According to recent PMA statistics, the share of firms transmitting or distributing digital images via the Internet continues to grow, with about 70 percent of portrait labs now offering some type of online services. As broadband access across the country continues to improve and the cost of the service goes down, it appears likely that an ever-increasing number of labs will be able to use the technology for receiving and fulfilling orders from clients across the country. The ability to offer these services has also improved as a result of digital workflow solutions that now offer options such as online previewing and ordering.
Keeping up with current trends and business needs in the portrait/social business is a constant challenge. But a number of labs have managed to differentiate their businesses from the rest of the pack by keeping up with technology and offering some new products.
LustreColor's Shining Success OnlineWilson states it is essential for labs to be aware of photographers' needs.
One lab that is cashing in on the online services boom is LustreColor, Inc. (www.lustrecolor.com), located in Canton, MA. When LustreColor made the commitment to a digital infrastructure, its goal was to transform its their entire business model.
"We wanted to develop new product offerings for our clients and expand the size of our market," says Ken Wilson, vice president, sales and marketing. "We were one of the first labs in the country to offer online services in 1999 as part of our product line, and it went from being a surprise way of bringing customers to our lab to now a commonplace way of doing business. I think there are still more ways to package them to make it more appealing to the photographer."
Photographers place orders for prints using an FTP Internet dial-up. LustreColor also hosts two Web sites to give online access to proofs-accessible to both photographers and their clients. For example, brides and other members of wedding parties can view proofs and even design albums online. "The goal was to give photographers new tools for building their businesses," Wilson says.
LustreColor applies digital effects and color corrections using Kodak DP2 software. Images are printed on two Kodak Professional LED II printers. For color management, LustreColor uses the LED II printers' built-in calibration tools. For their traditional business, LustreColor uses Kodak HR 500 film scanners in long-roll configuration to produce two sets of scans of incoming negatives. Low-resolution scans, burned to CD, are provided to client photographers for digital viewing and cropping.
"Our main thrust now is taking new products, such as online proofs and albums, and integrating them with our print production systems," says Wilson. "We just released Designer Link, a very simple solution for creating a wedding album online. No one else is currently offering this service."
Designer Link enables the photographer to design and deliver digital album prints quickly and easily. With a simple click and drag of a mouse, they can drop their images from both digital and film into a large selection of digital layouts. They then have the option to change the image, crop it, or change to black and white or sepia. "With Designer Link we give the photographer the creative freedom without the hassle of color management, file archiving and Photoshop work," Wilson adds. "The choices are unlimited. The tool is so easy that even the bride and groom can create an album. Because it is a Web-based program, the bride can be sitting with the photographer or can be making her selections online from her home computer. Once the album is OK'd, the photographer sends the order to us and we do the rest. In my mind that's the real evolution of pro labs-moving from FTPing and a digital infrastructure to being an integrator between the photographer's customer and the photographer and keeping the photographer workflow easy and fast. We can cut down the turnaround time on a wedding album by months now."
Wilson states it is essential for labs to be aware of photographers' needs. "Primarily, photographers want digital imaging to be easier, and to use it to help their businesses grow and reduce costs," he says. "Give photographers more tools to increase their sales. You have to give them a reason to want your icons on their desktop. Whether it's price or speed or products and services, you have to have a reason. A quality product is still very important to the photographer."
CPQ Offers New Ordering Software
"The biggest impact that we are seeing online is the increased advent of broadband availability across the country," says Paul Kimball, VP of operations at CPQ (www.cpq.net), Cleveland, TN. "It's becoming easier for photographers to get their files to us via FTP." About 40 percent of CPQ's wedding and portrait work, the lab's core business, is digital. The lab also does some school and sports photography.
"We are a $15 million dollar company, and about $7 million is on the wedding side," reports Kimball. "We are about 40 percent digital as far as digital output. Online services have allowed us to have clients all over the U.S. Half of our customer base is within about 500-600 miles of our location."
A good part of their online business starts with Kodak's ProShots System. CPQ promotes the lab's ProShots affiliation to its customers, calling itself "America's second leading ProShots lab in the country, in terms of the amount of orders processed and printed."
"With ProShots software, our customers spend far less time with production," says Kimball. "That frees them up to concentrate on photography and sales, which ultimately translates into more business for our lab."
ProShots also lets the lab offer digital printing, digital retouching and specialized products like black-and-white prints from color negatives. In addition, with DP2 software, the files are then routed for color correction and printing. CPQ has in their equipment arsenal a Kodak Professional LED II printer, a Durst Zeta and, for large-format prints, a Durst Lambda printer, and outputs on Kodak Endura paper. For CPQ customers who want traditional output, the lab features a ProShots Professional ICE II scanner and a ColorFlex seven-crop printer.