Schools give lesson in buying local

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Even photographer Nancy McDonald isn’t safe from her own camera, as shown in this family example near Buffalo in 2015. From left to right, Alli, Cody, Lane and Nancy McDonald.

Photo courtesy of Nancy McDonald

Central Montana consumers might want to sit up and pay attention. School’s back in session, and this time, the lesson is in economics: While “buy local” often targets individuals, some rural schools have embraced the concept for nearly a decade with student photos.

Superintendent Tim Dolphay wasn’t around when Stanford Schools stopped using Lifetouch roughly 10 years ago. The choice to continue using a local photographer, though, is one he’s supported for his three years with the school.

Dolphay worked with national photo studio Lifetouch as the former superintendent at Reed Point and Custer public schools.

“It was the same problem at all the schools with those national companies: They don’t have any flexibility,” he said.

Change is a constant for Dolphay and his staff, and the ability of Buffalo-based Ubet Photography to accommodate change gives the studio an edge. Dolphay explained photographer Nancy McDonald is comfortable with rescheduling.

“With a big national company, you don’t have that option,” he said. “Nancy’s made it very easy to work with her.”

The relationship McDonald has fostered with the school and its students is important to Dolphay, too.

“She knows the families, she knows the students and our students are comfortable with her,” he said.

Hobson Public Schools uses Ubet Photography for the same reasons, according to Secretary Kim Vincent.

“When you’re contracting with a company like Lifetouch, they kind of tell you when they can be in the area,” she said.

Schools are expected to rework schedules around the given date. Combine Ubet Photography’s flexibility with good customer service, and Vincent is sold. So is Business Manager Sherri Bergstrom.

“Nancy is right here,” she said. “Lifetouch was hard to get a hold of. They were a company that was removed from here.”

Both women recalled times where Ubet Photography had no issue with redoing or reprinting photos, even if it was because a student bent them in a backpack.

“I’ve never even considered that we should change; it’s worked that well,” Vincent said.

The arrangement works well for McDonald, too. She started shooting rural school photos about 10 years ago, and today does photography work for Stanford, Hobson and Geyser.

McDonald also covers a few sports games for free, giving the photos to the respective schools for use in yearbooks. She acknowledged her customer service is probably a selling point, as much as her flexibility.

“Where Lifetouch takes one picture of each kid, I’ll take five or 10,” she said.

Doing local school pictures is a boon for McDonald.

“It gives me a chance to meet the kids, build relationships with kids, meet the parents, and, in that way, build my business in other directions,” she said.

While the “buy local” initiative isn’t the driving force for either party, it is something that is valued. Dolphay sees it as a way to revitalize a rural Montana community, and a way to return a favor.

“I honestly believe our schools have to support our local businesses,” he said. “Local businesses are our biggest promoters and supporters.”

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