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Real estate photography venture hitting convenient niche

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The relatively new real estate photography venture Ready. Shoot. Sell. is composed of the owners of York-based The Susquehanna Photographic and fellow photographer Matthew Ensminger, owner of Digital Ephemera Photography. From left are Philip and Allison Given and Ensminger. Photo/The Susquehanna Photographic
The relatively new real estate photography venture Ready. Shoot. Sell. is composed of the owners of York-based The Susquehanna Photographic and fellow photographer Matthew Ensminger, owner of Digital Ephemera Photography. From left are Philip and Allison Given and Ensminger. Photo/The Susquehanna Photographic

Ready. Shoot. Sell. seeks to capitalize on a sweet spot in both the schedules of its photography co-founders and the needs of real estate agents.

The relatively new real estate photography venture is composed of the owners of York-based The Susquehanna Photographic and fellow photographer Matthew Ensminger, owner of Digital Ephemera Photography.

They are primarily wedding photographers, said co-founder Philip Given. So running out for a short time to a shoot and quickly turning around the results is a great way to fill in time in between jobs with additional income, he said.

At the same time, the quick-turnaround service brings a better picture quality to a listing without going over the top in terms of both time spent and money charged, Given said.

So far, it's a balance that has led to business growth — and may eventually lead to spinning the venture off into its own formal, standalone entity, he said.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the new venture you started.

A: We launched it in November, and it's going well. We own The (York-based) Susquehanna Photographic, that's myself and Allison, my wife, and then Matt Ensminger also has a photography company, and this is kind of a joint venture between us.

And the idea is that Allison and I are basically full-time wedding photographers. But, in the offseason, we need other things to do. We do some commercial work. But even in wedding season, Allison basically edits the entire time doing weddings and that sort of thing. That's a one-person job, so I need something to occupy my time. This is a good hole, because people are always buying and selling houses.

Realtors work a good schedule for that, because they take off on Saturdays and do all the open houses on Sundays pretty much, so through the week they're meeting with potential listings, potential owners, that sort of thing. So as soon as they get a new listing, they call us, we go in and shoot. So it's sort of the perfect reverse schedule of a wedding photographer.

Where did you get the idea to do this?

We have a commercial client who does home remodels, and we find the work we are doing for them is of a high level, but it doesn't necessarily fit with our hourly commercial rate. So we would go in and we would take maybe 25 to 30 minutes, that's all the time we need. It doesn't need to be a full-day shoot.

And then Allison and I were looking at houses ourselves, and the photography is not very good of many of the houses. There are a couple local competitors who do good work, but other than that, most agents are using cellphones or point-and-shoot (cameras) and putting it up themselves.

We're not setting out to do Ready. Shoot. Sell. full time. It's a supplement business to what we already have. In that sense, it's a great source for additional income, and we're able to do it, not cheaply, but more efficiently, because we are buying our time from our main business and filling our day.

We're calling it a commodity; we're in and out, 25 minutes, and it takes us 25 minutes to edit. That's it. We deliver the photos the next day, 24 hours later. So we are being super quick, super efficient, but there's no sacrificing quality.

If we were treating it as a multihour, multiweek commercial project, there'd be more attention to editing and staging and we'd focus on details. This is really, we're going in there, we're getting all aspects of the room, all aspects of the house, and it's done.

So when your main business is a lot of bigger projects, these are the smaller projects that can fit here, there and everywhere to fill your time up?

Yes. This (one) Realtor, for example, her office will call me and say, 'We have three houses this week.' So I look at my schedule, and if I can do two, I do them, and if Matt can do two, he does them. So we fill in the holes that way. So whereas I might have used it as administrative time for my (primary) business, I can now go out and make $75 a pop on a listing.

How have you been promoting it?

We originally launched it only on Facebook, and we got an initial buzz there, but we found with Realtors, it's all about word of mouth. So we have about 10 Realtors who are using us consistently now. As long as we're doing a great job, it kind of grows from there.

Do you worry it might get too big compared with where you have room for it in your schedules now?

No. So the idea is that, we didn't brand Ready. Shoot. Sell. to York (and) we didn't brand it to Harrisburg. So the idea is that even if it becomes too much for Matt and I, or Allison, Matt and I, we can buy other photographers' time. So there are plenty of wedding photographers in the area who Monday through Thursday aren't doing a whole lot (of business). So the idea is, if we need to expand, if we're finding that we have all of this York business and we don't have time to run up to Mechanicsburg, we know (other photographers) up in Mechanicsburg.

Is that going to add an increased layer of bureaucracy into this eventually, and how do you plan to handle that?

Yeah, probably. So, Matt and I are technically the co-founders of it, with Allison, and I think we would eventually go into a management role of some kind, but I can't say that for sure at this point. We've been in business (just) a few months. But that's the idea. Passive income is always good, where we can take a more management/coordinator role and say we have these shoots this week, this person can take this one, that person can take that one.

Why would Realtors pay for this when they can just take out a smartphone and take a shot?

As photographers, we were looking at houses and seeing, some of these shots, they're not very good. And then we found that even a decent shot, we were like, 'We are going to go to this house.' Sometimes we'd get there, and we wouldn't like the house but (we went there) just because the photography was better.

So when we took a step back and thought, 'Maybe we could do this,' then we thought, 'Are we being that critical just because we are photographers?' And it turns out, not at all. So we've actually found that our base is split: agents who were previously using (smartphones) are seeing way more calls, way more showings, way more interest now that they are using our photography services. And I thought it would be a bit ambiguous, but they are super enthused about it.

And then over here are people who had previously used other photographers, and we come in at a different price point. We actually sell our products in packages, so you can purchase a one-listing, five-listing or 10-listing package, and there are obviously price breaks at that point.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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