Why For Street Operators, Photo Booths Are a Solid Option

In recent years, rentals for events have generated the bulk of profits to be garnered from photo booths. However, a subtle shift is occurring, with interest in street locations picking up speed as operators seek alternatives to video games, redemption machines and the like.
Photobooth Services in Redmond, Wash., now has photo booths in 40 permanent locations, ranging from bars and hotel lobbies to museums. These booths generate about 65 percent of the company’s business; transient party rentals, for the remaining 35 percent, according to Bill Wick, operations manager.
“In 2008, the numbers were flipped, with most of the demand coming from the event side,” Wick said. “There’s still plenty of call there, but we have had a big spike in ‘street’ locations. In some cases, it’s because you can put a nice photo booth where you can’t put something like arcade games, for example, a museum, and in others, it’s just a desire to try something else.” Units that produce black-and-white photographs are the choice among all of Photobooth Services’ retail customers. Roughly half of the company’s party and event rental customers favor these same machines; the other half prefer those that generate color digital snapshots.
Like several other sources, Wick deemed the traditional and digital forms of the Model 12 photobooth, a classic 1950s-style photo booth with such state-of-the-art features as near-instant photo development and touchscreen accoutrements, overwhelmingly popular. “People like that it offers a cross between the nostalgic look and today’s technology,” Wick said.
Beth Johnson, president of Indianapolis, Ind.-based Fish Face Photo Booths, also cited a change in the photo booth business. “The ‘street’ piece is definitely getting bigger,” she said. “Users think it’s a lot of fun, and unlike many redemption prizes, the photos have a purpose” that enhances the appeal of using a booth in the first place.
Fish Face Photo Booths has experienced its greatest success with units that allow users the option of selecting black and white or color photographs. Its touchscreen-activated photo booths are configured so that photos may be e-mailed and/or shared via social networking sites, such as Facebook.
Just as different types of photo booths continue to fare well, so, too, do a range of street locations at which the units are found. “Any touristy location where people are already spending money is a good bet now,” said Johnson, adding that sites along boardwalks and in arcades rank among the most promising places to install one or more photo booths. “The booths jump out from the rest of what’s there.”
Also in a more specific vein, Craig Olechoski, CEO of The Omaha Photo Booth Company in Omaha, Neb., and Matt Burns, owner of Sharon, Iowa-based Iowa Photo Booth, named zoos to the list of top photo booth spots. Both sources recommended that photo booths be positioned in an area close to the concession stand, where nearly all guests stop at one juncture or another during a visit to the zoo. Sites that are situated near the most heavily trafficked animal attractions generate equally brisk photo booth business, Burns said, citing the lion cages,  to which “everyone ” flocks, as a prime example.
Moreover, photo booths can yield good results at nightclubs, bars and foodservice operations that serve alcoholic beverages and whose clientele is primarily comprised of tourists. “The alcohol gets them silly, and before they know it, they’re piling in to have their photos taken as a souvenir,” said William Ewing, owner of WOW Photo Booth in Decatur, Ga.
Conversely, sources advised against putting photo booths in entertainment establishments that are patronized almost exclusively by locals and “regulars.” While these individuals will likely utilize the photo booth in their favorite club or other “hangout”  once, “chances are that the next time, they’ll say ‘Been there, done that’ and never do it again,” Olechoski said.
Another “no-no”: Assuming that a photo booth may not be the right “fit” for a given tourist attraction or park, without giving it a trial run. One of Photobooth Services’ best-performing photo booths is situated at the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Wash. The booth, which Wick said “does an unbelievable amount of business,” lies within a museum exhibit dedicated to artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol. To bolster their interest in using the photo booth, visitors are invited to post a snapshot from their strip of photos on an “Andy Warhol Wall of Fame” board that flanks the exhibit.
“The success the museum has had with the booth shows that although some photo booth locations have been more popular than others, there really is no magic formula,” Wick said. “It’s trial and error more than anything else. We’ve had some duds that we really thought were going to be winners, and vice versa.”
Location notwithstanding, certain steps can, and should, be taken to increase the potential for high photo booth earnings. For instance, in addition to installing the units “front and center so that they’re the first and the last thing visitors see” (for example, toward the entrance to a venue), operators should play them up with signage that promotes them as an “experience,” suggested Blair Polischuk, senior “photoboothologist” at Island Photobooth in Courtenay, British Columbia.
“Put up a sign that says something to the effect of ‘We have our very own photo booth,’” Polischuk said. A similar message might be incorporated into any advertising, he added.
A personal touch is even more important. Some photo booths, including the Model 12, can be customized with a “wrap” that bears the name and/or logo of the park, attraction or other establishment at which it is located. Many operators leverage photo booth technology to incorporate these elements into photographs themselves, thereby turning them into promotional vehicles. “Remember, people are going to take the photos home and put them on the fridge, or, if they’re digital, on Facebook,” said Johnson. “When others see where those photos were taken, they may very well decide they want one, too.”
Guests’ inclination to patronize photo booths, and, in turn, operators’ profit potential, also increases if there is an opportunity to personalize the end-products with such elements as special backgrounds, from mock magazine covers to images affiliated with the booth’s location. Brad Krehnbrink, owner and operator of Carolina Photobooths in Mooresville, N.C., believes operators would also do well to provide visitors with funny props, like hats, masks, and fake glasses, they can wear to infuse a bit of individuality into their snapshots.
Polischuk corroborated Krehnbrink’s comments, adding that offering “cashless” payment options to photo booth customers also attracts interested parties who might otherwise opt against using the units. Certain photo booths can be configured to house wireless credit card acceptance terminals.
Finally, proper photo booth maintenance is imperative. “Nobody wants to take photos in a photo booth with dirty components,” said Elaine Armentrout, owner of Arizona Photobooth Company in Tempe, Ariz. Components should be cleaned each day, and the company from which the booth was rented should be contacted even if a technical problem appears to be minor.
With a little thought and effort, implementing and profiting from photo booth installation can be a snap. –

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