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At Snappy Snaps In Bishopsgate

June 4, 2018
by the gentle author

Pravin & Hansa Raval

You might think that all the family businesses had gone from Bishopsgate long ago, yet – despite its nationwide ubiquity – Snappy Snaps is an independently-owned franchise, and Pravin & Hansa Raval have run their own shop opposite Liverpool St Station for nearly thirty years.

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I paid them a visit recently and were delighted to learn about the quiet revolution in photography that is happening at this moment. More people are making prints of their photographs than ever before thanks to new technology that permits images to be printed instantly and cheaply direct from mobile phones.

Hansa revealed to me that the most films ever delivered for processing was the morning after the millennium when three hundred and twenty seven were brought in to her shop, five hundred and thirty-seven that day in total, and she is proud to report that they never lost one.

Snappy Snaps require their franchise holders to wear captioned name badges, so Pravin sports one saying ‘Big Boss’ while Hansa’s declares she is ‘The Wise One.’ Thus Sarah & I were delighted to sit down with the Big Boss and The Wise One in the basement studio at 220 Bishopsgate to hear the story of their business from Pravin and learn about the changing trends in photography over the past quarter century.

“We got the lease in March 1992 and had the shop fitted and opened here that November and started trading on Bishopsgate. Previously it had been a BMW garage but when we took it over it was an empty building and we were the first retail business on this site. The street was completely barren then with just banks, building societies and offices but the area now is unrecognisable and we have seen it come up. When we first came out of Liverpool St Station, I said to Hansa, ‘Do we really want to take that?’ but we risked it and here we are all these years later. Apart from the newsagent, we are the only family business in Bishopsgate as far as we know.

The Snappy Snaps company is owned by Timpsons Shoe Repair who are the largest retail landlords in this country with over a thousand outlets. John Timpson who owns the company has a different way of doing business, he believes in ‘upside-down management’ which recognises that the people running the shops know his business better than he does. He comes in here quite often, making surprise visits and coming to have a chat with us to ask if we have any issues. He has a philosophy of visiting every business once a year.

My wife Hansa has a Masters Degree in Chemistry and I have a Master Degree in Pharmacology. We have completely different backgrounds to what we do now. Hansa was an analytical chemist but she left my job and started up the business. The pharmaceutical business in this country in the late eighties was going through a difficult time and it got the stage where we felt we needed to have our own business, something we could do ourselves and control our lives. It could have been a senior citizens’ home or a hotel, it could have been anything really.

We ended up at Snappy Snaps because one of my friends in the Territorial Army told me of someone who had just started a business with Snappy Snaps and he sent me the information and here we are. We had three Snappy Snaps in this area at one point, one in Farringdon and Aldgate as well but we are winding down now so we sold those. We used to run three enterprises from here and Hansa was the mastermind behind the technical side of things.

I left my job and joined Hansa in 1999. This is very much a personal business and we are here all the time and we also communicate with our customers online, sending and getting images by email. Our main business now is passport photography which means we have to understand the specific requirements for our customers.

When we started it was people bringing films to us for developing and printing but then it slowly went to digital. When we started our customers were mainly insurance companies who used film to record damage but that started dying in the late nineties when digital cameras came out, yet they still came to us because prints were important. We can offer prints from any image captured digitally. I think people always wanted to have prints but the quality is not there from home printers and we can offer cheaper prints at higher quality. The device that people use primarily now is the smartphone. Some of the most amazing pictures we see now are taken on mobile phones. For the first time in history, everyone is walking around with a camera all the time and the quality of some these pictures is astonishing.

We can download pictures wirelessly from phones and print them instantly. Taking a picture from a mobile phone is easy but getting a good print is more difficult. A lot of things can be done but some coaching of the customers is required and that is what we enjoy. Young people are coming in with film for developing now, it has become very popular again but I find myself teaching an eighteen year old how to load a camera. They trust us and I teach them about speed of film and exposure then I see their photography improve with each film they bring in for developing. We are rejuvenated by it.”

Hansa, The Wise One

Pravin, Big Boss

Snappy Snaps, 220 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4QD

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You might also like to take a look at these other Bishopsgate Stories

The Romance of Old Bishopsgate

Charles Goss’ Photographs of Bishopsgate

Tallis’ Street Views of Bishopsgate, 1838

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Sue Hare (Radley) permalink
    June 4, 2018

    I really enjoyed reading about this it’s good to see you enjoying your work

  2. Helen Breen permalink
    June 4, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, Kudos to Hansa and Pravin for “hangin’ in there” in a business that has changed so much in recent decades with the advent of digital photography. No doubt their formal educations (and hard work) have helped them adjust to the changing times. Good luck to them both…

  3. June 4, 2018

    Great story about the way photography keeps reinventing itself as technology changes. Fascinated to here about the revival of film and the guidance Pravin & Hansa are able to give on photography. I’m sure they are more than happy with their Sarah Ainslie portraits!

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