The Story of a New Studio Owner

Studio Moirae is comprised of the team of Jasen Arias and Christy Shipp, with Nick Harper as an associate photographer. They are a Phoenix, AZ-based company offering wedding, family, and event photography. They are good friends to us at ShutterCliq, and when they offered to write about their storefront and the process involved in getting it leased, reno’ed and ready for business, we jumped at the chance. It’s a concept that many of us struggle with and we hope that their insight helps you to consider many of the factors involved.

From Jasen:

As some of you know, Studio Moirae just moved into its first official studio space at the beginning of the year. We had a gallery a couple years ago, but it was just that, a gallery, and not a shooting space.

So at the end of last year, we were feeling the pressures of running a business out of our home we decided it was time to start looking around. Some of you might also have seen the topic of “Opening A Studio” has been on a few peoples minds. That’s when I offered to do a basic write up of our experiences as we went through those steps.

Let’s get started –

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 nevertheless, it’s how we have gone from point A to point B that might contain some 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.

Also, It’s pretty lengthy, so I’m going to break it up into several pieces. The first of which is. . . . . . . .


It’s true what they say. . . .the first step is “Location, Location, Location”. The better location, the easier it is for you to WANT to pay rent. And that’s important. Think of this like any other relationship that you are about to start. Am I going to want to keep paying money EVERY single month on a location I don’t like being at? There are the obvious reasons to like a location.  Such as foot traffic and how it relates to your clients. But for us, at the end of the day, if we didn’t want to hang out there and spend most of our time in the area, we would have been wasting money and most of all, drive.

Christy and I looked at a 1/2 dozen places before we found the right spot for us. I know, sounds quick right? Well with a little planning and defining some rules, it really isn’t that hard. First download the “LoopNet” app to your phone. It’s like Zillow, but for commercial spaces. It allows you to specify how much you want to spend and how big of a space you are looking for. Next, decide where you want to be. If you want to be close to home, don’t look 25 miles away. If you want to be in Old Town Scottsdale, don’t look in Mesa. Sounds simple, I know, but its easy to see a space thats 50 miles away, cost $5 a square foot, and 6 months of free rent. So that’s why it can be hard sticking to those rules, but at the end of the day, it saved us a ton of time and kept us from even considering another location.

Alright, so things to consider when it comes to location.

1. Size – To me this is the first part to consider. No reason to go look at a 500SF place if you need 1000SF or vice versa. How big a space do you need? Figure a nice room size is 12×12 or about 150SF. OK, so maybe you need a “Shoot area”, an “Office”, Client viewing? Storage? What else? Now this is the part where I tell you how important it is to work with someone that knows how to design a floor plan, knows how to layout furniture, flow of a space, how make a space work for multi purposes, and so on and so forth. If you don’t know someone, pay someone. It’s important. If you don’t, you take the chance of hating your space because it doesn’t function or have expandability. Christy and I were fortunate that I come from an architectural background and had resources for both design and construction. I can get you names on both if you are interested. Either way, I see this as the first place that people say things that remind me of “Well, my brother has a camera, so why pay someone else to photograph my wedding?” – Now you can relate right? It matters, and you will be happier that you did. Worst case, work with an architecture student out of a college. They will be more than excited to do it for free.

2. Price – What’s the max that you think you can afford for the next year? And not, “how much can I afford when I open my awesome studio and I’m making 8 times as much as I am now?”. . . .no, how much can you afford to spend in the next year if you don’t make ANY more dough than you are right now. Actually, how much can you afford if you make LESS money? OK, got that number? take that number, and divide by 12, and then divide by the number of square footage you need. So, if I can afford $6000 a year, or $500 month, and need 700 square ft of space, that means I can spend roughly $8.50 a square foot. Now, most of what we were seeing in downtown Phoenix was 12, 15, $20+

2b. *** Surprise costs*** Many commercial spaces will have fees that are essentially like HOA fees. They are in addition to your SF price and are designed to cover landscaping, restroom, maintenance, security. . .etc, etc. Ours is $4.25 a SF. So make sure you watch for a NNN Lease. It’s linked so you can do some reading.

3. Decision time – If you find that you need 1,200SF of space, but can only spend $5000 a year, then it’s not likely going to work. But if you find that those first numbers map out and you can afford $15 a square foot and are finding several spaces in the area you want to be for $10 a SF, then you are good to go! One thing we were very set on was finding a what we could afford and committing to it. If the numbers didn’t match, then we would wait for a better deal and/or wait till we could spend more.

4. All Systems Go – Time to go look at these locations. Have a few mapped out and just drive around. See what the areas are like. Are there places to eat? What other business are around? Good places to meet clients?. . . .UM, WHAT? Places to meet clients? Yup! I know, you’re thinking, “YO Jasen, that’s what I’m getting a studio for! You’re dumb!”. OK, hear me out. Your Studio needs to be in an area that reflect the clients you want to attract. Not just inside your studio, the WHOLE area that your studio is in matters. Think about it. Ladies, if you are going to have a nice spa day, do you want to drive and park in the ghetto to go there? Nope! And lets say your consult is going well or you have a long shoot. How nice is it to be able to go have lunch with them or grab a mocha? Nice right?

5. Actual layout of the space. Where are the windows? Is the space long and skinny? Square? Triangle? Whatever it is. Call in that person that’s helping you with your floor plan and see if it’s going to work. Empty spaces feel incredibly smaller and different than they will filled up. But for example, if you have oddly angled walls, lots of demolition, bad floors, odd ceilings. . .all could make your space unsuitable for what you need. Remember the idea of fitting square pegs in round holes? Don’t be that person. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Trust your designer. Don’t fall in love too fast. Remember this is a new relationship, and nobody likes a stage 5 clinger.

Thanks to Jasen Arias of  Studio Moirae for putting this out there. We’re looking forward to the next installment in this series and as soon as WE have it, you’ll have it!

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