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Sep 3 / bschwartz

Google enlists VHT to enhance StreetView mapping

VHT Studios, the nationwide leader in real estate photography and digital marketing, recently announced today the launch of “See Inside Photography for Google.” The new service combines VHT Studios’ stunning photography and Google’s Street View virtual tour technology. It offers retail shops, restaurants, doctors’ offices, salons, gyms, and other small businesses throughout the Chicago area a powerful way to stand out on Google search results and attract more customers. And those in the business technology world are taking notice.

John Pletz of CRAIN’s Chicago said of VHT Studios’ Google Business Photos Launch:

AR-130839979.jpg&maxw=368&q=100&cb=20130924020431VHT Inc., which has been helping real estate agents sell homes online with better pictures, has been enlisted by Google Inc. to shoot spiffier images of commercial properties for its maps service.

The Rosemont-based company, which now calls itself VHT Studios, has built up an army of more than 150 professional photographers nationwide who work on contract.

Google is partnering with VHT as well as other photographers and agencies nationwide to get more pictures from inside local businesses as part of its StreetView product, which allows Google Maps users to see buildings as well as find their locations.

The effort, branded Google Business Photos, is part of the search-engine giant’s broader business of local search, in which location becomes a bigger part of electronic commerce. When someone searches for a local restaurant, for example, both a map and photos will show up.

VHT has launched the service, which it calls See Inside Photography, in Chicago but will expand to 20 cities over the next 12 months, CEO Brian Balduf says. The cost to provide pictures of products and the interior of a business, including a virtual walk-through, is $595.

“We shoot thousands of properties across the country every month,” Mr. Balduf says. “It’s what we already do, just a different market.”

He says it was always part of the plan for VHT to move into other markets. “We started with real estate because there are 5 to 10 million homes sold a year. Everything else is smaller.”

The company already shoots hotels for Orbitz Worldwide Inc., vacation rentals for and funeral homes for Service Corp. International.

Mr. Balduf, who recently returned to the CEO role after Alex Zoghlin left to become head of global technology at Hyatt Hotels Corp., says the Google partnership could help VHT double its business in the next 12 to 24 months.

He declines to disclose VHT’s revenue, but its sales are thought to be more than $10 million. The company launched 15 years ago and raised about $6.5 million in venture capital, though it’s been self-funded for the past six years.

VHT has about 50 employees, but Mr. Balduf says it will be staffing up for the new business, which will be labor-intensive because it involves serving large numbers of small companies.

“This will double the photography network, so we’re aggressively recruiting,” he says. “And we’re expanding the marketing side.” He plans to recruit about 100 college students and recent graduates on contract for the product.

See the Crain’s article here.

To learn more about how Google Business Photos can help your business attract attention on the web, visit VHT Studios’ See Inside Photography website or read our press release.