Connect
To Top

Meet April Lehman and Erin Grace of DarlingThree Photostop in East Mesa

Today we’d like to introduce you to April Lehman and Erin Grace.

We have always been artists. Design. Create. Repeat. We are actually quite addicted to it. For many years we lived in different states: April lived in California and Erin here in Arizona. Being sisters, we always just “felt” we were meant to do something together in the creative genre. April was a Youth and Children’s Minister for many years. A large part of that is planning and orchestrating events. Being an artist by nature, there was always an over-the-top theme incorporated to any event…and there was a lot of photography! Erin had many years in retail marketing assisting with visual sets with the goal of drawing people into the business. We became moms within five months of each other back in 2009. Since then, we have been crafting and curating milestone photos for our kids (in addition to all the other creative things we always do).

Flash forward to about three years ago and we both are living in the same state again. We both had two children each at the time. We always received compliments on our creations from friends and family. We became frustrated by what the options available to parents were for milestone or thematic photos. You could go to the mall and see Santa or the Easter Bunny and pay upwards of $30 for a singular photo and the scenes are typical and lack creativity. Or, you could hire a professional photographer. Not many can afford this option consistently, and it certainly wasn’t an option for us at the time. A handful of years ago we noticed it’s becoming more on-trend for photographers to curate a scene that barely touches on a holiday or season without it looking over-done, and that’s what we had been doing since our children were babies. So we thought, how could we do what we had already done for years, and what photographers had been doing as well, but do it bigger and better and offer that to parents just like us? Turns out this is an incredibly popular business concept all over the world!

For us, this was a business idea born out of frustration. Notice we said three years ago we wanted to dive into this business. Our idea was put on hold as we both were thrown the curveballs of surprise pregnancies. As luck would have it, they were both incredibly challenging pregnancies. So, we waited. We began brainstorming again Fall 2017 with the goal to open Summer 2018 once our kids were out of school and we had more flexibility. We opened in July ’18, so we are still incredibly new but are thrilled with the response we’ve received and the families we’ve served. The creative outlet has been fantastic and we are able to create on a scale we never have before. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
You often hear about how supportive and kind the small business owner community is. This is almost one hundred percent accurate. We both absolutely and to our core celebrate other creatives, businesses, and makers and patronize those who may even be seen as competition to us when we can. We all make each other better, at least that’s how we feel. However, it is quite obvious when other businesses don’t want to forge that same community. We’ve experienced this firsthand. A simple internet search reveals this basic business model of creating backdrops and letting the public use them is not unique and has been done for years, whether speaking about the United States or abroad. It’s not what a business does; it’s how they do it that is the difference. How do they treat people? How do they speak about other businesses? Are they honest?

Similar businesses can and do exist at the same time. Everyone has their own form of beauty to contribute. EVERYONE. There are hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of businesses that offer similar products and services to their customers in this state, country, and world – each offering their own uniqueness and treating their clientele only how they can. Any attempts made to jeopardize another businesses success is not only baffling but incredibly sad. These actions, whether in word or by deed, are forms of slander, breed negativity, and absolutely crush any sense of community. Unfortunately, we have been on the receiving end of these attempts. Have you heard the ancient Scripture “there is nothing new under the sun?” It’s so true. There are no new ideas – just different ways of doing them.

So, has this road been smooth? Not exactly, but we wouldn’t say it’s been overly tumultuous either. We’ve also been targeted with unkindness and resentment, which has hurt one of our social media channels for many months. And since we’ve only had our social media channels open since July, this is somewhat disconcerting to navigate. We didn’t anticipate this because the things we post are beautiful scenes with cute children and about events for families. So innocent, right? However, there will always be people who sling mud. We know this will all eventually be a small bump in our road and this has forced us to think more creatively how we can share our offerings with the public.

We are actually really excited about all the ideas we never considered and avenues of creativity these growing pains have given us. Our customers have been incredibly kind, thoughtful, supportive, and have rallied around us during this blip. We have met some of the sweetest individuals and kindest business owners all because of the internet! Kindness always wins and true character is always revealed over time. Through all of it, however, we are really grateful for all the people we have met and the community we are part of.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the DarlingThree Photostop story. Tell us more about the business.
We take the modern flair parents want to see in a photo of their child or family and create a photo backdrop to match. People want handmade, but they don’t want it to look handmade. People also want exclusivity. That’s where we come in. We open up our outdoor studio periodically and offer the public to use our one-of-a-kind photo backdrops for an insanely small fee. We create for private events and even offer our creations for professional photographers. We are different in the sense that we do have the skills and expertise needed to create the backdrop products parents want: carpentry, design experience, color balance, light balance, and photography skill. On top of just creating a photo backdrop, we provide an experience. We know there’s a thousand other things that go into getting a great photo of your child or family. We aim to take the pressure of taking photos of the parent and provide all the necessary tools to keep their kids happy.

One aspect of our business we are really proud of aside from the creativity and outstanding quality and depth to our creations is we aim to teach parents HOW to get better photos with their cameras and phone. Yes, phones, in particular, have come a long way, but if you don’t know how to use it, you likely aren’t getting the quality of photo you could be getting. We absolutely take customer care and your experience and outcome as top priority. It is almost palpable the pride we can feel coming from the parents who come to us. Watching the picture magic happen before our eyes are one of the best feelings in the world. As moms ourselves, we know that feeling. When you get great photos of your babies, you can’t help but look at them over and over again. And each time you do, the feeling of pride swells up more and more. You won’t see our creations anywhere else.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
We don’t believe in luck, we believe in circumstance. We know that it is hard work and what you do that breeds success. You can spin your situation to work for you or not. You need to rise above and develop a mindset that will truly set you apart from the rest. It may seem that others have luck, but that just isn’t the case. What does luck even mean? Is it a mythical entity that some have and others don’t? That’s how it seems most describe luck. When you focus on luck in those terms, it can actually foster a very negative mindset because it is an ideal that is entirely based on things that are out of your control. More than the hard physical work you put in, it’s also the hard work you put into the relationships you build; whether that’s with your customers or with other businesses. You must have integrity in all that you create, all that you say, and in all the ways you treat others.

Pricing:

  • Public Backdrop Use: $15-$25
  • Private Backdrop Use: $50
  • Rental for Events: Starting at $125 (Prices negotiable here)
  • Custom Creations: Typically starting at $175 (Prices very negotiable here)
  • Photographer Use: Starting at $40/hour

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in