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Industry Exclusive: Walgreens Testing the Waters for the Shoebox Print Market Insider

Jerry Lansky

The concept of scanning a shoebox full of prints to a CD is being tested by Walgreens in four markets in the huge drug chain.

The opportunity to offer the service sort of fell into the Walgreens' lap.

In many Walgreens locations, maybe over a thousand of the lower-volume sites, the Walgreens photo operation still has old Gretag optical minilabs to serve its one-hour film cliental. Customers bringing in media cards are directed to a Kodak kiosk with on-board dye-sub printing.

In order to offer at least some digital services in the optical stores, Walgreens will scan prints and load the images onto a photo CD. The scanning and CD output function is being performed at all of these optical stores with a Nexlab 120, a system sold by Pixel Magic.

The Nexlab 120 was ideal because it can be loaded with an entire set of 24 prints and, according to the Pixel Magic website showing the scanner, can scan those prints in 2½ minutes. In fact, the Nexlab will hold a batch of up to 80 prints at a time, according to the literature.

However, someone at Walgreens may have tuned in to the success of Mitch Goldstone of 30 Minute Photos, Etc., Irvine , CA. and his shoebox marketing program which has had wide publicity and was presented in some detail by Mitch at PMA in Orlando . The pitch is to preserve the old shoebox full of prints safely and conveniently on a CD. Mitch's operation uses a Kodak scanner that can scan prints of any size up to 11x14 at the rate of 750 prints in five minutes. The Kodak system costs $60,000.

It must have been an epiphany for someone at Walgreens to recognize that their Nexlab 120, purchased to offer CDs from their optical printers, could also be promoted to the shoebox market. While its scanning speed is much slower than Kodak's, and it can handle only up to 4x6 size, it nevertheless would scan a stack of prints much faster than anything else found in a typical on-site lab. The list price for the Pixel Magic system falls in the $2,300 to $4,300 range, depending on configuration.

All it took was for Walgreens to realize they already owned the equipment necessary to put them into the shoebox business and decide to promote it. According to a Walgreens' spokesman, the concept is now being tested in four markets, though he would identify only one of them— Detroit .

I telephoned a Walgreens' store in Dearborn , MI , and the clerk in the photo department was happy to explain the shoebox program to me. I was told that I could bring in up to 80 prints and have them transferred to a Walgreens' CD for $4.99 or a Kodak photo CD for $5.99. More than 80 prints would require another CD, he said. The clerk explained that I could bring in either 3R or 4R prints only.

It would appear that Walgreens can step into the shoebox market in every one of these 1,000+ optical stores at the flick of a promotional switch. If the current test is successful, don't be surprised to see Walgreens expand the Nexlab 120 shoebox program to their digitally-equipped stores, as well. It becomes a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves from their mass merchant competitors.

Pixel Magic refused to comment on any matters concerning its relationship with Walgreens.