Given a camera and a couple of props, even the most stern businessman or nervous mother-of-the-bride loosens up.
That’s the idea behind the business, Say Fromage, which totes a photo booth, complete with funny hats, glasses and feather boas, to Springs parties and events. Party and event-goers are invited to pop into the booth and cement the memory with a gag and a smile.
Gabrielle Waters came up with the idea for the business, and the name, Say Fromage, French for “cheese,” was chosen in part because co-owner Zavier Fretard, is a French immigrant.
“We came up with some really bad names, things like ‘art box,’” Waters said. “Then we decided on Say Fromage, because Zaviar is French. And it’s kind of a joke. You look horrible if you actually say ‘fromage’ in a picture.”
The business idea was born when Waters attended a wedding in Boulder where a photo booth was at the reception.
“I thought it was the coolest idea,” she said. “And I knew we didn’t have anything like it in the Springs. I’m a native, and I thought, ‘We need cool things in the Springs, too.”
With that, she took a leap into the world of business about two years ago, no SBA loans, just $10,000 she saved from her salary from local radiology company Penrad Imaging.
“I researched, went to the library, that kind of thing,’ she said. “It was really challenging, very different from what I thought. I had to find out how to get a business license with the state, how to set up a business account at the bank.”
Once she had enough money saved, there was the matter of acquiring the booth.
She had seen public photo booths in Denver and at malls, but she wasn’t impressed.
“We wanted something that would stand out,” she said. “The others just weren’t classy enough.”
So, she and Fretard commissioned a Manitou Springs artist to design and build a booth.
The product, which they now use, is a giant black cubicle that boldly flashes their logo and weighs a ton. It makes its way to events by way of a trailer that attaches to an automobile.
“It’s too heavy,” Waters said. “We’re designing a new one. This one’s a beast to move.”
She and Fretard, who is an information technology officer for the Manitou School school district, don’t have any employees and still work their day jobs.
The business relies on word of mouth for advertising, and Waters says the business is doing OK despite the economy.
On average, Say Fromage appears at two events a month. Prices range from $795 for three hours to $1,195 for five hours. Bookings include unlimited photos, custom graphics for business or organization logos on photos and a plethora of gag props.
“We do a lot of proms, weddings, parties and things like that,” Waters said. “No matter where we go, people seem to love it.”
Waters expected business from the prom market, but recently she’s been getting more calls from businesses interested in the idea of embossing their logo across photos.
“It’s great advertising,” Waters said. “People love it. For instance, we’re doing an event with the (Pikes Peak) workforce center, and we have the event theme on the photos, along with a graphic.”
The workforce center is using Say Fromage for its annual training event for the second time.
Workforce center Business and Community Initiatives Director Michelle Graham, said she couldn’t be more pleased.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “We’re working on collaborations and training, and it’s great to use this as a way for people to open up, get more creative.”
Graham recalled one particularly stodgy co-worker.
“He was the guy who could get more done in a day than anyone else, the go-to guy,” she said. “But you rarely saw him smile. He got in the photo booth — and just turned on. It was great. Since then, he’s been more collaborative, more interested in working in teams.”
That’s something Waters is used to seeing.
“People really, really loosen up,” she said. “I get that. I love having my picture taken.”