February 2010, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
Steven Toyota Invests in Top-Notch Photo Studio
It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Steven Sodikoff, dealer principal of Steven Toyota Scion in Harrisonburg, Va., believes it applies to his inventory. Recently, Sodikoff invested heavily in his dealership’s online presence in a rather unusual way. He took an empty service facility and transformed it into a high-tech photography studio.
As with most improvements in a dealership, this one started with a problem. Sodikoff, an avid photographer himself, wasn’t happy with vehicle photos on his Web site—or any dealer’s Web site photos, for that matter. So over several months and with a lot of trial and error, Sodikoff and Chris Frey found the right combination of size, color and lighting to create fabulous vehicle photos. Frey, Internet manager, has been eager to learn about the automotive industry, the Internet department and most importantly (at the moment) photography.
Sodikoff said, “I hired the best technical guy I could find. I wanted someone with a lot of technical skill.” Frey, who has a degree in computer technology, is anxious to improve the dealership’s Web site and understands that the only thing that may separate their vehicle from their competitor’s is how well the vehicle is represented through photos.
Sodikoff said, “Without a doubt, the first used vehicle photo we took in our studio was better than any used vehicle photo on any dealer Web site.” Since they started posting their photos, customers often call to ask if they can see the “real” photos, and Frey has to explain that they are looking at the real photos.
The studio backdrop is approximately 50 feet wide, 14 feet tall and 14 feet deep. The walls had to be rounded at the bottom to flow into the floor to eliminate even a hint of lines in the photos, and that was probably the biggest challenge in creating the backdrop. The next challenge was lighting. Sodikoff chuckled and said, “I originally thought we could purchase some construction-type lighting and make it work, but the lighting was all wrong and we couldn’t control it enough.” Instead, he invested in the proper photography lighting and then software. The software allows Frey to take the photos while looking at his computer screen, which means he immediately knows if he needs to make an adjustment and take another photo to get the right shot.
After photographing hundreds of vehicles (the dealership usually has about 300 units in stock), Frey now has a system for photos. He begins by taking an angled view that shows the dealer plate on the front of the vehicle; then he takes shots of all basic angles of the vehicle, the interior and the odometer. “The odometer is the challenging shot due to the lighting inside the vehicle, but after a lot of practice, I now know what to do,” said Frey
Frey has learned a lot since beginning this project—how to set lighting for great photos, adjust contrast when a photo isn’t quite right, remove shadows, and resize and load images on the dealership Web site. Sodikoff is even sending Frey to a Photoshop class to hone his skills his photo editing skills. However, Frey does not touch up any blemishes in the vehicles. “I want the customers to see the best photo possible, but I do not want to misrepresent anything,” Frey said.
In the beginning, the studio was about taking inventory photos, but the dealership is finding more and more ways to use the studio. They have begun taking photos of customers with their vehicle purchase, and they provide the customer with a studio-quality 8-by-10 photo. Eventually, they would like to incorporate some of those photos on the testimonials page of their Web site and update their staff photos. The ability to take photos of this quality will allow them to capitalize on many free advertising and marketing opportunities to raise awareness of their dealership. Sodikoff just might have made an investment that will pay dividends for a long time to come.
The Steven Toyota photo studio was created in an unused service building on the dealership complex in Harrisonburg, VA. The studio backdrop, a solid build structure, is 10,000 square feet and can easily accommodate any vehicle the dealership needs to photograph.
Recently, the dealership co-sponsored a James Madison University Scion dance party and the photo studio was used for a shoot to promote the event. They took pictures throughout the vehicle decoration process with the JMU Mascot and cheerleaders.
Vol. 7, Issue 1