I connected with Alicia and Lucia Civile, sisters from Gardiner, NY to hear the story of how they came to build their company, LACE Photo Media. After leaving upstate NY for almost a decade, Alicia returned to her hometown to join forces with her sister, combine their passions and take their work ethic into their own hands by helping brands and companies grow, rebrand, and humanly connect with their audiences...
Lucia and Alicia, thanks for taking the time to talk about LACE Photo Media with me. To begin, tell me about yourself, your background and how you started a business together...
Lucia: We grew up in a small town in the Hudson Valley called Gardiner. I started working in the restaurant industry during high school, first in the kitchen, where I really learned the meaning of hospitality. At age 16, I was this quiet, shy girl that for some reason, they put in the front of the store to make pasta and greet people entering the shop. From there, I was able to learn more about hospitality and moved into management where I evolved into working on websites and social media to grow the brand that I worked with.
I’m also a freelance photographer, and I saw how useful food photography could be to highlight businesses. By building their social media presence through imagery, I’d have people come in asking “Is the food really as good as it looks online?” A lot of past jobs have been about using social media to get people through the door. It’s a great way to see businesses grow through interest in the brand.
Alicia: I took a completely different path in the beginning of my career. I started in the architecture field, and was formally trained in design and essentially worked on branding buildings. The industry is pretty crazy though and I went from working in Miami to Columbus, from boutique firms to corporate, and suddenly realized that what I thought was my dream job was also killing me. It was eight years before my husband and I decided to move back home to NY and design the life we really wanted. One day soon after we moved back, Lucia and I were having breakfast together and I said to her hey, would you want to work together. She said yes and the rest we figured out from there. Collaborating just made sense based on the skills we have that compliment each other so well.
You mentioned that you both had been working in high paced, more corporate environments and took the risk to start your own business together, can you speak to that transition?
Lucia: The hospitality field, similarly to the architecture field is very demanding. I found myself working 80+ hour work weeks, which just weren’t ideal for me and my son...
Alicia: Or a life.
Lucia: In every sense, it was draining to my soul and energy and I asked myself, is it really worth it? If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, what’s the purpose?
Alicia: We realized if we were going to devote all of this time and energy to a corporation, why not do it for ourselves?
Run me through how LACE Photo Media went from concept to company:
Lucia: I had started the groundwork for LACE Photo Media as I was already doing photo marketing before teaming up with Alicia. I connected with Gardiner Association of Business (GAB), which had been at risk of being dissolved. I completely took over their branding and strategy to garner membership and participation.
It was a first step in proving what branding can do to revitalize a company. When I took it on, there were only 59 members and their Facebook hadn’t been touched in 2 years. So, I redid their website, refreshed their social media accounts, and went door-to-door to various local businesses, fostering excitement with new and old members. After one year, membership grew to more than double. GAB has been a great case study to show how much a business can expand with branding initiatives in play.
When Alicia jumped in to join forces, we dug deeper into how and what we could offer. Alicia had been working with major huge clients in her architecture career, so she was able to manage our own strategy to get organized, design our offerings, and put us out there as a major brand strategy and design firm. It was the perfect time to merge.
LACE Photo Media is helping businesses establish their brand and cultivate their media presence, is there a type of brand you gravitate towards, or hope to work with in the future?
Alicia: It’s been a really wide range so far, which is cool to be able to see how each niche operates. We take a customized approach to learn about each business before we try to represent it. At branding firms, to equate it to hospitality, they’re just trying to turn over business as fast as possible, but we take the time to figure it out.
In return, we’ve had a lot of referrals from those niche brands. Now, we’re seeing big, international brands that we’ve followed and known for a long time reach out to us! We’re up against major branding firms but we stand out because of our personalized approach.
Lucia: We focus on both small and large scale brands. Our mission is to help brands accurately and humanly connect and communicate their missions to their clientele, and if we can do that and see them grow, that’s our aim. We’ve worked with bigger brands in the health and wellness realm-- yoga studios, natural products, but we’re also open to helping whoever needs help. The fun part is the strategy, and for companies that have exhausted all avenues, or are just starting out, it’s great to help them see untapped possibilities.
What are some stand out examples of brands and their successful strategies that have inspired you and your own work?
