via Confess Media
Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
It’s the ultimate Las Vegas photo opportunity: Two tourists from North Carolina are showered with cash, standing in front of the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign on the Strip.
Only in this case, the only real components are the North Carolinians, Veronica Miller and Mildred Wilson. The cash is fake and instead of Las Vegas Boulevard, they’re standing on a red carpet near baggage claim at McCarran International Airport.
Sure, it’s not the real Las Vegas sign, but it’ll do.
Alex Dixon, 31, and three of his high school buddies watched last week as their latest customers enjoyed the experience offered by their new business, Confess, which launched March 1. The business offers customers a quick studio-quality photo at a Las Vegas “landmark,” along with a quick photographic print and a digital copy sent to the customer’s email for easy uploading to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“There’s a natural demand taking place,” Dixon said.
“There’s all these characters on the Strip,” said Dixon, who works for a hospitality company.
Dixon was amazed at the number of people who actually stopped and took a picture with Michael Jackson and Elvis impersonators. The person inside a costume of the Las Vegas sign intrigued him the most.
“I like the concept, but I’d like to have a real business,” Dixon recalled thinking.
Dixon mentioned his idea to friends Justin Anderson, Justin Barkhuff and Sean Retke, all members of the class of 1999 at Durango High School.
“As soon as I heard about it, I thought it was a fabulous idea,” Retke said.
The four hope to turn a profit by giving a classic photo op to arriving visitors, sooner rather than later, by setting up shop near the McCarran baggage claim.
“They were the first ones to welcome us to Las Vegas,” said Wilson, in town celebrating her 44th birthday. “It’s wonderful.”
The studio area is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily to welcome travelers to the city.
“We are the group in Hawaii that puts on the leis,” Anderson said in a metaphorical sense. “You’re in and out in five minutes.”
For $10, customers receive a 4 X 6 printed photo in a photo holder and are emailed a digital copy of the photo they’ve purchased. The email is embedded with links to Twitter and Facebook for easy uploading.
“We really leverage technology,” Dixon said.
The company uses Mac laptops and iPads. Barkhuff created the software that uploads the photos straight from a mounted camera to the iPad display screen.
About 10 people are employed though the new operation, many of them college students with flexible schedules.
Gelela Fikre, a UNLV health care administration student who works as a photographer for the business, said tourists don’t have to deal with the parking, weather, lighting or crossing lanes of busy traffic they would if they walked to the real sign planted on the south end of the Strip
“The pictures always come out nice,” Fikre said of the airport shots.
The space is not a permanent structure and can easily be taken down and set up elsewhere if necessary. Dixon had to draft a lease and work with a company that handles McCarran’s advertising to rent the space.
“Starting a business is risky,” Dixon said. “The hardest part was the sweat equity.”
After getting employees through required airport background checks and buying the needed materials and equipment, the business was ready to launch. The four business partners didn’t need to worry about purchasing rights to use the image of the Las Vegas sign, since it’s not trademarked.
Dixon and his business partners hope to attract some of the millions of people who walk through the airport.
“We absolutely would love to get a showgirl or a leprechaun (for St. Patrick’s Day),” Dixon said.
Keeping the atmosphere in the airport fun is also among Dixon’s other goals for the company.
“In my view, Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world, and the airport should reflect that reality,” he said.