How to Start a Photobooth Company: 6-Figures in 18 Months


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Cat Bloch

From hating photo booths to seeing an opportunity in the market and taking her photo booth side hustle to 6-figures in 18 months…

That’s the story of today’s guest, Cat Bloch.

Cat said she’d never be caught dead in a photo booth at a party.

That was until she came across a modern photo booth, and it completely changed how she looked at this popular wedding venue and gala attraction.

Cat saw a gap in the market for an upmarket, modern, photo booth. Something that does much more than you’d expect from a photo booth, such as being used for corporate branding, immersive virtual experiences, and more.

Starting with one photo booth out of her front closet, Cat and MDRN Photobooth Company now operate 20 photo booths in multiple cities all across Canada.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to learn:

  • how Cat got her first customers
  • how she priced and positioned her service to stand out from the competition
  • the really smart and intentional ways she’s found a steady stream of bookings

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Where’d the Idea for a Photo Booth Come From?

“It’s funny, because I actually hated photo booths. If I ever saw them at a party, you would not catch me dead in a photo booth,” Cat told me.

Cat was a wedding photographer, and she’d scraped up the money to attend WPPI, the big wedding and portrait photography conference in Las Vegas.

While walking the trade show floor, Cat stumbled across a booth from Photo Booth Supply Co.

Seeing a modern photo booth completely changed her perception and idea of what a photo booth was.

Cat explained it was more of a mobile studio than one of those old photo booths with shared props and low-quality photos.

“The quality was unreal, and as soon as I saw it I was like, ‘OK, this is why I’m here’,” Cat told me.

This high-quality booth was something Cat said she would actually use, so she knew other people would feel the same.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Photobooth Business?

The model of photo booth Cat bought cost $9,000, and it came with everything she needed like props and backdrops.

Cat also hired a web designer, a graphic designer, and paid for some other things she needed to operate her business.

She said the total cost was around $20,000 Canadian dollars. (About $16,000 USD.)

What Made You Think This Business Would Work?

$16,000 is a lot of money to jump into a new business with when you don’t have much experience in the field.

Cat explained that she’s always had a relationship with money where she is good at seeing when there is an advantage to spending it.

A saying that has always resonated with Cat is, “Scared money don’t make money.”

It’s not like she had $16,000 spare either. Cat had to put the photo booth on her parent’s emergency credit card, but she said she had a “gut feeling” it was going to work.

Competitive Analysis of the Market

Cat went to school for entrepreneurship, so along with her gut feeling, she also understands how to evaluate a market for competition.

She did thorough competitive analysis for all the other businesses in her local area of Ottawa and said there were a bunch of competitors already operating.

But Cat noticed that they were all offering the same thing, and their price points reflected this.

They all ranged between $300-400 for a 3-4 hour event, and Cat knew she needed to charge more than that to make money on her booth.

Cat did see a need for a custom, bespoke photo booth that did more than the other companies offered, so she knew she could charge more.

How to Market a High-End Photobooth Service

The first thing Cat did was to reach out to some business networking groups in her area. She knew of a monthly meeting local business owners had via Facebook and contacted them to join.

Cat knew they would have event planners, and this means they have a budget for booking events.

One particular networking event resulted in a bunch of Cat’s first clients, many of which she still works with today.

To get her foot in the door at this event, Cat approached the event planner and explained she was new to the industry and asked to show them what she can do.

Cat offered them her photo booth for free for their next event. She branded it all to them, handmade props, ordered in special background fabrics and went all out to impress them.

She said the line for the booth was never-ending for that event, and that’s what sealed the deal for repeat business.

Cat still does the same thing today with new customers. If she sees an event planner she wants to work with, she’ll offer them a free booking to get in front of them.

Once they see the reaction from the people using the booth, this is always enough to show them that the booth is worth paying for.

Offering the Right Products to the Right Events

Photo booths come in all shapes and sizes and offer different services. Cat said she’s able to offer both digital and physical photos and chooses what to offer depending on the event.

For example, younger demographics are more likely to want digital prints of photos. While if Cat has her booth at a Gala, she’ll make prints more accessible.

How Much to Charge for Photobooth Rentals

Having looked at her competitors and knowing what she valued her own time at, Cat said she understood what she needed to charge in order to make her business work.

The first price she offered was $975 for 3 hours.

This was at least twice as much as pretty much every one of her competitors. But Cat knew the value of her photo booth, and she included a lot of services other companies charged for as add-ons.

Cat said people noticed it was more expensive than other photo booths. But she said she was really good at explaining why her’s is more expensive, and the added value they’re going to get.

Implementing a Booking System

When she first launched her service, Cat had her different packages listed on her website.

Cat would either take a booking via her site, or she would answer emails with quotes. She would then send out a contract and a Square invoice, but this was a lot of back and forth.

To speed things up, Cat integrated a CRM system called Pixifi to handle inbound communications. This system is designed specifically for businesses in the events space.

She was still working full-time when she started out, and would also pick up calls and answer emails in her lunch breaks.

“Automations are the key to side hustles,” Cat told me as she recalled how she started streamlining her processes.

Timeline to Breaking Even

After that first event Cat secured from her networking group, she had another three events come in shortly after.

Thereafter Cat said she kept getting calls from that same events planner. It wasn’t long before she started getting more calls due to word of mouth.

