Change is good. Just ask Dale and Elaine Farkas, who are moving beyond their traditional mail order photofinishing market with a new Kodak Image Center Solutions participating store in Hollywood, FL.
For more than 30 years, the Farkas family has operated Dale Laboratories in Hollywood. The mail order lab's distinctive market niche has been producing color prints and slides from the same roll of film. (They process and print color negative film, then print the negatives using Kodak Vision Motion Picture Positive Film to produce slides.)
But, as with most photographic labs in the U.S., a number of factors have adversely affected their film volume. The growth of digital photography, and waning interest in slides, has cut slightly into their distinctive niche business (though E-6 processing is actually up). And the proliferation of low-cost, on-site labs nationwide has led more amateurs to have their prints made locally.
So the Farkases have reinvented and expanded their business in several ways. They launched an online site for print fulfillment (www.iprints.com) and courted professional photographers by providing package printing, pro proofing and enlarging. The imaging business has also provided new, specialty digital services such as custom Giclee prints, and expanded its direct-mail business as the sole U.S. provider of Kodak Sea Processing, a digital process for producing outstanding prints from underwater images.
Transformation of Walk-In Store Doubles
But the most dramatic change may be the transformation of their walk-in space into a Kodak Image Center Solutions participating store, called Dale Photo & Digital. A stark, utilitarian space for people to drop off film has been transformed into a warm, inviting retail environment. The walls are lined with well-organized displays of cameras, frames, albums, digital memory cards, photo gifts and more. Film and batteries are available on free-standing merchandise racks, from which customers can grab new supplies en route to the counter.
The redesigned retail space has an immediate investment return, Dale Farkas notes, with rebates from the Image Center Solutions program on purchases of Kodak Paper, chemicals and other products. But the best part is this: "In just a few months, we've seen our walk-in sales triple," says Dale. "It's like the voice in Field of Dreams said … 'build it, and they will come.'"
Well, not exactly. The Farkases are responsible for taking the concept and running with it, pursuing the local retail market in ways they never have before, which is a major challenge, since they're located in an industrial park. The centerpiece of that strategy is free photo classes, offered twice weekly. "We find that we can get more people coming to the store for free classes than we ever could by placing an ad for cameras," explains Dale. "But the result is, we end up selling more cameras and accessories to people coming out of the class. And almost everyone who attends tells their friends about us."
Their son, David, developed and teaches the classes to small groups. Watching the class, you might think David was an experienced teacher. He weaves together lecture with the Socratic method, mixing in questions designed to keep the learning process interactive. A PowerPoint presentation, displayed on a 30-inch wall-mounted LCD monitor, displays the informational highlights of the class.
Classes are promoted with a simple, two-column ad in the movie and entertainment section of the local paper, which people hang onto for several days. "Out of each class, we'll sell a digital camera, as well as other items like additional memory, or a CD writer. More than half of those who attend already have a digital camera, but since a two-year-old digital camera is already obsolete, it's not unusual for people to upgrade," Dale notes.
Each digital camera sale earns the buyer 25 free photographic prints per month for 12 months. And everyone who attends can take advantage of the "trade-in" program on inkjet prints. Each person can bring in five prints and the digital files used to make them, and Dale Photo's staff will reprint them on silver halide paper. "It's a real eye opener, the contrast between the photographic prints we make and the inkjet prints they thought were good," Elaine Farkas says. Attendees also learn about Dale "Photo Bucks," good for a $1 discount for every $20 spent in the store.
The classes explain digital photography in detail, but also highlight that people have a choice of shooting film or digital, or both, and that using one doesn't exclude the other.
"The fact is, when people use film, it's a done deal. They snap the shutter, give it to the lab, and end up if it's our lab with high-quality prints," Dale says with a slight smirk. "With digital, they snap the shutter, look at the images immediately, and edit them. But then the real work begins. Most people bring the images into their computer, review them, edit them and if they're smart, they're going to burn a CD."
Even then, he adds, the photographer still doesn't have prints. So labs like Dale Photo&Digital give photographers an easier solution. They can shoot pictures, bring in a digital memory card, and get back quality, photographic prints quickly and easily, and a CD for archival storage. Dale Photo offers walk-in photofinishing customers multiple options: traditional silver halide prints produced in the back (a massive 10,000-square-foot lab) or, for digital customers who are in a hurry, a Kodak Picture Maker Print Station in the retail store, where they can print immediately from memory cards.
The Picture Maker Print Station, he says, allows customers to become part of the photographic solution. "It gives them the feeling of being hands-on, and provides a near-instant method of achieving print fulfillment. It's the best of both worlds instant gratification, and high quality prints that won't fade," Dale says.