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Couple: Peterson and Colette Louis
How long in relationship? Married since 2016
How long in business together? QC Booths since 2016 and QC Lights since 2019
Before starting photo booth company QC Booths five years ago, Peterson and Colette Louis had no experience in the events industry. The startup has now become a go-to event vendor locally, even snagging high-profile gigs like the 2018 Charlotte wedding of Sydel Curry-Lee, younger sister of NBA star and Charlotte native Steph Curry.
The couple spent over a decade in banking, but it was one of Colette’s DIY projects during their holiday party in 2015 that sparked the business idea for Pete.
“She put up a red backdrop on the wall and taped it up. It was a frame from Goodwill that she spray painted,” he said. “Everyone who came in the house that day for the party took a picture. Since then, I had been thinking about photo booths.”
After finding success with QC Booths, they introduced their marquee lights service, QC Lights, in 2019 after seeing a void in the Charlotte market for the wedding trend made popular in the early 2010s.
With social gathering at the heart of their businesses, the Louises suffered losses due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Pete lost his full-time banking position and most in-person events were canceled. However, they’ve weathered the storm and found new opportunities too.
In a recent interview, Pete and Colette spoke with QCity Metro about how they overcame a steep learning curve after launching QC Booths, how they fared as business owners in 2020 and their outlook as more people get vaccinated.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How do you go from experience in banking to running a photo booth company?
Colette: We came in with no experience and had to teach ourselves. We had to learn the market, even influencers in Charlotte and where to go in Charlotte. We had to learn how to use the camera, how to make designs and everything. Our wedding reception was our first event. We actually brought out the photo booth.
Pete: There are plenty of Facebook groups for photo booths, so we learned from the community that’s already out there. I joined the Facebook groups to get with people and bounce ideas off of each other. I had to watch YouTube videos and teach myself how to use the software.
Colette: There’s so much information on Instagram. You’d be surprised if you just take the time to research it. That’s helped me a lot.
Pete: Social media helped us learn how to get our business together, things that we needed and how to market ourselves.
Q. What are the roles? Who does what?
Pete: It’s changed over the years. It started with us both showing up for the photo booth events. Then, we got pregnant and Colette slowed down. She took on designing everybody’s border template for their photos since she’s more creative.
Colette: Not only that, I was doing payroll and scheduling — a lot of the administrative tasks. He did all of the technical things with the software and he handled marketing.
The thing with owning a business and being married to your partner is knowing your strengths. I know that being creative is what makes me happy and brings me joy. For him, having an established business, and it being well constructed, that brings him joy. Starting our business was a way for us to create our own happiness and work for ourselves.
Q. What inspired you to start QC Lights?
Pete: I got the inspiration from overseas, in markets like Australia. I saw there weren’t a lot of companies in Charlotte doing marquee lights and doing it well. If I could do well marketing the photo booth, then I knew I could do well with marketing the marquee lights. We did a few events, and as business started to pick up, the pandemic shut everything down.
Q. Talk about how the businesses were doing before the pandemic hit?
Colette: We were at the point where he was considering leaving his job because we were doing so well.
Q. So you were still working 9-to-5 jobs?
Colette: When I had Cami [in 2018], because the business had been doing so well, I started working full-time for QC Booths. It compensated my income and allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom. He still worked full time, which was a lot.
Pete: I was about a week away from turning in my resignation.
Colette: Then, we saw the news about Covid in China, but I said, “It’s so far away.” He said, “I feel like I should just wait a little bit.”
Pete: The week after I planned to give my notice, that’s when the whole city of Charlotte shut down.
Q. What were some of the Covid effects on you as business owners?
Pete: Throughout the year, we probably do anywhere from 100 to 130 events. So by March  we probably had another 30-40 events on the books.
Colette: You pay in advance, so a lot of people had already paid for it. Everything in April, May, June, July, all had to be rescheduled. It was also getting into wedding season, which was when we’re at our busiest.
Pete: It was hard to even stay engaged with our employees because they’re not going out to events. In those three to four months when Charlotte was really shut down, you talk to them maybe once every two months just to see if they’d come back once things started opening up. Even those conversations were pretty hard because you have to ask your employees would they feel comfortable going to events where they wouldn’t know these folks.
Colette: Covid was hard on us mentally more than anything.
Q. Without in-person events, how were you getting by?
Colette: I’m a thrifter, so I was trying to figure out how I could contribute. I was buying things for $1 and then sell it on Facebook marketplace for $10. You try to find different ways to hustle. Then, everyone was saying I should put Cami on Instagram. I had tons of pictures, and I had time, and that’s how CamiFroBabe was born.
Last year, Pete lost his job, but because of that, I’ve been able to focus on CamiFroBabe. I still work for QC Booths, but he’s able to focus on the payroll. As our lives have changed, roles have kind of changed too. So he’s made a focus on that, and I can stay in my creative space.
Pete: The downtime gave me time to sharpen the operational aspects of both businesses, even doing some free events with vendors we know from the industry. We’d say, ‘Hey, when you have something, let me know.’ I’d bring my lights there just to market.’
Q. When did business start to turn a corner?
Pete: When the state started to slowly open last year, QC Lights started to boom because people were having smaller events, but they still wanted that impact piece. We did like 80 events between August and December. I knew from there that it was something that we wanted to stick with. It’s one of those things where I can just set it up and leave. I don’t have to attend the entire time and be another person to possibly pass around a virus.
Q. What would you say to would-be business owners who don’t feel like they have all the tools to get started?
Colette: You don’t necessarily have to have a loan to start a business, but you can hustle and grind to figure out a way to get the resources you need. Before we started the photo booth, Pete was refereeing to make money to buy the photo booth.
Also, you have to keep researching and learning. You have to take the time to learn your market. Will you make enough money to be able to survive doing this? Or is this something that’s a fad and will be gone next month?
Pete: Then once you do your research, always present yourself professionally in every way that you market your brand. You always want to put your best foot forward.
Q. What’s next? What are you looking forward to this year?
Pete: When it comes to photo booths, there’s always a new trend so we try to keep our eye out on those. We’re going to keep on doing what we’re doing but also ensuring that we have what everybody wants.
I can enjoy myself with my family on the weekends because a lot of times with these event-type companies, they take your weekends away. But I’ve created a business structure where I have employees, and I don’t have to work these long hours anymore. Perfect your process to the point where the business can run itself.