard material was what best replicated our images, in terms of color and vibrancy. That’s very important. We used other products that just didn’t have the same quality, and in our business, image is everything.”
Though he plans to keep his business focused on his canvas prints, Bryand foresees sublimated photo products being a permanent part of the gallery’s ongoing business plan.
“Sublimation is a great add-on for my business,” he said. “Some people don’t want to commit to buying a 20” x 36” canvas, but they’ll commit to getting four or five coasters or a trivet. It’s a good income stream.”
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