Retouchup Blog

An Interview with Margaret Remy

Portrait of Margaret and John Remy


We were privileged to have had an interview Margaret Remy and ask her some questions about photo restoration. She’s been in the photo industry for 37 years! Below is the transcript of the interview:

Trevor: Actually just jumping right into it. I was curious to know how you even got started with the photo restoration business. You said 37 years, you’ve been doing this. That’s a, that’s a long time. What got you started and interested in it?

Margaret: We were the first onsite photo lab in Meridian, and we quickly found that people brought old damaged photos to us. And that was way beyond my skills because I was brand new to the photo industry. Um, over the years, I, I got, you know, limited editing skills, but, as soon as I met Mark at a trade show, I signed up for Hollywood FotoFix and we have been so pleased with what we’ve gotten from them. And of course, it’s Austin now, we’re in our second generation.

Trevor: Totally. Yeah. That’s amazing. And so 37 years. That’s awesome. So what, obviously, I guess photo restoration is very important to you. I mean, why is that? I mean, did you start off with restoring someone in your family that just kind of got you hooked or

Margaret: No, we just had a lot of people that, that needed something cleaned up for a funeral or restored for a family reunion or an anniversary. And Mark got onto me at first because I did the easy stuff and sent him the hard stuff, but now I can do a lot of restorations and I, and I still send them some easy stuff because you’re just so perfect at what you do. We get back, we get back restorations that people will stand at the counter and cry when they see what has been done to their original.

Trevor: That is amazing. Oh my gosh. So you really just saw the need for it as people started to have different funerals or different occurrences for, wanting to show off the photos, but saw that they were damaged and just needed someone to be able to restore them. Is that right then?

Margaret: Yes. And now, custom framers, even Walmart sends customers when they’re asked can anything be done with this. And that’s the only thing that has kept us in business for 36 years as a mom and pop because many people don’t print the pictures anymore. We still develop film and print that, but, our main emphasis is scanning and printing photos to share it with families and pass down to future generations.

Trevor: Gotcha. And that, that actually leads into something else I wanted to ask you. Cause I mean, obviously you’ve had to change your approach over the years as to how you offer photo restoration and you know, what seems to be the best approach for you now. I mean, you mentioned that places like Walmart are even referring people to you now. So I mean, is it, is it just a lot of referrals and what else are you guys doing?

Margaret: We have an album, on our front counter, on the front table of before and afters and, and they’re really dramatic. But then we have some simple ones that I have done. Sometimes it’s just a matter of turning it to black and white and popping out a little bit or, you know, something like that. But custom framers, people will bring something to them to have it framed and, or they’ll say, well, can you do things with this picture, it’s got a tear or crack, and he’ll say, you need to have this redone before we frame it. And then they go back to him and that frame, even though we’re custom farmers, we also have a great relationship with other people who do this type of thing. And who do framing or do similar, similar things. I don’t know. I mean, I just look at a picture and say, you know, these, I need to charge a little bit for taking a speck off the nose and then this, and I can fix this crack. But if you want it to look like new, we have artists who can do that for us and do it very quickly. The funny thing is so many people when I cleaned it all up, turns black and white everything, and they look at it, and they say, Oh, it doesn’t look like this. I wanted it to look old. And I said, Oh, I thought you wanted it  to look new again and pass it forward, as it was in the beginning when it was taken because black and white’s turned yellow and they got cracked, and that. And why would you pass those damaged photos down when you could make them like new?

Trevor: Yeah, definitely. That’s, that’s interesting. I’ve actually never heard of someone wanting to kind of keep it damaged looking. Huh? That’s interesting.

Margaret: They did. They want it yellowed, it’s amazing to me. And my point is to make it the best it can be, where it’ll just pop out at you and it will look like you’re just looking at the original picture from the forties or the 1800s. And I’m disappointed when they say, well, I wanted it to look old like that. And I said, no, you brought in an old picture. And we thought you wanted it to look like the original without all these specs and spots and tears and, and fading. So, and usually if I print it both ways, they say, Oh, I see what you mean. And, and sometimes I do just have to reprint it and make it a faded red, or an old yellowy green or something like that. But most of the time they defer to my judgment.

Trevor: Awesome. Well, yeah, that’s man. I learned something new. Thank you for that. I didn’t know some people were interested in that. I mean, it’s very fascinating.

Margaret: Believe me, this is what I do all day long and we’re only open three days a week and I was here all five days last week. And, I’m here till 10 or 11 o’clock at night, some nights. And it’s only because if it goes out of here in a Quick Prints envelope, I do not want them, somebody to look at it and say, well, why does this look like this? What happened to the chair, why didn’t I do this? I want it to be the best I can give them if it’s going out there under our name. And I think that’s the only thing that’s kept us in business for 36 years. And we hope a 37th year.

Trevor: 37 years, you must have some incredible, customer relationships and the quality of service that you provide to everyone must be phenomenal to be able to be in business that long doing what you do, no?

