Just Getting the Party Started: Cathy Mullis Wood’s Phancy Photo Booth

by Robin Beaudoin Ownby | photo by Madison Yen-Collins

Recognizable by her trademark accessory, the cat ear headband, Memphian Cathy Mullis Wood, 58, is owner and operator of Phancy Photo Booth and Phancy Yard Cards, and soon to launch Phancy Foam Parties. Changing careers at nearly 50 takes some elbow grease and imagination, and Wood has developed the formula for a successful celebration business. Since October 2012, Wood has averaged 100 events a year, except in 2020, where she only did five events and opened Phancy Yard Cards. Switching from events to the decorative Yard Cards has taken some adjusting and has blossomed into an exciting addition to her business.

How did you get started in this business?
Divine intervention, if you believe in that. I stumbled upon a Nikon reflex camera on eBay (it was mislabeled, so I got it cheaply), bought a used telephoto lens, and found someone selling their photo booth business for an egregious amount of money (I was employed at FedEx, and not making the money I needed). I talked to my husband about it, researched photo booth companies in Memphis, and spent about $100 to build a website. I started getting bookings even though I didn’t have a lot of equipment, so I borrowed $5,000 from my parents and bought a proper photo booth. We ordered it and I picked it up in Atlanta, and it wouldn’t fit in the car! I strapped it to the roof and brought it back to Memphis, learned the software, bought a used Honda Odyssey van for $1500, and two weeks later I quit my job at FedEx. I learned I could make more money working just one or two days a week than full-time at FedEx. I was caring for an infant grandchild, so the schedule worked well, and everything fell into place.

Phancy Yard Cards saw great success during 2020. Do you think this trend will carry on, even after the pandemic?
The pandemic pivot from the photo booth to yard signs led to creating sign arrangements for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, divorces, with ‘Divorced AF’ and ‘Straight Outta Marriage’ signs popular in Memphis. Recently I did a 100th birthday for a pastor! We made a welcome home for the military, I did a ‘Holy cow somebody’s 40!’ in cow print theme and special cow print cards. Any event needing a little spice: baby showers, back to school, prom, proposals, etc.

I think it will slow down a little bit after the pandemic, but there will be a market for it because people want to celebrate. A lot of celebrations are becoming more intimate, so for milestones,I think it will be a trend that continues. If someone keeps up with their inventory and keeps up with market trends, the business can be viable in the future.

What makes for a successful and engaging party?
I’ve worked with LeBonheur, St. Jude, the Peabody, West Clinic, as well as the Focus Awards, Big Gay Dance Parties, and lots of weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, Eid events, Indian weddings, a Persian wedding, Christian parties, I will do it all, as long as people are respectful. Memphis has a very diverse community, and I just love meeting people that aren’t just like me.

Make an event your own (we have custom backgrounds) and after 9 pm send the kids home so the adults can let loose. What makes people stick around at a party is good music, open bars, and if I were ever to plan a party it would be only beer and wine (nobody gets too sloppy on beer and wine).

Say you’re having a laid-back party, and you want fun things to do: have a couple of bars outside, a nice DJ or small band.

Our printed photos are such a great keepsake. I explain to brides who want to give out wedding favors, let this be the favor. It’s entertainment for your guests, and people will KEEP them because it has their faces on it!

What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had?
A big convention company, Freeman EXP, was hired to do the LinkedIn convention in Nashville, and they wanted a specific product called NEON video light painting, where you do slow exposure and write words with it. They wanted FIVE booths, and they wanted three booths that offered printed flipbooks. I didn’t have that product, so I found it, built the booths, the license was $3,000 per unit and the company worked with me. I did the bid, which was HUGE, and required five people to work with me for a week. This company wanted so much money for this software to print the books. From that I learned I didn’t charge enough, but that was the most outrageous job.

Why should someone have a photographer or photo booth at their event?
Why? Social media presence! We offer options where you can email or text photos and boomerang GIFs to themselves, as well as printed photos to take home. Photos can be branded, we have roving photographers roam the event, and the guests give the photographer their cell phone number. Those are great for corporate events. The reason you have a photo booth is for entertainment and marketing! Again, people don’t throw away a picture. We can do 5×7 photos, perforation, ticket design where a ticket tears off from the bottom of your photo. We can do 4”x12” mega strips.

What to you makes people look or seem younger than they are in your photos?
There are poses and we can have beauty filters built into the booth.

There’s an effect in black and white with a white backdrop (affectionately called the “Kardashian Effect”). Mainly, having FUN and letting your exuberance shine through is so much more engaging. If eyeglasses don’t have a non- reflecting coating on them- I tell folks to take their glasses off or tilt their head so they don’t get that glare. I’ve learned how to hold a prop and stand and turn and twist my body. If it bends, bend it! Stick your butt back, lean forward, tilt your waist (contrapposto), and people who are smiling and laughing ALWAYS look younger.