By Brandon B. QuinnOver the past few weeks, Main Street Westhampton Beach businesses have been going virtual, opening their doors to a local photographer in the hopes of harnessing the power of Google.Michael Cody, a graduate of Southampton College who lives in Greenport, recently retired from a 10-year stint as a wedding photographer and “was looking for a new avenue to channel my creativity.”
“A friend of mine up in Maine was working for Google, using their Street View technology to upload three-dimensional tours of buildings to the site and he offered to get me involved,” Mr. Cody said this week. “I saw the value of the service and I thought it was right up my alley. I figured it’d be an easy sell because of the enormous value and benefits for a business.”
In essence, the Street View Inside project allows business owners to pay a one-time publication fee to any certified photographer, who in turn creates a virtual tour, uploads it to Google Maps, gives the business enhanced search parameters on the search site, and adds the tour to the business’s Google+ page. The businesses own the pictures, so they are able to upload the tour to their own business websites as well.
After sending his credentials to Google, enduring an “extensive and intensive” online training program, passing written and practical tests and becoming fully certified by Google, Mr. Cody became an independent contractor for the tech giant.
“I’m pretty much it on the island. I’m the only certified photographer around, so the opportunities are endless,” said a smiling Mr. Cody.
Sal Campo and Jim Hicks, Mr. Cody’s business partners and lifelong friends, are the salesmen for the photographer’s services.
“We go in with an iPad, show an owner or manager what their Google search looks like currently, and what it could look like after we come in. It basically sells itself at that point,” Mr. Campo said. “It is such a good service, there isn’t much of a difference between a salesperson and an order taker. I don’t need to sell anything.”
The virtual tour sells for anywhere between $475 and $2,200, based solely on how many “capture points” the shoot requires—which is dependent on the physical size of the business.
“Some jobs are more difficult than others,” said Mr. Cody during an interview at Island Surf, located at 49 Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach. “A place like [this] has a lot of merchandise, which I wanted to show off when I shot it. With a restaurant, you want to show more of the ambiance and the views, get the essence. So each pose their own challenges.”
While each unique business poses a new challenge to Mr. Cody, having a permanent web advertisement poses unique opportunities for each business.
“We are year-round now,” said Amie Cancellieri, the general manager of the Margarita Grille on Main Street in Westhampton Beach. “Now, customers will be able to know that we have indoor and outdoor seating, because we chose to showcase the inside of the restaurant and our new bar. The outside, which we’re known for, is barely shown.”
For Pietro Bottero, general manager of The Patio at 54 Main in the village, the investment was one worth making because “without walking in the door, customers can know what our restaurant empirically looks like. They can match the pictures to the reviews we get online, which are often about the atmosphere.”
Mr. Bottero said Street View Inside is more beneficial to restaurants than other businesses because they are more oriented with getting online reviews. “People will Google a restaurant seeking reviews; they don’t necessarily Google an architect or a toy store,” he added.
Calling it “a natural fit for restaurants,” Mr. Campo agrees that the service probably benefits restaurants more than others. He did note that most stores want to show off their merchandise.
Which is why those at Island Surf are “pretty stoked about it,” according to salesperson Mike Lennon.
“Maybe you can see what a restaurant looks like, but you can’t taste the food on the virtual tour,” he said. “Here, viewers can see exactly what we have to offer. It’s cool to be a trend-setter and be part of this innovative experience.”
Even the most traditional businesses are open to utilizing Inside Street View, for one reason or another.
“Everybody who has it loves it, because they’re proud of their stores. They want to show their work off,” Mr. Cody said. “I did a small barbershop in Nassau County. The owner didn’t even have a website, but what he wanted to do was show his family back in Croatia his shop.”