For $20 an hour, these brick & mortar businesses offer a venue to up your self-portrait game.
Had the inventors of the smartphone known how the devices would most often be used, they probably would have called it “the selfie.”
The smartphone is a communication device, but these days instead of verbal messages, they often are used to create visual remembrances shared on social media.
Now, even the selfie is evolving from a spur-of-the-moment self-portrait into a planned event.
Selfie photo studios are now a thing in Jacksonville.
Both Selfie WRLD Jax and Selfie Photography work on the same premise. Customers rent time and take pictures in elaborately decorated booths and rooms that provide a backdrop for self-expression. Ringlight stands provide optimum lighting and a phone mount. A handheld Bluetooth button snaps the self-portrait.
The husband and wife team of Asa and Priscilla Maass, which bought a Selfie WRLD franchise, have worked together in various enterprises throughout their 20-year marriage.
As social influencers on YouTube and Facebook, they saw the potential of a selfie studio and bought the franchise this year.
It is one of 25 franchises around the nation started by Ashley Wilkerson, a photographer in Des Moines, Iowa, who created the business after COVID stalled her wedding and commercial photography business.
The Maasses said Selfie WRLD Jax was a $100,000 investment that included the $15,000 franchise fee and build-out of the 20-booth facility at 11112 San Jose Blvd. in the Claire Lane Shopping Center in Mandarin.
The franchise fee included naming rights and a blueprint on how to build and operate the business.
It features colorful and bright spaces. There is a pool with a deck and plastic balls serve as bubbles. Other spaces include a black light room, a city mural with a large jaguar, and a Slinky room filled with colorful coiled toys hanging from the ceiling and walls.
Another room has a bed and other furniture mounted on one wall to create optical illusions. The Revospin is a round spinning platform that videos a person in motion.
Booths and boas
High school friends Brittney Pitts and Katelyn Griffith started Selfie Photography this year at 4070 Herschel St. near Avondale.
Instead of just booths, they offer themed rooms and provide props like hats and boas to spruce up the pictures. In the entrance, vintage suitcases surround an old Surfside Motel sign that was part of a Jacksonville Beach motel.
“We provide a safe place where people can come and be who they are,” Pitts said.
The studio themes at both places change often, including seasonally for the Halloween and Christmas seasons.
“We change the rooms so that customers can come back and do something new,” Pitts said.
Pitts said they spent about $20,000 to launch the business.
Both businesses foresee recouping their startup costs by the end of the year.
Individual sessions cost $20 per hour with group pricing by party size. Reservations are suggested but walk-ins are accepted if space is available.
Private parties can be booked and companies have used the rooms for team-building events.
The rooms also have become a popular date-night activity. Bands have used them for music videos. Professional photographers have discovered the businesses for ready-made studios.
“If I am shooting a senior class picture or a young person, it is a great space. And the price is great by the hour,” said photographer Josean Rosario, who was photographing a young model at Selfie WRLD Jax.
“If I need two hours, $40 isn’t bad compared to other studios.”
In the past, the businesses may have been located in a high-traffic mall, but Priscilla Maass said rents at the St. Johns Town Center were out of reach.
Before renting, she sat in the parking lot where Selfie WRLD Jax is located and was amazed at the amount of traffic that Trader Joe’s, Miller’s Ale House and La Nopalera pulled in throughout the day and early evening.
Pitts said she and Griffith chose their small shop next to Harps American Pub & Grill on Herschel Street because it is near their homes and their other jobs at The Haskell Co.
Spreading the word
Both businesses have used word-of-mouth advertising to spike early business. Pitts has distributed discount coupons at neighborhood events while the Internet-savvy couple invited several locally based social media influencers to a VIP party to introduce their franchise.
SelfieWRLDJax and selfiephotographyjax on Instagram show the photo opportunities.
Selfie WRLD Jax has an altruistic motivation as well. The couple’s 16-year-old daughter, Abigail, is autistic. They are employing young people on the autism spectrum.
They have been involved in the cause for some time now. Asa Maass has a half-million followers on his “Fathering Autism” YouTube channel and more than 1 million followers on Facebook.
“We do it to help out other parents. We share our everyday life and demonstrate how to navigate through situations and even show our screw-ups,” he said.
Selfie Photography invites sports teams, schools and clubs to use the facilities for fundraising parties. A portion of the proceeds are returned to the sponsoring organization.
While the owners have similar businesses, their outlook is different.
Pitts sees the business as more than a fad. “The technology isn’t going anywhere. We will evolve depending on where we go technology-wise,” she said.
Asa Maass feels the opposite. “Yes, it’s a fad. We have a five-year lease and a five-year franchise contract. We plan on being out of here in five years. People no longer have a business for 80 years that is passed down to the kids. Businesses today are disposable.”
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