Their client list reads
like UK wedding photography’s elite. Their reputation is impeccable, but
their low profile operation means that unless you know someone who deals
with South West Photo Mounts, you don’t know what you are missing! John
Chillingworth went to the English Riviera, to learn the reason why and more
to the point, “How?”
Hearing whispers of a company that holds the exclusive UK distributorship
for Europe’s leading frame makers, Deknudt, and another for the up-market
range of Jorgensen Albums from Australia, where do you start your search?
I’ll save you the trouble! Adding to BT’s profits and with a little bit of
Internet research, the mysterious name ‘Mifsud’ emerged.
After a brief conversation with Nick Mifsud, the working director of SW
Photo Mounts, it was clear that if ever one needs an example of today’s
flexibility in the photo industry, you need to look no further than an
extended family business that started in Brixham, Devon, in 1954.
The Mifsud name originates
in Malta. Frank, already a professional photographer, had travelled to the
UK from the ‘George Cross’ island in search of work in 1947. He found it
shooting pictures and photo-printing on Skegness Pier.
Having married a local girl and keen to start a family, he soon looked
around for a way to improve their income. In 1954, the couple moved to
Brixham, where Frank took the plunge and freelanced. He shared the
processing facilities of the local photographer in general practice and
worked himself hard and long in the holiday seasons. By 1956, he had enough
confidence in the future to rent his first shop and, predictably, called it
‘Frank Mifsud Photographic’.
Mifsud not only worked hard in General Practice, he sold cameras, built up
his High Street D&P business and expanded to process and print colour films
for other shops in the area.
Later, with an adequate supply of sons to help run his enterprises, he
looked for ways to expand further. He launched South West Colour
Laboratories in 1976 and was soon proud to own the only accredited Prolab in
the far West.
A leap forward
In 1982, Mifsud spotting another business opportunity when a West
Country distributor for Spicer Hallfield ‘bit the dust’, stepped in, picked
up the distributorship and launched South West Photo Mounts.
Like ‘Topsy’, it grew. Spicer Hallfield albums and folders sold well and
customers responded to Mifsud’s prompt and friendly customer service. It
seems that the business expanded, gaining customers by keeping high stock
levels of products they offered and the word of mouth recommendations that
followed, rather than by slick marketing techniques.
Number three son, Nick Mifsud, took over day-to-day control of the company,
when he left university. In time, the family added other active
distributorships including Kodak, Fuji, Polarfoid, Kenro, Colorama, Mario
Always holding stock to ensure fast despatch of orders by their own vans,
the company’s core business was, naturally, in the South of England and
Wales. Now, their stock level policy and first-class overnight delivery
service attracts customers countrywide most of whom, in the past, were
exasperated by poor service from local distributors.
However, the success of South West Photo Mounts and its sister company was
singed by high drama when, nine years ago, their Brixham premises burned to
Relocating to the Yalberton Industrial Estate in nearby Paignton, with the
support of suppliers, customers and the insurance industry, they were back
in business in record time.
Into the ‘big-time’
When he secured the distributorship for two of the most exclusive
accessories available to the UK’s leading social photographers, Nick Mifsud
was careful to ensure that the company’s fast and friendly service continued
His success became obvious when, after four years as an active, hardworking
distributor, SW Photo Mounts had expanded sales and delivered the exclusive
range of Deknudt frames fast and furiously in the South and West. Realising
that the company was the only one that actually stocked the products, the
Belgium-based company invited South West Photo Mounts to handle their range
In another ‘coup’ last year the Mifsud’s, recognising the potential of the
innovative, high quality range of Jorgensen Albums from Australia,
negotiated the exclusive rights to import them.
At the company’s branch in Hampshire, Matthew Chamberlain provides the
computer-operated overlay cutting service that makes Jorgensen’s the most
versatile (and expensive) albums on the market.
The concept enables individual page layouts to be planned for those
ultra-smart wedding albums, so beloved of top-class wedding photographers.
Interestingly, the arrival of the bespoke Australian albums directly
compliments the re-discovery, by those highly professional practitioners, of
the ‘picture story’; a genre that peaked in picture magazines in the
mid-20th century and has baffled photographers ever since.
Now, instead of providing a set of ‘deep-thinking’ images of the kind that
helped take journalism into the television age the pictures have a different
job to do! Perhaps the idea has reached a fitting finale in the beautifully
encapsulated ephemeral ‘special-day-in-the-life-of…’ picture story will
grace ‘Middle-England’ coffee tables for years to come.
A rolling enterprise
There are no frills to the Mifsud family enterprises. There is little
doubt that photographers, who have accounts with the company, recognise the
fact that the voices on the end of the telephone are of sales staff who like
dealing with people, rather than being anonymous ‘order takers’.
Natural growth has meant that their Paignton premises, spacious nine years
ago, are now bulging at the seams with activity.
Alongside the exclusive lines and their distributorships for major
manufacturers of photographic film, paper and chemistry, South West Photo
Mounts have their own range of bespoke photo-folders. They also offer
in-house hot-foil printing, dry mounting and associated services.
It is an undeniable fact that in this age of corporate take-overs and
deteriorating, impersonal services across the spectrum of commerce, the
Mifsud family stands out like a beacon.
Incidentally, although South West Colour Labs are moving into the digital
era in a big way, Nick Mifsud’s company is currently standing back from
distributing digital products, to see what the market does in the
medium-term; concentrating instead on silver halide based material and his
extensive range of presentation products.
As it stands, if you see an anonymous blue van, with a happy face behind the
wheel, drawing up outside a high street photographer’s premises in the South
or West on any day of the week, think about it. It’s just possible that the
driver is making one of the 400 deliveries per week, which that elusive
company on the
English Riviera makes to its satisfied customers!