5 Things We’ve Learned From Owning a Shared Studio Space with Jeff & Lori Poole
When Jeff and I created The Shoot Space, we were the first shared-studio concept in Wilmington, North Carolina. In fact, there was really only a handful in the country, according to what we could find on Google. When researching the concept, we reached out to Bud Thorpe, owner of the Studio of Photographic Arts (SOPHA) in New Hampshire. Bud graciously offered us some advice on how to get started.
While the sleepy little beach town of Wilmington is not quite big enough to support an operation like SOPHA, we’ve managed to put our own spin on the share concept and keep it going for five years so far. Since those early days, several shared-studio concepts have come and gone in Wilmington. In this article, we share what we’ve learned and offer some tips on creating your own shared space.
1. Be Switzerland.
Jeff and I own Indigosilver wedding and portrait studio. Bud wisely advised us that other photographers in our market would not be keen on the idea of bringing their clients to a shoot at a building with our name plastered all over it. So we named our studio share The Shoot Space, which is a separate business and a neutral brand.
This means that Indigosilver pays rent to The Shoot Space. It’s a bit complicated, but it all works.
We are also careful to keep our roles as The Shoot Space and Indigosilver separate. We do not openly promote Indigosilver inside the building. If The Shoot Space receives an inquiry for photography services (which does happen), we refer out to all of our member studios.
The building carries the Shoot Space brand, and all public/shared areas are labeled with neutral branding as well. Member studios have their logos on the front-facing window so clients know they are in the right place.
2. Know what you are.
A shared studio space can mean a lot of things. It can mean that a few people share an area just for shooting. It can mean that there are offices there. It can involve a sales room. It can offer gear and space for rent. It can offer props and backdrops, or just be an empty shell. The studio can host workshops, classes, lessons or mentoring. What do you want your studio to offer?
At The Shoot Space, our fee structure is similar to cell phone plans, and users pay for a certain amount of studio use. Our users are tenants, members and single-use renters. Tenants rent an office full time and have a key to the building. There is no cap on their studio use. This is like the unlimited data plan. The Shoot Space has three tenants with private offices (including Indigosilver).
Monthly members do not have an office, but instead have a certain number of allotted hours to use in the shooting bay or sales room per month. They must schedule their rentals during business hours. The monthly memberships are on a sliding pay scale, where their monthly payment is set depending on the amount of use they choose. There is a charge for overages. They commit to a yearlong membership in exchange for reduced rental rates.
Single-use renters pay for their rentals only as needed, but the cost per hour is higher. This is the most expensive per-hour cost because there is no commitment. It’s the “burner” no-contract plan.
3. Know what you are not.
Our goal for The Shoot Space is to offer a resource for local photographers, help pay the rent and maybe make a little extra on the side. But Jeff and I have never wanted to stop being full-time photographers.
Running and marketing a larger studio operation would require a lot of time. In fact, it could easily be a full-time job itself. If Jeff and I were truly dedicated to growing The Shoot Space, we could hire employees to run it, take reservations, check members in and out, and market the business. And it would probably be very successful. We prefer to focus our efforts on our photography, and we are okay with letting The Shoot Space simply be a side hustle.
Because of this, and perhaps because Wilmington is a smaller area, the monthly memberships and single-use rentals comprise only a very small part of The Shoot Space’s income. In fact, it would be difficult to support the studio on this alone, and we suspect that is why some of the other share spaces in Wilmington have suffered. Instead, rent from tenants is The Shoot Space’s biggest source of income.
It’s ok for this share concept to be a side hustle, or just a way to help split the bills. Or you may decide you’re ready to dedicate 100 percent of your time to this idea, maybe even sacrificing your personal photography business along the way. Maybe you’ve got the resources to hire staff to run this new venture. That’s cool too. It’s important to have realistic expectations about how many businesses you’re going to commit to running.
4. Have rules.
Even if you’re only sharing your studio with a couple of other photographers, it’s important to lay out some ground rules. Here are some we’ve found to be useful.
Each photographer must clean up after themselves. The shooting bay and sales room must be tidied, swept, wiped and otherwise cleaned at the end of each rental. Leave it ready for the next person to use.
Rental time includes setup and breakdown. If a rental is from 4:00 to 6:00, that photographer cannot set up before 4:00, and they must be broken down and cleaned up by 6:00. This makes scheduling easier.
All photographers must play nicely with others. At any given time, the offices, shooting bay and/or sales rooms may be in use, so it’s important that each photographer is mindful of noise, client traffic, etc.
Each photographer is responsible for any damage caused by themselves, their clients, models, assistants and guests.
Standard rules apply regarding rent/membership payments. Pay by the fifth of the month or face late fees and/or cancelation.
Tenants must keep their belongings contained within designated storage areas. Members and single-use renters do not have storage on site. For us, this is simply a matter of space, but we’ve considered having lockers for members who are here frequently.
5. Have standards.
If you’re planning to offer your space to locals, it’s important to have a minimum standard of who can and cannot rent. Your studio will attract photographers with a wide range of experience levels. Decide ahead of time what level you are comfortable with.
We do not babysit photographers. Every photographer must take a quick orientation and demonstrate a basic proficiency in setting up light stands and sandbags before we turn them loose. We don’t judge their skill or style, we just want to make sure they’re not going to break things.
On a related note, be mindful of your potential impact on the photographic community. We created The Shoot Space as a resource for our fellow photographers to help them grow their businesses. It’s important to us that the studio not hurt the local market.
As the studio grew, we started attracting more and more photographers with less and less experience. It’s not uncommon for new photographers to operate without a license, not pay taxes and shoot for cheap or free, undercutting their colleagues and devaluing the market. We started to question whether offering a professional studio to those who were clearly not professional was helping or hurting. The final straw came when we received an inquiry from someone wanting to rent the studio for family portraits. I asked if they were looking for a photographer or a studio to rent. They said, “Oh, no. We want to rent the studio so we don’t have to pay a photographer.” Nope, nope, nope. All the nos.
Since that day, we have decided to require that all renters carry professional liability insurance and list The Shoot Space as an additional insured. While it’s no guarantee that each photographer is not undercutting or hurting the market, it’s a pretty good sign that the photographer is taking their business seriously and running a legitimate business. It also has the benefit of additional insurance protections in case a liability issue arises.
Set for Success
Whether you’re looking for a way to share your rent costs or open a full studio-share concept, we’ve given you the top five things we’ve learned while opening ours. Of course, our goal is not to give you a set-in-stone template for your studio, but to give you the points you’ll want to consider as you create your own version of a studio share.