The heart of any lab's business is the computer system that manages its day-to-day operations. And, as photo labs continue to evolve, so do the software systems that help drive their businesses. To meet their ever-changing role while continuing to keep up with current demands on services, lab owners must call upon the evolving tools of software and hardware to manage their daily workflow. Products range from software used to handle and track customer orders to hardware geared toward sorting the work, each assuring that customers receive their order on time while maintaining or optimizing lab efficiency. We spoke with a number of software suppliers and end users to find out what are some of the current trends and product upgrades on the market.
As much as times change, photo retailers are still faced with the problem of creating more revenue out of the existing square footage they occupy. Information gathered at the point of sale (POS) is a vital part of the process of generating business opportunities by making available information allowing you to open new markets, attract new customers and find new ways to optimize revenue.
"Most point of sale systems can manage to do the basics, like perpetual inventory, billings and compile various lists," says Bob Brown, president of Prophetline Inc. " To succeed in today's business climate, you have to have a system that gives you the ability to build your business around processes that generate more revenue out of existing customers, services, products with better margins and utilize the Internet as an extension of your POS system."
ProphetLine, Inc., (www.prophetline.com) one of the early Windows-based POS developers, decided as one of its market niches to develop software that would specifically benefit the photographic equipment and supplier market, from the single storefront to multiple locations. ProphetLine's retail software packages can be deployed as either a traditional in-store system or as a hosted solution offering gift certificate production, tracking and redemption, credit, debit & gift card software, email and fax service from the PC, inventory management, database management and more.
"The biggest payback comes from using today's technology as a way to change and transform business processes," says Brown. "Ultimately, this business transformation - the ability and willingness to change in the name of maximizing return on investment and customer retention - is the key to sustaining a competitive advantage over the long haul."
Frank Deame, GM at Johnson PhotoImaging, Bradenton, FL finds Prophetline's database software helpful in promoting their business to their customers. "We use the Prophetline database functions to generate mail lists for our quarterly newsletter and for other direct marketing mail pieces. We find the function very useful especially if we were to want to send a promotion to a specific group of customers that purchase a particular item," reports Deame.
Whitech (www.whitechsolutions.com) has been continually developing and deploying Business Professional POS solutions in photographic specialty stores around the world for the last ten years. "Whitech's Business Professional POS software has helped change worldwide industry trends and keep advocates of the system like ours ahead of the game," comments James Park of Colortek in NYC. "It has been ideal in helping us streamline and manage our business workflow on a daily basis," he adds.
Whitech has just released a new version of their software. "Business Professional was originally designed to accommodate the specific needs of camera stores, minilabs and prolabs with unique modules managing development and print, reprints and enlargements, workflow, camera repairs, general sales, special orders, customer loyalty, accounts, intuitive stock ordering, special orders and a wide range of industry specific reports," says Korosh Delnawaz, president, Whitech USA. "Version 6 of the software was just released in July and has many new features. It operates on an SQL platform providing large chain stores the opportunity to connect hundreds of stores together in a network environment without affecting performance."
Delawaz points out that Business Professional POS allows retailers to centrally manage their operations and integrate into other Whitech products including Photo.Teller kiosks and home ordering offering retailers a total solution to operate their lab. "The industry has become more competitive over the years and the integration with kiosks and home ordering solutions have benefited our customers because they can run powerful loyalty programs across all solutions, where a customer is recognized as a member no matter where they place their order. Another big advantage is the workflow management that results from systems talking to each other. As the number of jobs queue up in a lab, Business Professional feeds information back to Photo.Teller kiosks adjusting the collection time of prints accordingly," he says.
New features to Business Professional including camera or cell phone plans, where the retailer can sell a camera or cell phone and give a customer a dollar value of prints every month for a set period of time. "Business Professional, Photo.Teller kiosks and the home ordering solution will manage this credit every month for the set period of time. The benefit being that the customer is sold the camera on the perceived value and locked into returning every month to redeem their offering. The retailer increases foot traffic and opportunities to sell and market to the customer. The direct mail and email facilities in the software will also help bring the customer back and attract new customers," adds Delnawaz.
Other new features include a price protection module that allows stock pricing to be adjusted in the system when rebates are offered by suppliers on the old stock. "This is a common practice as prices of digital cameras drop when new models are introduced. Business Professional also has an insurance module allowing retailers to sell cameras on finance or interest free. At the end of the day, Business Professional provides the photographic retailer an opportunity to work on their entire business rather than get caught up in the day to day running of it because it is the central hub in the management of the operation," Delnawaz concludes.
Lablogics, Inc. (www.lablogics.com) is in its sixth year of providing automation services. "Our LabWorks Management System is getting increasing attention and market share in professional and commercial imaging market," says the company's Alex Ravari. LabWorks offers features such as order taking, order tracking, POS, sales quotation, extensive price handling, invoicing, inventory control, accounts receivable, shipping and delivery scheduling.
Ravari adds that the latest LabWorks version 5.0 provides a dynamic monitoring screen for all jobs that need to be fulfilled. Open jobs may be viewed for the whole operation or by specific production departments.
"To maintain and efficient and updated workflow, LabWorks is developing integration solutions for on-line ordering software. It now has a real-time connection to ROES, a creation of Softworks Systems Inc. and one of the leading remote order entry systems. As orders are placed in the workflow system, they are automatically captured by LabWorks and placed in the management system with the correct pricing, ready to be invoiced," concludes Ravari.