VOL. 119 | NO. 3 | Wednesday, January 5, 2005
By Andy Meek
Mobile Photography Studio Caters to Pet Owners
The Daily News
Michael Sondag has a special
affection for the two dogs and three cats he keeps as pets. It partly comes
from being around animals nearly all his life, first during his childhood on a
farm in Southern Illinois and later through the various animal-related jobs
hes held in his career.
Recognizing a need. And
last summer, that love of animals gave him an idea. After noticing a lack of
diverse local services for pet owners, Sondag and
three partners decided to start a business with them in mind. The result was Lil Pals Pet Photography, a mobile photography studio that
opened in August and is already preparing to expand beyond Metro Memphis. In
addition to pet photos, the business sells personalized merchandise to pet
owners whose furry companions are ready for their close-up.
Sondag owns the business along
with Jim Wells, Dan Wilmoth and Ren
We saw an opening and an opportunity there that really
wasnt being met, Sondag said. There are so many
people today that treat their pet as a family member and would like to get
pictures of their pet taken, and theyll ask the groomers and the vet clinics
to provide them this service. What we do is provide this
ourselves, so that way the groomers and vet clinics dont have to go out and
find somebody to take pictures or do it on their own.
Office on wheels. Sondag spent four months securing an 8-foot by 20-foot
trailer that was fitted with a digital photography studio and an office. Employees
drive the studio-on-wheels to customers across Metro Memphis. Sondags stepson photographs the animals, and customers who
leave the studio with prints of their pets can choose among 50 different
personalized items available for purchase everything from mousepads
to mugs to keychains.
We want to be busy every week, Sondag
said. And weve been out as far as Tupelo, Selmer and Corinth (Miss.), and
weve done West Memphis, too.
Sondag said the mobile studio also
has served customers in Collierville, Germantown and Olive Branch. He believes the
success the venture has seen so far is due to the tight bond that exists
between pets and their owners.
One of the family. Its a
trend other animal professionals have noticed, too. Heather Godsey,
owner of a pet-sitting service based in the Berclair
and Walnut Grove neighborhoods, said more pet owners are treating their animals
like part of the family.
I see that more and more with every year that goes by, people
treating their pets like family members, she said. I can definitely tell a
difference in my dogs, when theyre inside with us more often. Theyre more obedient
and act better.
Sondag said pet owners come to him
with a variety of requests, and the studio accommodates them, for example, by
dressing pets up in mini-costumes. A special table has been installed in the
studio that can be elevated in case a pet gets restless. When the table is
raised, the pet is usually afraid to jump off and stays in place long enough
for the photo.
Interesting situations. The
business has several props that can be used to create photographs of all kinds,
be they serious or light-hearted. Situations involving the latter happen
frequently, and Sondag recalled several situations in
which pet owners brought in up to five dogs at a time to be photographed.
Or lets say they have three dogs and a cat, and the dogs
are afraid of the cat, he said, remembering other photo shoots. We had a big rottweiler in Hernando, and we had the rottweiler
sitting on a table with a little pug, and the pug just wouldnt leave that rottweiler alone. He could have just bit him and been gone,
but he caused all kind of havoc on that table.
Which leads to the inevitable comparison are pets as
difficult to situate for photographs as young children are?
Pets are easier, Sondag said,
Expansion plans. At the moment, Sondag
is looking to expand the studios reach. He is eyeing markets in Nashville,
Little Rock and Dallas, and hes close to opening another studio in St. Louis.
That is in addition to expanding his reach locally.
Lil Pals caters to customers with
pets ranging from parrots to dogs, by far the most popular subjects for photos
so far. And Sondag said no order yet has been too
tall to fill.
We havent turned anybody away, he said. In fact, I
remember we had rabbits at one animal hospital. It was the last sitting of the
day, and (the owner) wanted a little Western scene with little cowboy hats on
Lil Pals Pet
Owners: Michael Sondag, Jim
Wells, Dan Wilmoth and Ren Netherland
Basics: The studio-on-wheels offers photography and
personalized merchandise for pet owners.