A niche business? How about renting studio space to commercial photographers?
That was my first entrepreneurial venture, called Silver Street Studio, LLC. (I’ve previously blogged about it here.) For eight years I supplied a fully-equipped shooting space to photographers by the day.
Little known outside the photo industry, commercial photographers utilize day-rentals for equipment and studios. It makes perfect sense. They work in hundreds of cities around the world, rarely shooting in the same town more than a day or two at a time. They don’t travel with their own gear; the equipment doesn’t travel well; it’s heavy, yet fragile. Plus, the risk of damage, or of the airline losing the equipment, is too great when a $50,000-a-day budget depends on a strict production schedule.
The solution: renting the gear and studio in the city of the day’s shoot. For gear, they rent lighting equipment, computers, even cameras.
More importantly, by industry custom, the photographer expenses the client for every rental. Most will even charge the client a 15%-20% markup on equipment rentals. For photographers, this is the ultimate in low overhead.
My business stocked over 200 different studio lights and accessories. It made me nervous to keep over a quarter-million dollars worth of gear in our equipment room. We carried the Profoto and Matthews brands–the global industry standards for lighting and grip. High-end commercial photographers will work with nothing less.
Our studio sported a very nice, two-station hair and makeup counter, a client lounge, a wardrobe styling area, and a modest-sized cyclorama.
We hosted countless shoots, some for celebrity portraiture. When Blender Magazine needed a cover shoot of comedian Dave Chapelle, they caught up with him in Houston and booked our studio. In the days leading to the shoot, Chapelle’s producer urged me to keep a low profile for the day’s events. Then they arrived in the not-so-low-profile tour bus!
For location shoots (i.e., not in our studio), I would deliver equipment throughout the Houston metro area, as well as to Austin, San Antonio, and New Orleans, where high-end photo equipment rentals did not exist at the time. I hauled the gear with my trusty little Thule trailer.