BENNINGTON -- A new Google service, called Google Business Photos, is allowing local businesses in Bennington and North Bennington the opportunity to present 360-degree tours of their interiors -- a "street view" from the inside, if you will.
Eric Wood, a Hoosick, N.Y. resident and professional photographer first heard of Google Business Photos back in the winter of 2012.
"I remember I didn’t give it much thought because it was only available in a few places, mostly major metropolitan areas like New York City and Boston," Wood said. "Then, after hearing more and more about it, I did some more research and realized there wasn’t a single person in the state of Vermont who was certified to take these photos for the service."
After coming to this realization, Wood took it upon himself to become a Google Certified Photographer and has since been named one of Google’s Top Performing Photographers to date.
Once Wood became certified, he began thinking that the Bennington area could benefit from a service like Google Business Photos.
"Many of the local businesses in this area rely heavily on tourism for the majority of their income," he said. "The great thing about the Business Photos service is that it allows tourists to kind of check out local spots while they’re planning their trip, for example, and it helps them decide where they might want to visit or eat.
Wood went on to explain that the true idea of Google Business Photos is to give customers, or future customers, the same experience they would get in the store, online.
"This Google product focuses on the user’s experience -- Experience is the new form of currency," said Wood. "When people go into businesses nowadays, they already know everything about itŠ Being able to give your customers a good experience online before they even come in, that’s the point of this whole service."
Wood, along with John Shannahan from the Better Bennington Corporation held workshops at the Bennington Free Library so that local businesses could learn about the benefits of Google Business Photos.
"It was clear from the get go that Bennington was ready for this kind of technology," Wood said. "Even though people tend to think that a place like Bennington isn’t as technologically advanced as say, a big city. It totally is, just on a much smaller scale."
Over the past year, Wood has photographed more than 35 local businesses, including the Bennington Arts Guild, Evan’s News, Madison Brewing Company, the Village Chocolate Shoppe, Northside Dairy Bar, and the Bennington Beverage Outlet. Fiddlehead at Four Corners was the very first business to be set up with Google Business Photos.
Wood says that his favorite photo shoot thus far was at the Bennington Battle Monument.
"It was like the culmination of this project, even though it’s not over yet, just because the monument is so recognizable and unique to Bennington. There’s nothing else like it," he said.
The cost of each photo shoot varies depending on the size of the business but averages around $200-$300. According to Wood, The Better Bennington Corporation has been subsidizing a portion of the cost to make the service more affordable.
Last weekend, Google released an updated version of its street view service, allowing for 100-percent brand new and up-to-date coverage.
"The Business Photos service is a nice compliment to this updated technology," Wood said. "It’s like a new and improved view of businesses, inside and out."
Wood said that local business owners who have chosen to participate in the service have been pleased with the results.
"It’s actually a great marketing and advertising tool," he said. "Businesses have the option to embed the link to their virtual tour onto their website, Facebook page, whatever, so that customers can view it."
George Krawczyk, the owner of Evan’s News says he is "over the moon" about the service. He was one of the many business owners who attended one of the workshops held by Wood and Shannahan and decided to move forward with a photo shoot.
"I went in with an open mind but didn’t really know what to expect," he said. "After all was said and done, though, it was just a no-brainer. I’ve been blown away by the quality of Eric’s work and the idea in general."
Mike Cutler from CAT-TV is just as enthusiastic as Krawczyk about this project, having jumped on beard in May. He is pleased with the simplicity of the whole concept and noted that it "definitely boosts the community’s online identity."
"People may not know what we offer here at CAT-TV, Cutler said. "Being a part of this has been really nice. It’s such an innovative service... Definitely a step above for businesses in the area, with very little maintenance."
Among the businesses Wood is currently photographing, or will be photographing in the near future for Google Business Photos are The Yoga Place, the Old Castle Theatre Company, The Bennington Museum, The Bennington Town Offices, the Bennington Free Library, and the Bennington Welcome Center.
Wood noted that all of the Bennington Chamber of Commerce members will soon have their virtual tours embedded on the new chamber website.
"This is huge," Wood said. "The possibilities with this service are pretty endless."
To learn more about the Google Business Photos project, or to have your own business photographed, contact Wood at 518-302-1690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Elizabeth Conkey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.