Margaret: Yeah, and we really don’t have that much traffic. We’ve relocated in October from a 3000 square foot freestanding corner building with a parking lot to a basement across the parking lot under our landlord’s building at 1,268 square feet. So a lot of our stuff is packed away. And it, that part looks really professional when they come in to sit at my computer, they can see all this stuff that, all the equipment that we have, the scanners, the printer, and, the film scanners. And so, but we lost a lot of our business when we moved. We’re just now the last three or four weeks beginning to see an increase in custom framing and enlarging and customers walking into the door. But we still may only have three or four customers a day and we’re only open three days a week. So we’ve only been open like 37 days since April 3rd.

Trevor: Gotcha. Okay. Well good.

Margaret: And we have not qualified for any stimulus yet.

Trevor: That was, that was actually going to lead into something else with the whole COVID and everything, and you mentioned before, with so many things going digital, you know, have you seen a decline for restoration services overall, or more people looking for custom framing, or not really?

Margaret: Um, actually the restorations have probably increased now that people found us again. Um, custom framing has let up, but we have thousands of custom framers it seems like in our little small town and of course Mississippi has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation. So, we, and we try to keep our, we have our frames our moldings cut and chopped and put together before they’re delivered to us. And we order one day and they arrived the next day. So, and then we put the glass in and do all the rest of it so we can keep our costs down because we don’t have all of the [SOLs] and the masks, and APA regulations and all of that, but it’s, uh, we’d also run out of space for it. So we really aren’t doing as much custom framing as we did before, but if we do a restoration or they bring something and have us scan it and make it bigger, they will usually also let us custom frame it. And we’re doing all the only film developing in a two hundred mile radius. Maybe even more than that. We’ve had people drive three hours to get film developed for insurance purposes. And a lot of what we get is old film. They’ll bring us a Ziploc bag with 40 rolls of film in it from a visit with their grandma’s desk, or the thing they’ve just put off having developed. And so many of their family has died, and they’re just curious if they might be on those rolls of film, but that has helped a little bit, although it’s way more time consuming and not as profitable as it used to be. We still do it and we have not upped our price that much. I really think that scans and prints, reproductions and not pop things and everything at no charge, I mean, if I scan a picture and I can and do an auto level or something and make it look better and fix the color, I do that just as part of the scan and print charge. So, that’s what we do a lot. And they email cell phone pictures to us and, um, other photos that they make on their digital cameras, they can email that to us now, but we don’t do any mail order business. We don’t advertise online or anything like that. Everybody walks in here and places an order or emails, and then picks it up.

Trevor: And you also mentioned, like, you’ve actually seen a little bit of an increase with the restorations as people are starting to kind of find your location again. Do you think also, just curious, with COVID and everything, now that people have more time to spend at home going through maybe different boxes of stuff, do you think that’s helpful?

Margaret: Yes, definitely. And I had said that on Facebook and, and John and I will be 83 and 82 this year, he’ll be 83 next week. And I’ll be 82 in November. So we keep telling people don’t say, don’t go out of business yet, I’ve got some more stuff to bring you, God doesn’t promise us another minute. And while you’re home, or while you’re thinking about doing it, do it. And bring it to us while we are here and we can do it because when we’re gone, there’s no one else that will do this. They come back to my computer, sit here and we show them what can be done sometimes. So they’re not going to do that at Walgreens and Walmart, which is the only other options now. So they, they are finding more time to go through stuff. And some of them are just realizing that our time is short and they better get on the ball.

Trevor: Absolutely. Okay. No, that’s, that’s great advice. Yes. Start doing it. People don’t waste your time. 

Margaret: And people say, what are we going to do when you close? Do you have somebody, are you going to sell? I said, it took me 36 years to learn what I know. And our children have good jobs. They’ve never been involved. One’s a postmaster, and one is the head of an ultrasound department at a hospital for 37 years. So, um, no. We had employees that we couldn’t even train to do this and do it right. We had to stand over them. That’s why we have no employees now. So we, we have no one to pass it on to, we’re just going to sell the equipment, close the doors. So, and people are finally getting the message that we don’t have longer to do this. And when we’re gone, these pictures are going to languish and, and continue to deteriorate.

Trevor: Absolutely. No, that’s a good point. Well, man, I really appreciate everything that you’re saying. I just have one more question and this one’s kind of more with regards to maybe someone who is kind of looking more into wanting to get into photo restoration, to help people save those precious memories. And you know, just like with any business, people ask themselves, well, will I be profitable doing so? So if you were speaking with someone who was just getting kind of into the photo restoration business and they asked you, will I be profitable? What kind of advice would you give them?

