As the photographic processing industry moves steadily toward digital media and online marketing, retailers must keep evolving right along with it if they wish to avoid losing hard-earned business and customer loyalty. Those independent lab owners able to thrive in the face of instability and change often do so by forging relationships with vendors equipped to offer them the right turnkey solutions to keep their customers happy.
San Francisco-based Bellamax Inc. (www.bellamax.com), for instance, offers a wide range of services to lab owners going digital, including general enhancement, portrait enhancement, custom enhancement, photo restoration and property enhancement. In addition, Bellamax also provides customized solutions specifically designed to fit clients' needs, workflows, turnaround-time requirements and cost constraints. The company just announced that it is developing a product version of its professional digital imaging service, incorporating its patent-pending assembly line color correction, sharpness, and retouching technology. The software will integrate seamlessly into existing professional lab digital workflows, providing substantial savings by delivering top-quality images up to six times faster than current methods achieve.
"The beta software was developed in direct response to our customers' requests and is based on the success of our digital imaging service," comments Julie Wainwright, president and CEO of Bellamax. "Our proprietary, patent-pending technology breaks down the complex color management and retouching process into a series of simple steps, each incorporating sophisticated editing tools and processes specifically designed to deliver top-quality images faster and at lower cost than ever before."
Over the past six months, current Bellamax professional lab and large portrait studio customers have reviewed the software's performance during in-house trials and have advised the Company on refinements to meet their specific needs.
"Signed beta agreements are in place with a number of these customers, who are excited about their opportunity to save time and money while continuing to deliver the highest quality prints," adds Wainwright.
Another popular vendor is Silverwire (Cocoa, FL, www.silverwire.com) John Albright, owner of Long Beach, CA-based Fromex Photo & Digital is among those utilizing Silverwire's services. "We have been offering digital services since 1995," Albright says, "and have been online with the original Fotowire software for more than three years, so I'm hoping that we have kept them instead of having to lure them back."
Fromex uses Silverwire online software through their website (www.fromex.com),and Allbright is happy with the result. "We get orders everyday, some from all over the country and the world. In addition, we have the Silverwire kiosk software loaded on a customer kiosk terminal in our lobby. The software is easy to use and allows our digital customers to place their orders without our staff's assistance. Both systems are very cost-effective and are an absolute necessity if you are going to cater to the digital customer."
Allbright smartly promotes his website everywhere his company name appears. One application he cites is available through IPInet (www.ipiphotonet.com), a service of IPI to its members. "It's our monthly Fromex Email Club Newsletter. We currently e-mail over 600 of our best customers every month with new services, merchandise, promotions and photography tips and information. They are the first to know, when it comes to rolling out a new service or promotion."
Michael Woodland, CEO of Dan's Camera City (www.danscamera.com), says that for digital services, he has found Photo Finale from Trevoli Ltd. (www.trevoli.com) to be among the most successful. Photo Finale is a digital photography software application that allows customers to organize, enhance, edit, share and print digital photos. It includes features for printing pictures in most available sizes and layouts, as well as photo editing, special effects and the ability to create photo album websites, e-mail photos and produce photo slide shows with music and much more.
"This service," Woodland explains, "allows us to offer a customer-centric solution not available from our competitors. Since customers cannot find such a robust and friendly digital imaging solution anywhere else, they are far more likely to stay with Dan's." Photo Finale, he says, is more than just a print ordering solution-if that were its primary function, customers would be far less likely to use it. Rather, Photo Finale offers "a complete solution for managing digital images." This, he muses, is the true challenge facing his customers. "Importing, organizing, enhancing, sharing, archiving and, of course, printing are all handled exceptionally well. This provides customers with one software program to fill all their needs."
With Photo Finale, says Woodland, the level of integration is "well beyond" that of its competing products. "By directing customers back to us for print ordering, using the most convenient ordering wizard available, it keeps us as the customer's first choice for printing. Since this is all automated, it is simple for any dealer to implement. Photo Finale version 3.0 has added features and lab systems, making it the most advanced solution available for minilabs or larger central labs."
In addition, Woodland has relied on the Touchprints Automated Photo Machine (APM) from Lucidiom (www.lucidiom.com). This consumer-operated kiosk allows customers to order and print their own digital images. "We have been using several solutions for expanding the reach of our services. We have been offering Web-based fulfillment for several years; we have placed Lucidiom APM kiosks in 12 of our Drop Site locations; and a little over a year ago, we started offering our customers the Photo Finale solution."
With Lucidiom and Photo Finale increasing the extent of their integration, Dan's now has several more service options to offer customers. The most promising, in Woodland's opinion, is the ability for customers to use Photo Finale to create a print order and save it to CD. This allows customers to create print orders without having to endure a long upload. "Removing that barrier will increase the average order size. As digital cameras have increased in resolution, it is common for customers to have digital picture files of 1MB and more. Even with broadband, it is painful to try to order over the Web. Now customers will come back from a vacation or special occasion and browse through their photos, choosing size and quantity without ever having to upload a file."
Woodland has implemented three versions of Photo Finale-Desktop, Viewer and Lab-all of which keep the Dan's name in front of customers since they display his logo and tie directly back to Dan's for printing. "Every digital camera customer gets a copy of PF desktop," he says. "Every CD we make for customers, be it from film or from digital at our APMs, includes the PF viewer. This full-circle solution keeps Dan's at the forefront of the customer's digital imaging management."