Magazine Article


Giving Your Minilab a Digital Makeover

This year PMA launched its Digital Minilab Makeover, a day-long seminar designed to help businesses reinvent their lab's image in new, exciting and profitable ways. In all, 10 stops in major cities are scheduled throughout 2004 (the one we attended was in Fort Lee, NJ). The tour is part of the training activities (courses, seminars, conferences) run by PMA's DIMA division, which has teamed with GIA (Graphic Intelligence Agency) to help digital minilab owners reinvent their customer experience and business in new ways. Attendees were given the opportunity to learn how to use technology to create the best products, what the success of the retail boutique image means for store branding and merchandising, and which specialty products and applications will benefit from emerging markets.

The PMA Digital Minilab Makeover is being cosponsored by DigitalPortal Inc., Olympus, Fuji Hunt and Ilford Imaging. "The focus of the seminar is to educate retailers on how to grow their digital business and how to integrate all of the various aspects of digital photo products into a manageable and profitable business," said Mark Lawrence, director of marketing at DigitalPortal Inc.

"Retailers are able to see how other industries-like coffee boutiques, computer stores and bookstores-have been extremely successful by changing the way they do business, creating a valuable customer experience and maximizing retail exposure. Anyone who owns or works in photo processing will benefit greatly from this seminar," he added.

The seminar was run by Will Holland of GIA, Akron, OH, a company that offers training and support in the visual communications industry. Holland provided a wonderful mix of and merchandising ideas, as well as some humorous anecdotes.

Holland's mantra for the seminar: "Try to think out of the box."

Holland kicked off the seminar by saying that minilab owners today have one of two choices in order to be successful: Try to compete on the same level with the mass merchants and fail, or offer new premium products and services and compete as a specialty boutique. That sobering fact immediately grabbed the group's attention.

Holland's mantra for the seminar: "Try to think out of the box. Think of new ways to conduct your business. You need to refine your image. How can your business reflect your uniqueness? By integrating who you are with what you do. To accomplish this, you need to understand how to capitalize on your unique abilities to help make your business grow and differentiate it from your competitors. Approach your minilab business as though you were a prospective client. An effective image does not just happen; it has to be worked at. Review everything. Is your storefront inviting? Does it welcome customers? If you've grown to the point that you have a staff, does it make your customers feel welcome and comfortable?"

Become a Boutique

Holland presented the concept of the boutique shop and discussed the success of such firms as Starbucks, Apple and Barnes & Noble. "Why would people fork over $3 for a container of coffee from Starbucks when they can grab a 16-ounce container from the local convenience store for 89 cents?" he asked. "It's all about the customer experience and the quality of the product."

He looked at the coffee industry and how Starbucks was successful in that market. He suggested that minilabs reposition themselves as a boutique-a minilab café-much in the same way these others have. "To be a successful boutique, your lab must offer three things: unique, quality products and services and the marketing to back them up," he explained. "The experience the customer has in your store will be the deciding factor if they come back again. Grab their attention. Don't compete on speed and price. Let the mass merchants do that. Compete with them on quality. Remember, quality takes time and costs more money. So add new products and services and charge a premium for them. Expect to charge between two to three times the base prices. Think upscale. Be cool."

Holland stressed making your lab different from your competition with unique quality. "You need to put the emphasis back on quality; use the best raw materials," he said. "In order to do this, you need to research all aspects of quality. You also need to develop a hook, a recognizable trait of the products and services you offer. In the same mold as Starbucks coffee, develop your own output 'flavors' by using the number of variables (durability, color, paper weight and finish, and finishing). Then start pointing it out to your customers. Many customers don't know what they want. You have to be the creative one. It's going to be your job to educate them. In their minds, you are the expert. Get them excited about digital."

He added that once you decide on a hook, don't change it-keep it consistent over time. That way your customers will know it's a special product or service that only you provide.

He used Starbucks again as an example with its unique coffee flavors. He talked about offering artistic borders, such as white, maybe ragged edges, as well as different print sizes and heavier paper. "By offering thicker prints, it will set you apart-also try to offer a variety of samples. Remember that the photos you are giving back to your customers are their emotional attachments to the past. You need to tap into that emotion."

In the next section of the seminar, Holland focused on the technical issues of business and coined a unique phrase called "techknowledgy." He looked at the pros and cons of inkjet and its archivability, color management issues, color correction, file formats, RIPs and finishing options. He stressed the point that if today's lab is going to compete in the digital world, the people behind the counter will have to reeducate themselves so they are in a better position to educate your customers: "Labs need to better educate themselves and get the necessary certifications not only to upgrade their own expertise but to represent themselves to their customers with impressive credentials." He said that an educated customer is the best customer. To paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams: "If you teach them, they will come."

"The digitally successful lab operator must be a guru," he said. "He must know how to match a digital file when printing; be consistent over time; screen to print match; match an original photo/chrome; and handle files from different sources correctly. Tell your customer you're the expert, the pro, and prove it."

Store Redesign

Before shot of Concord Camera's redesign. After shot of Concord Camera's redesign.

Holland then offered tips on store design and for making sure the impression of your store is a positive one. "It's all about creating the retail experience for your customers," he said. "You create an experience by looking at your environment."

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