Margaret: Oh dear, no one really has ever asked that. Um, we do have customers that mess with their things on their phones and, and think they’re good at it on their computers and they’ll bring it in and they’ve done some levels and stuff that we can’t correct, but nobody has ever asked ahead, I mean, not not many people ever have ever brought up, well, how, how do I do this? Now we use ACDSee. I’ve used it since version six and we’re now on ultimate 20. I have recommended that software to a lot of people that want to drive some of this on their own. And they’ve been very pleased with it. But like I said, I’ve been using it for that many years of versions and I haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg. I mean, I just barely hit the iceberg. So restoration is difficult and your artists are just so good at it that I wouldn’t have, I mean, I wouldn’t even think of doing it, some of these things myself, I just automatically say, you need to see what they can do for you. And the other day I sent a picture and I mentioned, now the dates on it had glitter that’s black now. So those black specs are glitter. So I assume you can’t make them glitter. When we got that picture back, those dates had glitter on them. It was a poster that had been made and they put the glitter back on the dates. I am so excited, my jaw drops when I see, when I see the things you send back.

Trevor: That’s so awesome. I’m so glad that we’re providing that service for you and making your life easier, you know, I really hope that we’ll be able to do so for, you know, anyone who’s wanting to kind of go this route with their business or open up a photo restoration area. Cause I mean, just as you’ve said, so many more people are starting to see all the old photos they have in their attic during this, uh, different quarantines that we’re going through. And it’s really just a treasure to look at them and remember our ancestors and be like, wow, where did this come from? Then being able to see it actually get restored something just, I don’t know, there’s something so incredible about it. So I’m so glad that we’ve been able to provide that service for your business. And yeah, I just really hope that we’ll be able to continue to do so.

Margaret: Well if we had anyone else who could send it off and then print it when they got it back and I knew that it was gonna, you know, I, I recommend Hollywood FotoFix to anybody or any friends anywhere else in the industry. I think y’all are so well known in the industry. I can’t imagine anybody not using you, but we don’t have anybody in town that prints like we do that, you know, there’s a lot of people that, yeah, they do registry. They’re advertising agencies and stuff like that and they can set up magazines and stuff, but I don’t, I don’t think anybody in town does what we do for the price we do it and does as beautiful a job of. And then, you know, they’ll bring it over. And it was an old picture and we cleaned the glass and, and put the picture, the new picture back in, in the glass and it’s all cleaned up and sparkly and pretty. Nobody is set up in town that deals with images that does this kind of personal service. I wish we could take it home. We’re not zoned for business, but I’ve got a bookmaker I’d like to take home and I would like to continue restorations, but, uh, I can’t haul this QSS Green to my house. So I, and I, it’s probably just gonna go, go back to some used equipment. They lure for pennies on the dollar. We just got it paid off in April. But, um, it’s, it’s not a bright, bright end to our business because we had no idea how expensive it was to be in the photo imaging industry. We thought you bought equipment and you printed on it for years and we saved money and made money, and you retired, and sold your stuff, and lives happily ever after. Uh, no. We don’t draw salary and we don’t have employees and we have no one to sell the equipment to except used equipment dealers which are going to get the best, give you the least they can give you, but I wouldn’t have traded anything of these 36 years. And I don’t miss it. We, you know, we’ve managed, I’ve traveled. The photo industry is giving me opportunities to go places and meet people. And I, I love coming to work everyday, even if it’s only three days a week or four days a week, 50 hours a week. I still do it. I love it. And our customers love us. We love them. They’re like family. And we’re doing transfers and video tape, you know, to DVDs and stuff, VHS and stuff like that. So that’s also part of the interest that people have in passing on these memories, because they’re also realizing that, you know what, these are important. We just did about $250 worth of video transfers, of VHS transfers for a lady. So it’s just so much fun to take care of these people. I love it.

Trevor: That’s so amazing to hear your story, everything that you’ve kind of gone through in 36 years, and you still have such an amazing attitude and love for what you do and it’s truly remarkable I would say. It’s so remarkable everything that you’re doing, and we certainly appreciate your time, uh, your willingness to spend with us. Austin says hi, Mark says hi. I spoke with them recently. So just want to say, thank you so much Maragret for your time.

Margaret: Yeah, I, I appreciate him and Mark and Sonia as Facebook friends, so we see them with their activities and everything. So we’re involved and we love this second generation stuff, and we love your company and your family and Megan and everybody else. And we don’t know how to sing your praises enough.

Trevor: Wow.

Margaret: And I’m glad to meet you!

Trevor: Yeah. Thanks, I think it’s awesome that I get to speak with you! Someone who’s done this for 36, almost 37 years, and get your backstory. I think it’s truly awesome.

Margaret: Well, we wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for you because I just, I’m not there yet. And we used to send something, you know, almost every week, sometimes several days in a row, but with what’s been archived, I know we’re over a thousand orders, cause it was 900 and something once upon a time. And, and at first I was archiving everything. And now you archive after so long. I’m getting used to your new website. This last order finally went just beautifully. But the one before that, I tried four times before it finally worked. But you know, I think we got it now.

Trevor: Awesome. Well, hey, if you guys need any help, we’re here. I mean, I guess you already know Megan, so I mean, you know you’re in good hands with her for sure.

Margaret: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. She takes care of me. Nice meeting you Trevor and thank you for calling. I hope this will help.

Trevor: Yes, absolutely. We really appreciate it, Margaret. Let us know if there’s anything we can do for you and hope you have an awesome day.

Margaret: Okay. Thank you. Bye.

Trevor: Bye. Bye.