In her first year and a half, Cat broke 6-figures in revenue. Her profit margins are around 80%, so it wasn’t long before she broke even on those startup costs and started making a profit.

Other Marketing Tactics That Have Worked

Some of the other marketing efforts that have worked well for Cat includes:

Outreach and Sending Physical Packages

Pre-pandemic, Cat’s first hire was someone to help with outreach. Cat tasked her with finding all agencies she wanted to work with, such as PR and advertising agencies.

She would follow these companies on Instagram, get to know their business, start interacting with them — then reach out and make a proposal.

Cat’s proposal to companies is to attend a “lunch and learn”. This can be either in person or virtually, where she would run through the products that would work well for them.

She would also send a physical package in the mail. This would vary depending on the client, but would usually be some props to do with the company’s logo or branding.

Cat said spending a lot of time learning about the client beforehand really paid off. Every time she presented a custom lunch and learn, she closed the client.

SEO

Cat has hired an SEO company to improve the organic traffic to her website, but it’s too early to say how well that’s going.

Instagram

Cat has been using Instagram to promote her business. She’s created two accounts; one for weddings, and another for activations.

Leads coming in through Instagram have quadrupled recently. The things that have worked well for Cat are:

  • Posting regularly
  • Making sure the content is highly-targeted to her target market
  • Posting content that is unique to her industry
  • Making some content personable, such as posting pictures of herself
  • Following and interacting with organizations in her niche

Cat also started following Jasmine Star, a photographer, and social media influencer. She took one of her free Instagram courses and said this helped up her Instagram game.

Managing the Logistics and Operating the Photo Booth

Cat’s photo booth comes in two compact cases, but they weigh about 70 pounds each. So, they’re not light and take some effort to move around.

There are also some backdrops, a stand, and some other props and kit. It all fits in the back of a regular sedan, so no special transport is needed.

When starting out, Cat and her husband would attend bookings and operate the photo booth.

As bookings increased, Cat and her husband would start attending separate venues. Then they started hiring people to operate the photo booths as they were being booked in multiple locations at the same time.

Expanding and Buying More Photo Booths

As demand increased, Cat started turning people down as she was getting bookings for the same days and didn’t have enough photo booths.

Cat bought a second booth, and that one kept booking. Then a third booth, a fourth, and so on.

She was also moving away from weddings and galas and getting booked for corporate gigs like brand activations.

Some of these bookings were lasting up to a week, so it was obvious she needed multiple booths to supply the demand.

Leaving the Day Job and Going Full-Time

“I don’t know that you ever really feel comfortable just leaving. I had a really nice job with a really nice car allowance, benefits, and I loved my job — but I hated it at the same time,” Cat told me.

Cat had hired employees to help out, but many of the inquiries coming in were complex and had to be handled by her.

Looking at how much her business was making as a side hustle, Cat knew she could make it work if she dedicated “her entire brain” to the business.

Looking back, Cat said it was scary at the time but it’s definitely paid off.

Going Virtual During the Pandemic

A photo booth doesn’t sound like it would be something you could take virtual. But Cat adapted to the social restrictions due to the pandemic and made her experiences virtual.

She put together a bunch of different virtual photo booth products and has done hundreds of virtual events.

It’s harder to get the same engagement virtually than in person, but she’s found ways to make it super fun and put a unique spin on things.

Cat said this not only helped her business survive the pandemic but she’s also been able to continue growing the business.

As soon as social restrictions started lifting, Cat said she also saw a huge surge in demand for physical photo booths.

Cat currently offers in-person, virtual, and hybrid packages and receives orders for all of them.

Trends in the Photo Booth Industry

For anyone thinking about getting into the photo booth space, Cat had some encouraging words.

Cat said that photo booths or some sort of photo interactions are trending up. It’s not just big events that book photo booths, either. It’s also large organizations, retailers, and other entities.

The entry point is a lot lower than when Cat started out, too. Cat said you’re looking at around $6,000 to get started.

Cat also said you can use “drop off” photo booths if you don’t have the staff or capacity to operate the booths.

These are photo booths that are user-operated at venues. Meaning you can just drop them off at the venue, and collect them when the event is over.

What’s Next?

Cat is rebuilding her team and growing her business as events continue to pick up post-pandemic.

It’s more the large experiential marketing stuff that Cat is focused on. She’s started doing Instagram museums in malls, and she loves doing these.

Over the next five years, Cat plans on opening more offices across Canada.

Cat’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Fake it until you make it.”

Links and Resources from this Episode

Free Bonus: 25 Other Things to Rent Out for a Profit

25 Other Unconventional Rental Ideas

What else could you rent out for a profit? Here are some ideas!

Enter your email to download the full list now:

You'll also receive my best side hustle tips and weekly-ish newsletter. Opt-out anytime.

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5 thoughts on “How to Start a Photobooth Company: 6-Figures in 18 Months”

  1. Hey that CRM link must be wrong – I’m trying to find it on the web myself and struggling – maybe she said the wrong name ? Because the one you a linking to is a e-commerce platform….. any idea??

    Reply
    • Thanks for tuning in, Ozzie! My understanding was this was one element of a grassroots marketing campaign to get a brand in front of consumers in new and creative ways. For example, a friend of mine used to work for Toyota/Scion, and they’d often host parties and events where the cars weren’t the main focus but it was clear they were sponsoring the event. More info here: https://www.ana.net/brand-activation

      Reply

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