Meet the Women in Print: Susan Otterson
Susan Otterson led ABL Imaging Group to success through industry transitions – and a natural disaster.
ABL Imaging Group
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
“Originally one of the top custom photo labs in Alberta, ABL Imaging adapted, through Susan’s leadership, to grow into a premier sign and display provider. As the market changed, Susan invested in new technology and positioned ABL Imaging to take advantage of changing market trends.” –Peter Bourgeois, territory manager, Drytac Canada
ABL Imaging Group started as a photo lab. Can you talk about your involvement in the company’s transition to a large-format print shop?
Starting out in the photography industry, our emphasis has always been on image quality. For the longest time we were the primary choice for professional photographic lab services in Alberta.
As digital made its debut, there were a number of products that were a hybrid of our traditional photo and new digital print technologies. It really made sense for us to add new products like Kodak LVT and Océ LightJet. With a number of pieces already in place, like an RA-4 and E-6 processor, it was an obvious path to choose, capitalizing on our resources and giving us a competitive edge.
Our roots in photographic processes and our experience with color management have continued to set us apart from our competitors and have kept us focused when making acquisitions and developing our offerings. Everything about ABL stems from our history; we have long-term staff members that are also photographers, drum scanners, or custom framers, with decades of experience working with photographic imagery.
Today, we look for branded ink and media that are certified for our printing devices, providing our customers with the security of tried and tested products. Our industry can be extremely competitive, but we have attributed our success to educating our clients and providing solutions that will perform as promised.
Within one day, ABL was covered in six feet of water, destroying your equipment, products, and building during the Calgary floods in 2013. You not only bounced back from the natural disaster, you grew your business, kept your team employed, and moved into a state-of-the-art facility. Can you talk about your motivation to come out on top?
On the day of the flood, we were unable to get to the business; we were trapped on the other side of the river. It was heart wrenching knowing that everything was potentially lost, and there was no way to get there to see if anything could be saved. I really felt helpless. So I shed a few tears and then I got on the internet. After spending the better part of the day searching for stories about businesses that survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, my decision was made. Every story talked about resilience and determination, and couldn’t stress enough that we are on our own: “Don’t wait for your insurance company or government support.” Do what you have to do, do what you do best, rebuild your business and make it better than before.
We had planned a company barbecue on the Saturday following the flood. With all that was happening we felt we should cancel, but decided to go through with it. Now was a time we needed to be together. During the event, we talked about a lot of things, but the main discussion revolved around the big question, “now what?” My response was simple, let’s meet at our normal work time at my house and we will just go from there. That is exactly what we did, and after 90 tough days working from my basement and backyard, we moved into a new location and started to rebuild. We had to renovate and purchase equipment while maintaining our customer base and building for the future.
I think it was survival instinct that motivated me to just get to work. Then came the understanding that the flood was actually an amazing opportunity. We could take all of our knowledge, wipe the slate clean, and rebuild the company, learning from all of our previous successes and failures. What business owner wouldn’t want to be able to do that? What we continue to have today is our team’s commitment and our loyal customers. We are proud of the products and services we offer, and with each new success comes the motivation to do even better.