Lucia: GAB has been an incredible partner to work with. We created a large event for the association, designed the graphics, and did the marketing and advertising to make it the huge success that it was. It’s called the GAB: Craft Market Walk. The first one ran in June of 2017 with over 2,500 people in attendance and we were able to raise money for the Assocation, the local library, and St. Jude Children’s Hospital. This is an event we look forward to running for years to come.
Alicia: This event was really great because we also got to see our own local economy prosper. After surveying business owners after the event, they said they’d experienced 2-3x the amount of sales as that same day the year prior.
In today’s world where focus is so heavily on digital, social media, where do you find that brands need the most guidance in?
Lucia: The biggest challenge that we see with each business that we help, especially in the digital arena, is how to connect with their potential clientele authentically. Spammy posts and advertising is obvious. We believe in relationship marketing, to help them engage with prospective and current clients. Hand to hand marketing gets overlooked when digital becomes the main focus. Social media is a great tool but it’s not everything. Building a relationship network is important.
Even for us, we’ve built relationships with local artists, graphic designers, illustrators, so we now have a team we can expand to, it’s a nice referral system. Larger corporations can feel like a large company without a person behind the voice. That’s a huge challenge when translating into social media.
Alicia: A lot of businesses are surprised that we actually care and listen. It seems like such a foundational strategy but it translates to every part of the business.
I work with my family too, and it definitely has its pros and cons. How do you find working together? Is it all roses?
Lucia: 95% of the time it’s roses and that’s much better than I can say for other jobs I’ve had!
Alicia: The best part about working together is comedic relief, we can joke together and not worry about taking it the wrong way. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that makes even the most stressful days fun.
What’s been most challenging about starting LACE Photo Media?
Alicia: One of the most challenging things has been the transition from running your own business versus being part of a company is that your have to generate your own clientele and paycheck. You might work really hard one week but not see the payoff for that push until months later, it’s kind of a mental hurdle, but the rewards really do pay off. We were already working so hard at our other jobs it’s a relief to now be able to set our own structures and direct all that effort into our own company.
Lucia: Anytime we are having a bad day, I just look outside and remind myself where I am right now, right on the mountainside in Gardiner. It’s so beautiful here. We love the countryside, we love visiting the city and being able to work with our clients, wherever they’re located–– but knowing this is our home and we can wear yoga pants instead of heels, we’re really happy about our choice.
And what’s been most rewarding?
Alicia: It’s great to see the impact that working with a client has on their business. There’s no guarantee when you hire a company to help with branding, but we can stand by our work knowing all of our clients are happy with our services and thriving.
Are there partner organizations/companies that you’ve been working with along the way/if so, who/what?
Lucia: We have a team of creatives on standby -- we are especially excited about our fantastic illustrator, Mark Draws Stuff Sometimes. He’s a hidden talent and doesn’t work with just anyone.
Alicia: We’ve also recently worked with an amazing portrait photographer, Luba Grosman Photography, who did our own business shoot for us. She shot all of the images of the two of us in the article.
What are your goals going forward?
Alicia: We’re working out of NY right now, and our hope is to create a successful template for this market and see it expand to other cities. We want to grow a network of satellite teams and artists that can emulate this lifestyle that we’ve built for ourselves.
Any advice to those thinking about starting their own business or with an idea but unsure how to go forward?
Alicia: Hire us for marketing and branding!
Lucia: Take the leap, start.
Alicia: You can get overwhelmed looking at all the things you have to do but you have to take the first step and let it unfold. You can’t plan for everything.
Lucia: Reach out to people. We love mentoring, just talk to them get feedback, get support. Do your market research. Get involved in your local community as much as possible (if you’re a local business) it’s good to make those connections and it supports everyone.
Alicia: Make sure you care and love what you do because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it. Don’t burn yourself out, hustle but also sleep.
Lucia: We take naps very seriously.
And to new brands who have their business but don’t know how to market themselves, do you have any starter advice?
Lucia and Alicia: People think of branding as just creating a logo and marketing materials, but you need to figure out your foundation first. Make sure you know your mission, values, why you are doing what you’re doing, and who you are benefiting and how. Those are the markers to check back into, and that helps create the image you share with your ideal target market. When there’s clarity on the foundational pieces, the visual brand design becomes a smooth translation of that.
Check out the work that LACE Photo Media is doing + follow them on Instagram @lacephotomedia.