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Published:  19 May, 2008

Photo booths have been a source of non-rental income for shopping centres for years, but since the introduction of digital photography, the options open to landlords have grown significantly.

Photo-Me International has approximately 5,000 photo booths located in the highest footfall sites within the UK, and is continuously striving to deliver the most technologically advanced machines.

Photo-Me has developed new software which helps customers to take passport photos that comply with the UK Passport Standards. The booth interacts with the customer after each pose by highlighting any aspects of the photo that breach the regulations - for example, the mouth must be closed, the eyes must be clearly visible and a neutral expression is required.

Throughout 2007 Photo-Me re-branded all its photo booths throughout the UK with a new image, and all its advertising now displays the new model, emphasising the fact that new technology enables the booths to assist customers in complying with the Passport Standards.

The advent of digital technology also means that the way shopping centres are able to profit from the installation of photo booths is being revolutionised.

While shopping centres have always used a photo booth operator and have always been happy with a 25 to 30 per cent profit from the takings, Easy-ID points out that mall owners could earn far more from leasing or buying a machine outright.

Carl Hughes from Easy-ID, which sells machines for £8,000 or leases them for £2,000 a year over five years, says there is the potential for some photo booths to take in excess of £100,000 per year.

"That's £100,000 per year from less than a square metre of floor space," he says. "So what possible reason could anyone have to hand over the majority of that income to a photo booth operator?

"In the past you had no choice because the machines were large and expensive. They contained hazardous chemicals and required regular weekly maintenance by trained photo booth engineers to keep them up and running. The only way to provide this service was via a photo booth operator who would supply the machine, change the chemicals and take the cash away."

Hughes points out that in the late 90s digital technology meant that photo booths became far easier to maintain, with any member of staff able to change the paper and ink cassette in a matter of seconds. However, shopping centres still continued to work on a commission basis and even now seem not to have considered buying a machine outright.

Hughes says: "Easy-ID has manufactured photo booths in the UK since 2000 and has sold or leased hundreds of them. They contain no chemicals and regular service is limited to changing the paper and ink cassette, which takes just a couple of minutes. There's not much more to it than that, even the weekly visit from the service engineer is no longer required.

"The costs associated with leasing a photo booth are often just a very small fraction of the takings, leaving the majority of the income with the booth's owner."

Hughes says landlords can double, and often triple, the takings by buying their own photo booth. And he believes the cost of buying the machine is quickly recouped. "Some photo booths really can take £100,000 a year and if the centre is only receiving 25 per cent, then that's just £25,000," he says. "If they lease it for £2,000 a year, then £98,000 will be theirs to keep. If it takes £20,000 a year then at 25 per cent that will be £5,000, while with us that would be £18,000.

"Of course if a site is taking only £2,000 a year there's no point in them renting a booth from us because they would just be breaking even, while they will get 25 per cent of the profit from using a photo booth operator, but if you are seeing a certain amount of turnover, it's well worth it."