Running a Photography Franchise

Cameras, costumes and toddlers are all in a day's work for Lil' Angels franchisees.

By Jonathan Riggs

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For a young couple looking to open a franchise together,Lil' Angels Photography was practically heaven-sent. Threeyears ago, Tom Castle, 37, and Julie Castle, 33, were leafingthrough the Yellow Pages, looking for inspiration. When they cameacross the Photography section, they remembered meeting a Lil'Angels franchise owner on a cruise. Suddenly, the couple knew theirsearch for a franchise was over.

Lil' Angels provides professional-quality photography today-care centers, preschools and organizations for children. Thecompany adds creative flair with its "Fashion for KidsProgram," where children are photographed dressed up asanything from a race-car driver to a cowgirl.

"We felt this was something we could really enjoy,"Julie says. "The initial investment was within reach, and thetime to get started was minimal."

Neither Tom nor Julie had any professional photographyexperience, so Tom took a part-time job at a local photo lab. Thecouple has maintained their success by assessing and capitalizingon each other's strengths: Tom has a knack for charmingchildren, while Julie makes the most of her business savvy.Although blending their differing styles wasn't easy,eventually the business blossomed. So did their family-they nowhave a daughter and a son.

Thanks to the flexibility of their franchise, these youngparents only work about 10 months per year-they photograph about6,500 kids during that period-and they spend the rest of the yearenjoying family time. They charge between $25 and $100 per child.Professionally, their reputation has opened many doors. Most oftheir new business comes from customer referrals. "That'swhen you know you're doing something right," Juliesays.

What they're doing isn't easy. Convincing one 2-year-oldnot to cry, or to pose naturally for the camera is difficult-andthey sometimes photograph 60 2-year-olds in a row. "The key isto make sure the kids have fun," Tom says. "Takingpictures is a lot of pressure on them."

He and Julie never force an unwilling or scared child to get hisor her picture taken, and they strive for a natural look in theirphotographs. Their care and professionalism are paying off-2004sales are projected to reach between $350,000 and $450,000, andsatisfied customers abound. "We've had parents wholiterally scream with excitement and surprise [when they see thephotos]," Julie says. "Some are so overwhelmed, they cry.We get phone calls days or even weeks later, thanking us for takingsuch beautiful pictures."

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