Is a Storefront Right for Your Business? Lessons from Followell Fotography

Robby and Jess Followell in the Followell Fotography Studio. Photo by Chase Rich.

Robby and Jess Followell in the Followell Fotography Studio. Photo by Chase Rich.

One of the most beautiful things about my college experience is that I attended a school where the people truly felt like an extension of my family. I had the blessing of so many friendships that still today seem more like sisters, brothers and close cousins. Recently, these friendships have taken the form of hilarious texts on a weekly basis (this week’s topic: which My Little Pony character are you), having a precious friend living in Chicago surprise me at my first baby shower and going through a virtual Bible study together. I could have never predicted that my college education would result in the honor of meeting the people who I craved to be around most often – the people who make me the best version of myself.

Another beautiful thing about my college experience is that when I see friends I went to college with – whether it was those who bore the burden of talking through my anxieties at 3 a.m. or those I saw passing through the cafeteria every Tuesday and Thursday, that warm feeling of home overwhelms me. When I visited the home studio of Robby and Jess Followell of Followell Fotography, I felt like it’s somewhere I was supposed to be that day at that very moment with a long overdue catch up, plenty of laughter and the opportunity to learn some of the highs and lows of the last decade of the business.

I met Robby and Jess as freshmen at Mississippi College. Today, they are a force of talent, compassion, faith and fun who are inspiring the world with their gifts and authenticity. Robby graduated Mississippi College in 2006, working as an admissions counselor while he ramped up his photography business, Followell Fotography. His first wedding to shoot was in 2007, then he pursued the business fully in 2009, starting full time and moving into a studio on Clinton’s brick streets. Robby signed the lease the month before he quit working at Mississippi College. And the next working day after his last day at MC, he went straight to the studio.

I sat down with Robby and Jess to discuss the ins and outs of having a storefront. The value it brought Followell Fotography and their experience from the “other side,” as they experience a studio connected to their home. Robby highlighted a few tips that a storefront offered the business that every entrepreneur contemplating this decision should know. If you’re on the fence about a storefront, check these out.

Tip 1. A Storefront Develops Your Brand

From Robby’s perspective, having a storefront forces business owners to identify exactly who they are and what they want to communicate to their customers and the community. This means a lot of self-reflection and front-end work must be put in to really hone in on the brand and style a business wants to portray. For example, color schemes, furniture style, logo design and the general “feel” of your space. Robby added that in a world where co-working space is trendy and what entrepreneurs often start with today, that type of environment is built upon someone else’s interpretation of space that inspires. A private space means you get to decide what’s inspiring and what fits your brand.

Tip 2. A Storefront Helps you Legitimize Your Business

A storefront can bring legitimacy that no online presence can. While he never shot photos in his studio space, Robby experienced an enhanced reputation that he believes would have been hard to find otherwise, especially starting out.

Tip 3. A Storefront is a Commitment

Robby suggests being able to commit to at least five years to a storefront or studio. Otherwise, it can do more harm than good for your brand. Imagine a business or restaurant that you once loved that didn’t stay in business long. It probably affected your opinion of the validity of the business, product or service.

Tip 4. A Storefront Costs Real Money

After four years, the Followell starting realistically thinking long term. They had already invested $75,000 in rent that wasn’t invested back in the business. Renting a storefront offers no financial benefit, so that is a huge thing to consider. 

The Story Isn’t Over

As Robby and Jess started thinking long-term in their family and business life, they realized that Followell Fotography didn’t technically require a physical studio space for taking photos, so there were options beyond a storefront business. They considered a home studio, but there was a laundry list of requirements that Robby knew were a must. On the business side, the studio needed to be separate from their home space with a different entrance, so customers could feel as though they are truly entering a business rather than going through a house. They knew that may be difficult to find in the small town of Clinton, Mississippi.

On the personal side, they would need the space in the home that would accommodate their growing family. They were in the middle of an adoption process with plans to bring home a child with a disability, so preparing for the unknown made the idea of finding something that suited both business and personal needs seem almost impossible. 

Fortunately for the Followells, they trust their lives to a God that is known for big miracles, and in His true character, God showed out by providing them exactly what they wanted and needed. Their dream home they had been eyeing for years came up for sale. And as any couple would, Robby and Jess played along and scheduled an appointment to visit it, knowing it was entirely out of their reach. Naturally, the house was perfect, styled just to their liking, and there was a detached portion of the home with a separate entrance where the current homeowner used as crafting space. They walked away from looking at the house knowing it was exactly where God wanted them. And, through a series of fate, the house became their home and Followell Fotography’s new headquarters.

Followell Fotography Home Studio

Followell Fotography Home Studio

Inside the Followell Fotography Studio

Inside the Followell Fotography Studio

Since the Transition

At first, Robby and Jess were a little nervous that the home studio may seem a little awkward or odd to people. After their very first appointment in the new place, they received a note from the bride saying she was appreciative of the client interaction and the experience in their studio, and she proved it by booking their largest wedding package.

Today, they have really embraced the space connecting to their home and have let the brand take on a family business feel, which clients and their employees seem to appreciate. While I visited their studio, their assistant left to go pick up Meg, their oldest daughter, from school. If that’s not family, I’m not sure what is. Robby also enjoys the perk of being able to prepare for weddings the evening prior by taking ten steps to the studio affords Robby more time with his family.

Final Tip: Evaluate What’s Best For Your Business

Overall, Robby advises small business owners to evaluate the pros and cons, and even get out a sheet of paper to do so. He recommends not to only factor in what’s best for the business but also what’s best for you personally. There are options that give you the best of both worlds. And God just might be ready to show what miracles He has in store for you.