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September 16, 2013

Picturing a new future

VALDOSTA — The son of a successful entrepreneur, it is not surprising to see that Jerome Riley followed in his footsteps.

He began working in his family’s business of Riley Church Pews as a child. Working alongside his father, J.C. Riley, Jerome gained a strong work ethic at a very young age.

“I was able to afford my own school clothes, which was a big deal back then because then I could get whatever I wanted,” says Jerome Riley.

A 6,000-square-foot workshop is where the father and son, along with a small group of workers, built church pews. Not only building them, but also upholstering and delivering them to churches. However, in 2010, the company decided to just sell church pews and get out of the manufacturing business.

Recently, Riley decided to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure. He chose to make a career of his life-long love of photography. His love affair with photography was also inspired by his father.

“My dad was a shutterbug,” says Riley. “He took a lot of photos during his time with the Army.”

With all of the heavy lifting involved in the church-pew business, the transition to photography seemed to make sense as Riley aged.

“My camera isn’t as heavy as those pews,” laughs Riley.

He photographed sporting events when his son began playing t-ball. The positive reactions from fellow parents sparked the idea of a mobile photography studio.

A 36-foot gooseneck trailer formerly used to transport church pews was just what he needed to bring his idea to life.

“No one else bought it, so we took it as a sign,” says Riley.

He began renovating the trailer and brought his idea to life this past March. Using eight different computer screens, parents view Riley’s event photos and choose which photos they would like to purchase. Air-conditioning was recently installed in the trailer to give an even more pleasant experience to customers.

“Sometimes I don’t know if they’re there to look at photos or just enjoy the AC,” Riley says.

He even has a printer on site that allows him to sell various size prints immediately. Along with these prints, he can have images printed on shirts, blankets, mugs, and a variety of other items.

While he works other types of events, sports photography is what he does the most. Thanks to the mobility of his business, he is able to travel to different places and work with various tournament directors. He doesn’t charge anything to attend these events and pays a percentage of the proceeds back to the directors.

Following in the tradition of family business, Riley’s family also helps with his business. His wife, Sonya, edits the photos and adds borders. His sons are showing signs of catching the photography bug. They also have a team to keep things running smoothly. They have two photographers, one editor, three people to help customers with the screens, and one person outside selling merchandise. Both of his parents also helped him to achieve his goals.

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