The Bus Blog

Intrepid female duo take big risk during Calgary downturn: “We’re unstoppable”

March 8, 2018

International Women’s Day celebrates women in many capacities — including business owners

If you were planning to start a new business venture in Calgary, 2015 was not an ideal year. After the enormous drop in oil prices in 2014, energy companies were shedding jobs and the trickle down affect hit Alberta’s economy hard. But two local and intrepid businesswomen took a chance with a unique idea that has not only been extremely successful, but spread much joy and laughter in a city where there were many reasons to be glum.


On a cold winter day three years ago Jo Williams of Not Your Average Jo Communications was reading a magazine feature about a California-based Volkswagen cargo bus Photo Booth, her skill at spotting an untapped business opportunity went into overdrive. Traditional interactive photo booths, the rise in popularity of mobile trucks and the retro vintage movement were three very established and growing trends within the Calgary events scene. But some research on her part showed there was nothing like the VW Photo Booth in Western Canada, or for that matter in the country. Ever the optimist and convinced she had a sure winner, she booked a gig for a client’s event for two months away, and then phoned her business colleague, Monique de St. Croix, a globe-trotting photographer, to tell her they needed to buy a vintage VW bus.


Shortly after, Williams and de St. Croix were the proud owners of Buttercup, their newly christened 1972 VW cargo bus. The two women spent the next days and weeks refitting the camper and overseeing cabinet makers, fabric designers, IT professionals and helpful friends preparing their baby for her final destiny as a Photomobile. In keeping with their entry into the VW Vintage subculture, the two decided on the name Hip Image for their new business venture.


Although it all started with a vintage VW camper, Hip Image is anything but old-fashioned — Buttercup and the expanded fleet — come fit with a built-in high tech social digital booth which allows clients to build brand loyalty and create digital and physical visual memories worth sharing all while producing dynamic and interactive event entertainment at Calgary and area events. Prints snapped on a DSLR are developed within seconds for event guest enjoyment and they can share the good times with friends via social media on the spot with custom-branded images.


“When we first started the business, people would approach my husband and ask him all sorts of questions about the VW, the retrofitting process and the business as a whole,” said Williams. “He would simply point to Monique and myself and tell them to go ask the owners. When you’re in a business that involves what some think are male-oriented elements such as vehicles, it shines a light on that notion. But we know that women are 100% capable of doing anything we set our minds to. It’s been a great trip and pleasure partnering with another fully competent woman in this venture.”


“After everything we’ve been through, I know that we’re unstoppable.”


More than just the big lips and silly sunglasses often seen at photo booths, Hip Image goes all out to style events — for the Calgary RV Trade Show as part of the Rangeland RV award winning setup and display, they brought out all the camping props, from the infamous beaver to ridiculous looking trapper hats, the standard goofy glasses, a big fish, some little fish, lumberjack red plaid, binoculars, lanterns and some new animal masks (owl, bear, deer and frog) that made anything fun.


Customers can also request a vintage-styled pop-up set or a sophisticated green-screen that allows for jaw-dropping digital effects and background. By offering a safe place to be silly and let loose with Hip Image’s wide array of unique props and an opportunity to up the ante at local events and increase brand awareness, Hip Image has been a huge hit — United Way of Calgary and area, TELUS Spark, ATB Financial, the City of Calgary, Brookfield Properties and the University of Calgary are just some of the clients on their long list.


The co-owners met while working at the Red Cross several years ago, and it’s in their DNA to help Calgary not -for-profits such as supporting the Alberta Ballet and Inn from the Cold events. Outside of Hip Image, the pair of female entrepreneurs are active volunteers. Williams volunteers with her community association and a variety of other causes. De St. Croix has an ongoing commitment with Alberta Fundraising Professionals in support of National Philanthropy Day celebrations.


Williams and de St. Croix have had many adventures along the way — some more life-threatening than others — such as realizing they had a very serious fuel leak on one of Buttercup’s first forays after her refit — to loading Buttercup up into the tightest spots imaginable inclulding elevators!


Business has been so good, Hip Image has added Bert the Boler, a revamped Boler trailer unique to Canadian history — the Boler was invented and manufactured in Winnipeg in 1968 and are making a huge comeback recently — and a gorgeous open air indoor unit to its available photo booths, as well as hired several staff so they can offer teams for larger events or when they have multiple events scheduled on the same day. Also included at events now is a professional photo grade Hashtag Printer that works hand-in-hand with Instagram to provide guests with a custom branded take-home photo and drives social traffic to build brands.


“We love the interaction with the incredible guests who are always willing to try our unusual prop combinations and to tell us their crazy and interesting stories,” says Williams. “Everyone’s the same when you get out the props and people can really be silly and let loose.”


As demand continues to grow and mobile businesses become even more popular, the pair see adding to their fleet in the future. Interested in learning more? Contact the duo.

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