We had operated our photography studio, Portrait Life, out of our Washington, Illinois, home for many years. With four children and four employees, space was growing tight; we could no longer provide our clients with the experience we wanted to and we needed to separate our personal life from our business life.
We opened our new studio in June 2005, however, the planning, decision-making, and physical transformation process took place over three or four years. A book we read called Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands (Powerhouse Books, 2004) was invaluable. In it, the author, Kevin Roberts, explains why consumers forge strong, unbreakable connections with certain brands and not others. “Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction, and inspire loyalty beyond reason.”
The Transformation Process
Our first goal was to create an experience our clients would never forget. We sought the help of a local designer—a past client of ours—who works for the nationally recognized architectural firm PSA. She helped us lay out our space efficiently and gave us lots of ideas for creating shooting opportunities throughout the space. We didn’t want to limit shooting to one room or one set of background options. Another goal was to open our clients’ minds to new display options, away from the traditional frame-and-mat combination.
Clients know from the moment they walk in that we do things differently. Among the distinctive features are a water theme that starts with a translucent water wall and continues throughout the studio with lights and other design elements; display images printed on canvas and stretched onto floating planes for a 3D effect; media and sales rooms that are comfortable and relaxed settings for viewing images; a signing wall where clients share their thoughts and memories; vignette spaces throughout the studio create a friendly environment. Also, a loft work area now gives us privacy while letting us watch our children in the kids’ room below.
Every couple of years, a business should re-evaluate its space. Sometimes a simple change of furniture and color can bring a breath of fresh air. But if your four walls can no longer meet the needs of your clients, staff, or family, it’s time to think about new possibilities that will allow you to continue to grow your business and personal life.
If you think your studio could use a facelift, here are some tips:
1. Make sure your finances are in order. Our financial advisors helped us understand what we could afford and the impact of being a storefront verses an in-home studio. We saved money every week and began searching for a place to invest in and eventually sell. We found a building in the historic square downtown, a fortunate find because the city funded building restorations. We worked alongside the contractors doing whatever jobs we could to minimize expenses.
2. Hire an interior designer. Our designer helped us design our studio. After telling her the areas we wanted, the equipment we needed, how many people would use the space, how much time would be spent there, what gear would be needed; showing her pictures of doors, storefronts, furniture, lighting, colors, etc. that we like; and having her spend a day at our studio, she created a space we, and our clients, move through with comfort and ease.
3. Schedule work during an off-peak time. We purchased our building in the early winter—December 2004—so we could work on it during the slower season and have it up and running by the next busy season. The project would have taken longer and cost more if we had tried to work on the space while keeping up with a heavy summer workload.
4. Have a clear understanding of what you want. Take time to look at other businesses. Art galleries, high-end shops, hotels and restaurants all had a big influence on what we wanted for our new space. Once we knew what we wanted, we were able to find the right people to help us make it happen.
5. Promote your NEW studio to increase community awareness. We moved in May 2005 and held an Open House in June, inviting clients, prospects, and local businesses leaders. We served champagne and hors d’oeuvres and gave attendees a $250 gift certificate for a new session style we were offering. A week earlier, a local newspaper wrote an article about our studio redesign. We asked them to mention the open house in the article, which also raised attendance.
6. Understand your goals and expectations. Increased profitability is one of the major reasons photographers undertake a studio makeover. Our top two reasons were to take better care of our clients and to find balance in our personal life. Today, our family is much better off and our times at home together are much richer and uninterrupted. Clients love our new space. They tell us they look for reasons to come just so they can hang out.
Our new studio also has helped potential clients understand who we are as artists, so we don’t have to work as hard to earn their respect. Now, more than ever, we can offer our clients something they will never forget. An experience for a lifetime. A lovemark.