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Franchise operation launched in U.S. from Reno beachhead

John Seelmeyer

Randy and Sue Sidwell of Reno were semi-retired after a successful run selling Mailboxes Etc. franchises in northern Nevada and California for two decades.

But they’re back in the franchise sales business as the first Americans to begin developing territories for Open2view.com, a New Zealand company that targets the world of residential real estate photography and Web sites.

It’s a business that’s dominated today by individual photographers who strike their own deals with real estate agents, as well as real estate firms that showcase their own listings on individual Web sites.

Open2view.com looks to bring some consistency and uniformity to the business through a network of franchised photography operations and a Web site that displays photo-heavy property listings. The site directs shoppers to the listing agent.

About 135 photographers are working as Open2view franchisees in New Zealand, and a similar number are at work in Australia.

The Sidwells, who own the rights to develop franchises in Nevada, say they believe the Reno-Sparks area can support about three photography franchises, and the Lake Tahoe area can support a fourth.

Roughly, they figure a market of 60-80 real estate agents in a geographic area is enough to support an individual franchise.

In the Open2view business model, the photography franchisee makes $60 for a shoot that typically runs a couple of hours. The rest of the $200 basic fee add-ons cover services such as 360-degree virtual tours paid by real estate agents covers the cost of national marketing and flows upstream to the parent company and the franchise-development organization.

A key selling point, says Randy Sidwell, will be the relatively low cost of entry for franchisees. The company estimates those costs at $35,000 to $65,000, far below the costs required for most brick-and-mortar franchises that involve real estate.

A big factor in the investment cost is the franchisee’s decision to either buy or lease a specially designed van that includes a 66-foot pole for taking high-elevation photographs of properties.

The company supports the franchisees with marketing materials such as cards hand-delivered to neighboring properties after a photo shoot. The thinking? Neighbors who are likely to spread the word among potential buyers.

Open2view was drawn to the U.S. market because Americans looking at home listings in Australia and New Zealand have accounted for about 9 percent of the company’s Web traffic in those two countries, says Eric Chase, who oversees development of the U.S. market.

The Sidwells are working on the nationwide rollout of Open2view.com, advising Chase and his team on shaping the product and the pitch for American markets.