Richard Miller, who lives in Columbia, likes to tell the story that his father asked him to come home and help in his photo studio the summer after Richard graduated from college in 1970, “and it’s been one heck of a long summer.”

The company employs 190 people in Columbia as well as 476 people in Pittsburg, Kansas, where it was founded. That summer after Richard returned home, he started tracking items such as productivity and accuracy, and that first half year, sales grew from $175,000 the prior year to $240,000. The next full year, sales leaped to $640,000. Last year, sales were about $143 million. Can you tell yet that Richard was a math major in college?

Richard grew up working in the photo business his father, Bill Miller, had founded. Richard painted studio floors, did odd jobs, and filled in at almost every post when people went on vacation. He describes seeing a different side of his dad at work. “He’d be down on the floor, making crazy voices, trying to get babies to giggle while he was taking their pictures,” he says.

But Richard was not interested in either photography or the lab. After cycling through about five majors at MU before the end of his sophomore year, he finally chose math as his major and chemistry as a minor.

Richard describes that first summer when he had returned home as being one big, long argument about how to do things. But he also credits his father with seeing the fairly quick results and then letting Richard buy the next big expensive machine that he wanted.

Eventually Richard got hooked on photography, too. He bought a Hasselblad camera and started exhibiting, and he is now a Master Photographer, a designation awarded by the Professional Photographers of America. Today, he carries a phone, “like the rest of the world,” he says, noting that the company benefited from phone cameras, because consumers wanted to blow up more photography that they had taken. “You can get good quality from your camera phones, although professional photographers still carry better cameras,” he says.

And that’s where two of Miller’s brands, Mpix and MpixPro, come in. You can upload digital photography to either site and get high quality prints back within a day or two. You may have noticed the Mpix-sponsored Mizzou billboards along I-70.

The newest brand in the Miller company is thirty9, which curates and sells striking photography for wall art. Consumers can choose professionally curated photography in categories that include abstract, animals, travel, and scenic outdoors. On thirty9’s website, visitors can also get suggestions for photography for different rooms, such as the master bedroom or the dining room. Brandon Tucker, Richard’s son-in-law, has joined the family business and directs the new brand.

Photo courtesy Thirty9

The name thirty9, besides being unique and trendy, pays tribute to 1839, the generally accepted year that truly practical photography was born, according to the company. It’s also a nod to 1939, when Richard’s father opened his photography studio in Pittsburg, Kansas, mainly for wedding, portrait, and senior student photography. Two Missouri photographers have work available through thirty9. They are Hayley Hochstetler, at Kansas City, and Kimberly Beer, at Adrian.

Richard, who lives in Columbia, could clearly retire. “I’ve never thought about not working,” he says.

The long summer continues.