“You have to be relevant these days. If you’re not seen, you’re not relevant,” says Bobak Kalhor, owner of Apex Photo Studios in Downtown Los Angeles, which rents studio space and equipment to photographers and videographers. These days, the importance of being seen online cannot be underestimated. According to Cisco, video will account for 80 percent of all online traffic by 2019, and digital video creators now upload more content in 30 days than all three major U.S. TV networks have created in 30 years combined.
“Five years ago, if you were a dentist or a lawyer, or you are a mom-and-pop shop selling rugs, you didn’t need a video—the most you did was put an ad in the yellow pages. Times have changed. You need content,” Kalhor says.
On any given day at Apex Photo Studios, multiple TV, film, and photography projects are being shot on three separate floors of what used to be industrial manufacturing space. On the day we visited, light streamed in from floor-to-ceiling windows in Studio A, while hair and makeup artists prepped for an e-commerce shoot. In Studio B, photographers snapped photos of models against whitewashed brick walls and glossy concrete floors for a fashion company layout; in Studio D, a magazine was shooting a video interview. The rooftop has 360-degree views of the city skyline and is a frequent location for independent films and music videos.
The growing importance of video and the advent of Facebook Live video streaming has changed how businesses market their products. U.S. digital ad spending is expected to reach $83 billion in 2017, according to eMarketer, and the demand for visual content is driving many creators to the doors of studio rental businesses.
"Times have changed. You need content."
Several years ago, Kalhor noticed the demand for temporary spaces to do shoots and events. Coming from a real estate background, Kalhor has owned and managed buildings in Los Angeles for 30 years, renting mostly to long-term commercial and industrial clients. When he began getting requests to rent studio space, he and his business partner decided to capitalize on the opportunity. They cleared out the top floors of two buildings, completely gutted the space, rewired the electricity, and restored the original windows and floors.
Apex Photo Studios opened its doors in 2014. Although Kalhor did not come from a production background, he applied his years of experience working with other real estate clients to his new venture.
“We’re still renting real estate on a shorter basis, with more amenities, but it’s still the same concept,” Kalhor says. “We try to make them feel comfortable, we try to make them feel at home, we try to make it so that their business is conducted in an easy way.”
"We try to make it so that their business is conducted in an easy way."
The business has done so well that Kalhor is planning to expand Apex Photo Studios to several new locations. He initially considered renting new space or building out additional space, but in the end decided it would be best for the long-term success of the business to purchase new buildings.
“It’s a challenge and an exciting time for us,” he says. “Growth is not easy. When we grow we have to keep our standards, we have to keep the same service, we have to make sure the venues that we have are the same quality.”
He began looking into the best financing options. Commercial real estate loans have very different terms than residential property loans. The interest rate is generally higher and so is the required down payment. East West Bank senior relationship manager Flora Ling pointed Kalhor to SBA loans, which are backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), because of its better terms:
Kalhor talks more about his experience here:
Business is brisk these days at Apex Photo Studios. Kalhor recently equipped Apex with a green screen studio that can project 3D virtual sets, stream live video, and insert Skype video calls in high definition. His corporate clients use it to communicate with customers and employees, and produce their own talk shows.
“We’re seeing, as we cater to our clientele big or small, the demand is increasing,” Kalhor says. “It’s not going away.”