Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The articles are also appearing in The Courier.
Builder Paul Meyer reached a professional crossroads last summer. Should he carry on working as a builder specialising in refurbishment work an occupation that had provided him with a good living since leaving school or should he follow his heart and try to turn his hobby, photography, into his livelihood? After a lot of soul-searching, he chose the latter.
He invested in a serious, new-generation digital camera towards the end of 2009 in order to pursue his passion, but it was only when he wanted to take a professional-standard still shot of his saxophone that he realised he needed the facilities of a professional studio to achieve the desired result. He looked around locally and found that there was nothing suitable in the area.
When he was hired in the Spring of 2010 to refurbish some tired premises in Southborough the thought occurred to him that the building on which he was working, suitably restored and adapted, would make a perfect photographic studio.
Mindful that it would be folly to turn his back on an occupation that had served him well for many years, he decided to conduct some local research before he took a leap based on what was mere whim. Amongst others, he spoke to schools which run photographic courses, amateur photographer clubs, design and marketing agencies and camera shops. The conversations confirmed that, without question, there was a definite local demand for a fully-equipped photographic studio that could be hired on an hourly basis (most professional studios will only hire for much longer minimum periods).
As a result of his efforts, the building has been totally transformed. The main studio provides backdrops, professional lighting, reflectors even a facility known as an infinity corner. Everything is geared to digital photography, including printers and an iMac computer for viewing images. Customers can hire the studio, complete with basic equipment, for £25 an hour. More specialised equipment, additional lighting, computer, tripods etc., are all available for hire for a small extra charge
Paul Meyer’s Photoshoot Studio Hire facility was officially opened by the Mayor of Southborough on 20th October, 2010. Having put in all the investment in terms of time, money and sheer graft, he acknowledges that his major task now is to increase the flow of customers.
In an effort to drum up business, he has been contacting schools and colleges, offering discounts to students West Kent College has been particularly supportive. He has also placed flyers in camera shops and experimented with rudimentary advertising in Yell and Index Magazine.
His biggest customer source has proved to be the social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. He is currently developing a website as a matter of urgency.
The major challenge, as he sees it, is to get the concept out into the market place and to reach people, including professional photographers, who do not have the means to create a studio of their own.
Summary of challenges:
1. Inform potential customers of the existence of Photoshoot
2. Establish a brand name (there may be scope to franchise the idea)
3. Establish a concept that is unique in the local market place
4. Alert amateur and professional photographers to the creative possibilities of using a fully-equipped, modern studio.
The Marketing Eye says:
How encouraging it is to see a new business undertake research before launching. Many businesses fail because the founders let their passion cloud their judgement of market demand.
Paul's research showed him there are lots of photographers and not may studios, so he revised his business plan. This shows the importance of thinking laterally about where the business opportunity is in your passion.
Having invested heavily in the conclusions of the research, Paul must now align his marketing with where the research tells him the demand is. General advertising in Yell and Index is fine, but he really needs to be undertaking direct marketing to the creative agencies and photographers in the area. This means more than letter and flyers: Paul needs to pick up the telephone and go out to see them. He should also network: Meejahub is a networking group dedicated to the creative industry in Tunbridge Wells.
Paul might also think about holding small events at the studios. A talk followed by a demonstration of the facilities would be popular with potential customers.
The first step in building the brand is to make sure that the quality of flyers and other marketing materials matches the quality of the facilities on offer. Potential customers will form a very quick opinion of Photoshoot based on what they first see.
The same philosophy must apply to the website. The site will need good design, clear navigation and, potentially, an online booking system. Paul should also look to integrate his Facebook and Twitter activity into the site to keep it fresh and up to date.
Finally, if Paul is going to change the brand name, he needs to act promptly and decisively so as not to waste time and money. Not only will he have to spend money on updating marketing materials, he will also have to re-educate his market.
What would your advice be?