Tuesday Tips - Studio Stuff
Firmly Believing in Community Over Competition - "A rising tide lifts all ships" - JFK
My journey to find the perfect studio was a difficult one that almost resulted in me giving up and closing business! As someone that once designed commercial facilities, I had some working knowledge of commercial code requirements, Handicap compliance and zoning requirements. Even with all of that knowledge, it was still a very time consuming process that led me to many dead ends, and was often discouraging. I wish someone would have shared their experiences with me before I embarked on this adventure. It may have made it a little easier, so here are a few things that may help you when you want to open a photography studio of your own.
I searched many areas, many buildings, called a few realtors, and put out a plea for help in a networking group! My husband and I dropped around the area looking for signs and places that looked like they would work. If it were not for Lonnie, a gentleman in my networking group, passing by our facility, and telling me about it, I wouldn't have found it! It was listed incorrectly in the realtor database and if it weren't for me pushing to see it, the realtor would not have even considered this place an option!
1. Budget: Establish your budget. Your budget needs to include things like rent, common area maintenance charges, utilities, cleaning supplies/cleaning companies, exterior grounds maintenance if not provided by your landlord, upgrades/maintenance and more! Know that going into a lease there typically is an option to negotiate. Some places will allow you to rent for reduced rates while you are upgrading the facility! Get a good commercial realtor that is going to look out for your best interests, and have your attorney review all leases.
2. Home Studios: In my township, I am not permitted to have an in home studio unless my property is upgraded to meet all handicap compliance rules... a bathroom with the proper fixtures, turn arounds, and even door hardware. Proper exit devices, a door that swings out (not in), handicap ramps, and exit signs/lights are all required. A zoning hearing would also be required and despite all upgrades, your application could be denied at the hearing. My home owners association would also need to approve it.
Each and every township in Pennsylvania is different. You can find out what your local requirements are by contacting your township office or looking at their web site. Most townships will provide you with code requirements and basic information for having a business in your home.
3. Location: Location was super important to me. We wanted something that was close to home, with parking, visibility and in a great area. I had a really difficult time finding a place with existing retail zoning that fit all of my needs, without being in a strip mall.
4. Township Requirements: I searched for months to find a place that would work for us. I eventually learned that I did not want to sign a lease until I contacted the township to see if I could get occupancy in a specific facility. I went through several properties and was very discouraged. A lot of the existing properties were zoned as office and believe it or not, that is a far cry from a retail facility and the requirements are quite different. Do your research on your township requirements, existing zoning and look back through zoning hearings. That information may be obtained on the web sites. It will save you a lot of time and heart ache in the end. If you find a facility that you are interested in, and it's not up to code, you may need to hire an architect/engineer to complete drawings and do submissions before you will gain occupancy. Most of those expenses will fall onto you and not the building owner.
5. Realtor: This was something that I really wish that I had known. There is a commercial real estate company in town that holds the leases to the majority of the commercial properties in this area. Having a realtor outside of that firm would have been extremely helpful in the negotiating part of this process. It is really important to make sure that you have someone that is there for you and on your side! Find a commercial realtor to represent you!
6. Occupancy: After finding the perfect place, signing the lease, completing many upgrades to the facility, and moving everything in, I applied for occupancy with the township. All of the scheduled inspections were completed and we were not granted occupancy the first attempt! We had to fix a few minor infractions like having a box where the fire department could have keys to every door, changing bulbs in exit lights, a door knob, a threshold and something with the fire extinguisher. These were all minor issues. Luckily we were able to reschedule inspection quickly. It took nearly two months from the time that we signed the lease until we were granted occupancy. It was the middle of winter, and we needed to be open quickly. This process was much longer than I anticipated, and much more difficult than expected.
7. Space: For me, high ceilings and a wide open room were really important. I remember walking into this place and my husband looking at me like I was crazy! The place needed a lot of work and that fell on us! After a little convincing, my husband was on board! We replaced the extremely dated carpet with a laminate flooring. The flooring needed to be easy to clean for us! With newborn accidents and cake/paint/donut sessions in the studio, carpet was not a possibility! The high ceilings leave enough room for our 86" umbrellas, large backdrops and boom lights.
Being in Manchester township, we also needed the building to be completely ADA compliant. Luckily, the tenant before ran into these issues and the building owner put in a ramp with railings and a handicap accessible rest room. We often have clients in here for hours at a time, and I could not imagine having a studio without a rest room!
I think my one and only hold back when I originally leased the space that I am in now was the lack of natural day light, but we are working on that now! We are doing a few more upgrades that will hopefully eliminate that!
8. Signage - Don't forget about SIGNS!!! Signage is another expense to consider when opening your studio! Remember to get all of the township information and apply for permits for your signs too! Many places have very specific limitations on signage! It is best to ask up front then pay the fine or have to take it down later.
After being in my space now for nearly five years, I have learned so much... even more than what I thought I knew when designing commercial spaces! It has been a journey and I would love to answer questions to help others! If I can help you in any way, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at [email protected]! I would love to help others create a safe, legal environment for all of their clients!