Story of a Studio Owner: Part 2

Jasen Arias is a co-owner of Studio Moirae, a leading Phoenix based Studio offering outstanding photography services to discerning clients, all over the Phoenix area.

From Jasen:

OK, so its been a couple weeks since I first posted about us starting up a studio and gave out a bit of advice on how to find a space, what to look for and what to watch out for. So whats next? Next is taking the studio from bland to bam!! BUT FIRST!

DISCLAIMER: Everything that I’m going to put out there is only based on the experience that we had. At this point I have no idea what we have done right or what we have completely screwed up. But never the less, it’s how we have gone from point A to point B. I think some of it might be good advice or tips to know about, but anyone that decides to tackle this monster will have different experiences. I’m sure of it. Also! This is not business advice! There are no tips on creating a business plan or how much to have in savings or anything like that. This is how we went from finding a spot to opening the doors.

AGAIN, this is a multi-part write-up, so make sure you check the first one here and watch for the next.


OK, so welcome to the first gray area of your new studio. Assuming that you aren’t just going to come in, throw some paint and sweep the floors, you are most likely going to need a construction permit. NOW, do many people perform work without a permit? Yes. Should you? No. Did We?. . . .Maybe. Should you? Depends.

Look, it comes down to this. At any point, the city may notice that you are demolishing or constructing in your space, and that’s illegal to do without a permit. Not just in a commercial space. Anywhere! If you plan on tearing down drywall or installing drywall/electrical/plumbing/mechanical/etc you need a permit. The reason people start to shortcut this step is that it takes time, it takes drawings, and it takes money. Many of which people don’t want to give up. But if you get caught, there can be fines and I have even know the city to drag their feet while reviewing drawings for a space that has already started. So, I warn you now, use caution on how you decide to proceed here.

The reason you really should consider going through the permit process is this. Safety! Sounds simple, but since you are going to have customers in your location, you want to make sure that you haven’t installed that ceiling fan correctly. I mean, suppose it’s so poorly hung that it comes down and chops someone up like a bad horror film. Same with that electrical outlet by your restroom. Is it GFI and installed at the correct height? Do you know what GFI is or what the correct height is? Do you have any ADA issues that could land you in court? Do you know what ADA is? Not to mention you could be digging into asbestos or a structural wall! At the end of the day, it’s just the smart thing to do.

The only reason I wouldn’t get a permit is if the work was very very minor. Meaning, I’m adding a small pony wall / running low voltage / replacing some basic light fixtures / filling in a door opening. But even then, most of that stuff is over the counter approvals and easy to get.

If you don’t know how to get a permit, chat with that architect I told you to contact. If they are worth a damn, they can walk you through the process. If you live in Arizona or the Northern Nevada area, I would be happy to offer you some architectural services or point you in the direction of one of my good friends that would also be happy to give you a hand.


OK, so you have been a good boy/girl and have your permit. Good job! Now it’s time to get dirty and make your next financial decision. To do this work yourself, or to hire it out? The answer is simply complicated. Meaning every task will require that question. Demolition sounds easy, but I can assure you it was one of the tougher parts of our remodel. Being that it was on the 2nd floor was a major issue. Imagine moving all hose materials up and down flights of stairs. Ever step on a nail? Yeah, that’s no fun. Oh, and if you have neighbors, you take a huge chance of having them hate you with the very first swing of the hammer. . . .like we did.

Construction has so many other tasks. Nick and I did every last task EXCEPT the tape and texture of the walls. The only reason that we passed on that is because we tried it and realized that it might as well have been painting a car. It was the one opportunity for us to make our space look like crap. So we brought in a pro, cost us $500 for an 800sf space and was done in a day. Well worth it. But everything else, we did on our own. If you have the time, it’s a great learning experience and an awesome time to build a bit of a bond between you, your space and your friends/employees that give you a hand. It’s also a time that could create chaos during decision making, mistakes and bad planning. And trust me, all of that will happen. With that said, a bit of construction knowledge, some free time and attention to detail, you should do it. It will save you bu-ku bucks and it you will learn a lot about your space. On the other hand, if you have to rush and don’t know which end of the hammer to use. . .hire it out. No one wants to buy photos out of a ratty cardboard box.


There’s a saying, “If you budget $5,000, plan on spending $10,000”. Yup! That’s about right! There are hidden costs that you will never anticipate. You save money by doing this yourself, but you spend money buying new tools and/or material you didn’t need. And renting tools doesn’t work well either, cuz you can rent a tool for a week for roughly the same price you can buy a lower quality tool. You will also find out that the way you planned on laying something out doesn’t work and now you need to fur out a wall to help flatten out your finish. Or even worse, you plan on spending $2 a SF for flooring, but forgot about the underlayment or decided to go another direction that costs $2.50 a SF and $3 after tax. Think about that. For my 800sf space, that’s nearly another $1000 bucks! So yeah, it adds up pretty fast. So if I were you, figure out what your demo and construction budget is, and try to do it for 75% or less than what you have.

So how do you do that? Find the right places to save money and spend money. Notice I said save, not buy cheap. Buying cheap crap will look like crap in a very short amount of time. So spend money in the right places, save in other places that will allow you to swap or repair easily. For example. We cheaped out and bought countertops from IKEA. Yes they are already scratched. But our end plan has always been to finish them with another layer of 1/4″ wood. Couldn’t afford it then, but will look like a million bucks in the not to distant future. Another awesome website www.LampLust.com – BOOM – You can hug me later for that site. It’s awesome, just don’t buy my Sputnik lamp for your space. That would be weird ūüėČ Point being. Take some time to find the right products and materials to finish out your space. Spending 2 days on the internet will save you tons of cash. Don’t rush.


OK, so this is by far my favorite part of the whole remodel. It’s also another good way to save cash. Look at garage sales and specialty stores that sell used furniture! Find unique stuff and have it reupholstered or refinished. Your average couch will cost you about $500 plus fabric to have it reupholstered. Sounds like quite a bit, but the #1 place that your client is sitting shouldn’t feel like crunchy foam. Same with task chairs. I could go on and on about furniture, but at the end of the day, bargain shopping for good furniture is the easiest way to spend a little but make your place look like big money. This is not where I would go to IKEA.

OK, so wrapping up? Get a permit, cut your budget in half if you don’t want to overspend, check out LampLust.com, and in my opinion, furniture will make or break your space. Seriously, a nice Noguchi table all by itself in the middle of your space is far better than 8 folding chairs from Target.

Thanks again for reading, let me know if you have any questions. I’m more than happy to answer.

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