After much soul searching, Photo Depot had to make a decision. They had looked at other minilab units and needed to find the one that would work best for their business. They found the answer in Noritsu.
"For the direction that our business is going, the Noritsu QSS-2901 is the perfect fit. I've had one installed, and now I'm trading in another manufacturer's digital minilab to purchase another 2901," says Bob Basl, owner/president of The Photo Depot, a photo specialty outlet in Leetsdale, PA. If real-world experience is any barometer, Basl makes a strong case for the performance that the Noritsu QSS-2901 delivers.
He's not alone. Sales of this unit have been brisk throughout 2002, and Photographic Processing's readers named the QSS-2901 the Top Product of the Year and Digital Minilab of the Year in their second annual balloting.
Basl's Photo Depot, located in a strip plaza a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh, opened in 1983. The minilab operation built a solid reputation by focusing on fast turnaround, added value, and high quality and expertise for consumers. About three years ago, as large mass merchandise, food and drug stores began expanding their one-hour processing, Basl saw D&P business gradually declining.
Once he saw the large retailers increasing their market share of traditional D&P, he expanded into new markets, focusing on the varied products and services his QSS-2901 allows The Photo Depot to offer. "We can take any film and any size digital media, and output wallet-size to 12 x 18-inch prints, package prints, calendars, greeting cards it's almost unlimited," explains Basl.
A few years ago, Basl estimated his business was 90 percent consumer and 10 percent professional and commercial. Today, it's more of a 60/40 split. He's worked hard to broaden his business focus and now counts numerous wedding, industrial, and other professional photographers as steady customers. "There's a learning curve here that both the lab and the shooter has to go through with digital. This educational component offers us a way, now that we've evolved and entered the digital arena, to provide new benefits to the pros. They had to learn how to light for digital, for example, and we had to learn a whole new workflow," Basl notes. Today, Basl sees increased interaction with professional customers as his staff helps them learn how to better prepare and manage digital files.
Basl views this digital dilemma as a good thing for his business. "We now have the opportunity to again be what we were ten years ago - the experts who help people figure it all out, advise them, help them get better pictures and great prints," he says. "I believe we will rebuild the retail trade side. Just as we used to be the guys with all the answers, we can now add more value to the digital picture-taking experience."
The Photo Depot recently added a Noritsu CT-1 consumer terminal as a user-friendly interface for walk-in customers. Basl says that if a customer can operate an ATM, that person can use the CT-1 and quickly download images off a camera card and place an order, without having to leave his/her digital media at the store. "We can reach directly from the lab to the CT-1 to preview images prior to printing," says Basl. "Plus, it allows us to alter the queue - if we have a rush, we can rearrange the order without a problem, something other consumer terminals didn't allow."
An Answered Prayer
"Take 120 printing, for example," says Basl. "Our other machine very slowly proofed 120 film. The 2901 does it quickly and easily. Plus, we can output a complete package from wallets to 12 x 18-inches and they all match. We could only go up to 10 x 15-inches - an odd size - with our other digital minilab, so we had to run the 11 x 14's somewhere else and consistency was often an issue."
Basl also points out other workflow features that distinguish the 2901 from competitors, including the combination 35 mm/APS film carrier, allowing film format switching and the digital minilab's "networkability."
"We're connected to 18 computer workstations, so the fact that the 2901 uses Windows 2000 as an operating system is a huge plus. It's a very open architecture; there's no proprietary nonsense to deal with," states Basl. "We can profile the monitor and it's a larger screen than the other system we had, so the images are bigger. It's been a productivity boost for production and graphics departments."
Basl, a board member of IPI, finds his dual experience with two digital minilabs from two different manufacturers is valued by others in the industry. Last year at PMA, he discussed his experiences with other minilab owners and finishers, being in a unique position to discuss the pros and cons of each system. "Both machines deliver excellent print quality, but there is no comparison when it comes to workflow, flexibility and product portfolio," Basl says. "The 2901 is an answer to a prayer for a business like mine."
Basl sees the QSS-2901 as his ideal solution for fulfilling current professional, commercial, and consumer requirements, as well as opening up new opportunities. "To be honest, I have not explored them all," notes Basl. "We do a good volume of photo business cards, but we could do more with promotion. And I know we can easily expand the photo greeting and calendar business with some direct marketing, stuffers, point-of-sale materials...."
The Photo Depot has maximized some new vertical market segments, like promotional photos. Basl is working with a local agency that represents celebrities, such as TV personalities and musicians that need glossy photos. Basl estimates his lab annually turns out about 50-70,000 8 x 10-inch glossies for autographs and givaways.