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Tyndell Photographic

By AICC Staff

September 12, 2019





Sometimes sitting in a pile of snow at the bottom of a hill can change your life.

That’s what happened to Allan Tyndell in the mid-1970s. He was then a well-known wedding photographer making a good living with his camera. But then he took a spill while skiing. As he sat in the snowdrift, worried that he’d broken his leg, he came to the realization that if something serious happened to his leg, he wouldn’t be able to support his wife and daughter as a photographer.

So he opened up Tyndell Photographic in 1978 in the basement of his Livonia, Mich., home. He started out as a reseller of photographic supplies and photo packaging products—things he knew from firsthand experience that photographers needed.

It wasn’t long before he realized that being a middleman wasn’t a sustainable position either, and 25 years ago, he decided to become a manufacturer, permanently transforming Tyndell Photographic into what it is today—a manufacturer of photo packaging products such as accessories, albums, bags, boxes, folders, folios, memory mattes, photo cases, sports mounts, and more.

Allan Tyndell retired in 2015, and his son Ben Tyndell took over as president and CEO.

“[My father] decided that, eventually, we would have to become a manufacturer if we were going to be around forever,” says Ben Tyndell. “He felt the middleman would go away, and manufacturers would sell direct. He started with no idea what to do or how. We bought our first machine, and it’s grown from there.”

Within the past five years, he says, the percentage of products they manufacture and sell versus buy and resell has doubled, and they have truly become a manufacturer.

Now, especially after making several strategic changes and getting support from the network that is AICC, they are a competitive manufacturer that owns its niche in the industry. But it didn’t start out that way.

“We really had no idea what we were doing when we started,” says Tyndell. “I remember, as a child, my dad coming in and being super excited. He had an old clamshell automatic gluer that was hand-fed. I remember looking at these machines and seeing his face glowing. There would be piles of scrap, and they had to throw away everything they had made. He’d be sad about that and say we’re not there yet, but we’re going to be there eventually. It was that never-die kind of attitude that was pretty special.”

In the past several years, Tyndell says, they made several strategic changes to their staffing. They are a small company with 32 employees, and they recruited some industry professionals who were experts in their fields. They had jobs that they didn’t know how to do until they recruited and hired people who had that expertise.

They then engaged in what he called “addition by subtraction.” They let two people go who had 26 years’ and 15 years’ experience, respectively.

“It’s so hard losing expertise and experience,” says Tyndell. “But while they were both solid, skilled people, they didn’t have the right attitude. If you have people who are just there to get a paycheck and go home and tear other people down, they don’t belong here.”

He says that while they took a hit initially with an experience and capability gap, it allowed other people around them to rise, and they are now better off than they were before.

Tyndell, who is now 34, says that when he started, he was the youngest person there by probably 20 years, and he’s now in the middle third if not the upper third in age, something that happened organically. As some people retired, they brought on younger people.

“We value a diverse workforce in every way possible, especially in age,” Tyndell says. “We want people who are young and fresh with ideas and others with experience who can say, ‘We tried this before, and here is what happened. What can we do differently this time?’ ”

At 34, he wants the company to have a long life ahead of it. It’s led him to make smart investments and to start building a network through AICC where he can learn more about the industry.

It’s also meant being smart in an industry that has fundamentally changed. With digital taking over the photographic industry, the need for a lot of paper products and packaging diminished. Tyndell says that while the overall pie shrank dramatically, the individual slices got bigger because so many people dropped out of the market. Where there used to be five really big manufacturers that supported the industry, there are now two, plus one importer. Then there are lots of printing companies and packaging companies that indirectly supply the industry.

Tyndell Photographic is separated from a lot of its competitors in that it was founded by a photographer, and a lot of its policies and procedures are designed for meeting the needs of its target audience. They understand the need for speed and carry a lot of finished goods. Their tools are built around delivery speed.

“Photo professionals like dealing with us,” says Tyndell. “That’s how we operate and how we feel like we’ll continue to grow. We have pretty great decorating capabilities because of our core industry. We have the ability to do very low volume and high decorating with screen printing. Whether doing small or large runs, we can be very affordable.”

He says they chose not to specialize in either high- or low-volume runs but to be able to do both. He says they’ll do huge runs and stock them, and do small runs and customize them by hand.

They also acquired two companies this year and one last year to help capture market share and position themselves for growth. It will expand their distribution and let them differentiate their product line.

All of these decisions are to ensure that they’re around not just for the next five to 10 years, but for the next 50 to 100 years.

Tyndell Photographic joined AICC in March 2018, in part because Tyndell realized they didn’t really have a network outside of their vendors and customers to turn to when they had struggles or needed answers to questions about manufacturing.

So, when he started researching, AICC kept coming up. They joined the Association, and he became part of the Emerging Leaders group, through which he has participated in several plant tours.

“It was really eye-opening for us,” he says. “We have a lot to learn and a lot we can grow to, which is exciting. It has really been a breath of fresh air with regard to how open everyone is to help and mentor and share. It’s been just great to be surrounded by so many like companies.”

He says he connected with the current Chair of Michigan Box Co., another AICC member, and shared some of the challenges they were having. Michigan Box opened its doors and invited Tyndell in. He took his operations manager and one of his operators to spend a whole day with people from Michigan Box.

“They gave us a lot of tips, and they solved a lot of what we were missing,” Tyndell says. “They shared a lot of best practices; they shared some tips and tricks they’d picked up over the years, some good vendors and bad vendors. It was really awesome.”

He praises the leadership at Michigan Box and says the things they have learned from them, other AICC members, and newsletters and presentations have been long overdue for them as they mature and grow into more than just a niche packaging provider.

“We feel like we now have a great partnership group and trade organization to grow with,” says Tyndell, adding that he looks forward to the day when they can give back and open up their plant to others who need it.

width=150Virginia Humphrey is director of membership and marketing at AICC. She can be reached at 703-535-1383 or