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Friday, July 25, 2014

FanCams have inventors, businesses smiling

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

I’ve always loved those photo booths in the mall.

You cram as many people as possible onto the tiny bench, make three goof-tastic faces, then wait for the machine to spit out the hilarious results, which end up taped to your mirror or marking the place in your books for years to come.

Now, a Wichita trio has come up with the 2012 version of a photo booth that is catching on across Wichita — and catching attention across the country.

It’s called FanCam, and it allows a business’ patrons or a party’s attendees to pose for photobooth-type pictures and instantly post them to Facebook. The idea is simple, but it’s proving to be a fun and effective marketing tool for local restaurants, clubs and other businesses.

It all started about a year ago when friends Alan Ebright and Chad Cox, a computer programmer, were trying to dream up ways to reinvigorate the Facebook page for Mead’s Corner, the coffee shop at 430 E. Douglas that’s owned by their church, First United Methodist Church.

The page had become stale, with the same 10 or so people making comments every few days. Ebright suggested a way to get people to post their own pictures on to the page while they were in the shop. Cox began figuring out how to make it work.

The first FanCam was put up on the wall at Mead’s Corner a year ago and was an immediate hit with customers.

“We put the thing up, and sure enough, people took their pictures,” Ebright said. “The insights page bears out the fact that not only do they put their picture up, but they come back pretty frequently not only to look at their own pictures but to look at pictures of other people in the business.”

The duo knew they were on to something and started thinking of ways to expand the idea. They met Mia Lee, the owner of a local marketing company. She also saw the potential of the idea and helped the inventors come up with ways to get it in other businesses. Now, she’s an equal partner in the venture.

A year later, FanCams are everywhere. The new Chick-fil-A at Central and Rock has one set up where people can use it while waiting in line.

There’s one at the Kansas Humane Society, at Northrock Lanes, at Salon Teased, at Subaru of Wichita, at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, and at a long list of other businesses in Wichita and in the Kansas City area. Lee says the business is starting to expand into the Oklahoma City area as well, and brides are starting to want FanCams at their weddings.

I found one when I went to the Cocktails & Cookies fundraiser for the Girl Scouts in February, and it was way fun to cheese it up with my friend Katie. It’s the only picture from the night we have because we were too busy stuffing our faces with dessert to think about digging for our cameras.

Fans simply find a FanCam, stand in front of it, hit a couple of buttons, and cheese. The photos are instantly posted on to the Facebook pages of the events or the businesses and collected in an album that can be viewed by anyone who visits the page.

Users can decide to share their e-mails with the business (or not share them), and businesses then can e-mail news and specials to FanCam users who want them.

As the business has developed, the inventors have come up with all types of cameras and features. Chick-fil-A managers asked for, and got, a camera they can move about the restaurant if they decide to. Some of the newer FanCams have options for filtering pictures, making them black and white or sepia-toned.

Brad Fuller, the owner/operator of Wichita’s new Chick-fil-A, said other franchisees across the country have asked how he got his FanCam.

“I think they’re on to something,” Fuller said. “They’ve got a fantastic idea. I like the way they’re trying to push the boundaries as much as they can locally to evolve the product to a point they can take it outside of Wichita. I’ll be one of their biggest cheerleaders.”

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or at dneil@wichitaeagle.com.

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