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Newly Designed Digital Lab Spells Success for Gahanna Photo Plus



Want great quality digital prints? Ask the digital experts.

It's a message that's repeated several times in signage inside and out at Gahanna Photo Plus in suburban Columbus, OH. Maybe it helps to explain why more than three-quarters of the photofinishing it handles is digital. In the coming transition to a highly digital photo industry, Gahanna Photo Plus is well positioned for success.

And ironically, the store almost didn't come to be.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Just a year after Ben and Melissa Belhorn purchased an established, 16-year-old camera store in downtown Columbus, the entire block that contained their store was condemned by the city. The Belhorns quickly began strategizing about ways to remain downtown in order to keep their existing customers, but ultimately decided that wasn't practical.

They settled on a location in suburban Gahanna. It's part of a small retail center that contained a grocery store and sandwich shop and sits near the crossroads of two bedroom communities just northeast of the Columbus airport.

The Belhorns talked with others in the photo lab business, asking for advice on starting at a new location from scratch, including advice on where to turn for store design and fixtures. Several referred them to Kodak and the Kodak Image Center Solutions (KICS) program. They opened the store late last summer.

"We decided to join up with Kodak for several reasons," says Ben Belhorn. "The first was to give us credibility as we started out in a brand-new community." In addition, he has always liked the looks of the KICS stores. The design of Gahanna Photo Plus includes a new-generation design from Kodak that features frosted acrylic panels in place of some of the wood-grain fixtures and other very contemporary touches.

"Building a store from scratch through the KICS program was amazing," Ben says. "I couldn't imagine how quickly it would all come together." He arrived at the site at 5 a.m. one morning to meet a tractor-trailer with the store fixtures: "They brought in hundreds of boxes and started assembling and installing everything. Four days later, we had a store."

Gahanna Photo Plus features 1,000 feet of retail space (about triple what the Belhorns had in downtown Columbus). One wall features a broad range of frames and albums. Another includes digital memory cards, photo gift items, a Kodak Picture Maker print station and other merchandise.

Ben says when he started stocking the shelves, he was overwhelmed at the amount of display space: "I thought, 'We'll never sell all these frames.'" But he kept stocking them. Today, his frame sales have more than doubled. He attributes it to the way they're displayed. He also promotes frame sales with a standing offer: Buy any frame and Gahanna Photo Plus will make an enlargement up to 8 x 10 to fit it. "I make my money off the frame, and the cost of the print is a pretty minor expense," he notes. "But to customers, getting a free enlargement is a really big deal."

Marketing Digital Photofinishing

The heart of the operation, though, is photofinishing. Behind the counter sits a Noritsu 2901 digital lab. It handles digital and film orders, enlargements up to 12 x 18 inches, a variety of greeting cards and a variety of other projects. "If you can think it up, the lab can print it," he says.

When the couple operated their business downtown, their photofinishing was 80 percent roll film orders and 20 percent digital. Now those percentages have reversed. Part of the explanation is the shift toward digital taking hold; part is the emphasis on digital that Gahanna Photo Plus features in its store design and promotions; and part, Ben acknowledges, is location.

"A half mile away is one of Columbus' richest suburbs, where there are half-million-dollar homes," he says. Residents there all seem to own digital cameras, and they're willing to pay for quality photofinishing.

The only problem, he says, is getting out the word that they don't have to do it at home: "I tell all my customers, everyone I see with a digital camera, 'I can print your pictures better and cheaper than you can at home. And they're all surprised to hear it." Ben will literally walk up to a total stranger with a camera, introduce himself and hand over a business card with a message like "Get $2 off your processing. Stop in and see us.-Ben" scribbled on the back.

Among the other innovative ideas that drive new photofinishing orders:

  • A "Free Picture Trade-In" promotion. People bring in four prints and the negatives or digital files from which they were made, and Gahanna Photo Plus reprints them for free. "It's a chance for us to point out the quality difference that comes from individually correcting color and density in each image," Ben notes. Inevitably, people who accept the challenge like their Gahanna prints best.
  • A $29 prepaid digital photo card (like a prepaid phone card), good for 100 digital prints. That gives the customer a 10-cent-per-print discount compared to the store's standard price of 39 cents per print. But it ensures repeat business and gives customers improved value.
  • The option of having standard print orders produced with any of six different types of borders-just one way in which the Belhorns have differentiated photofinishing in their store.
  • An online portal where customers can upload images for free, create albums and share them with friends. Of course, customers also purchase prints (and their friends can, too). For film customers, the Belhorns will upload digital scans from the film order for free.
  • Delivery service. It was started years ago to serve real estate appraisers. Now the twice-a-day route that extends to downtown Columbus includes several office complexes where Gahanna picks up orders from a drop box and leaves finished orders for pickup.
  • An e-mail club, featuring one coupon per month for some kind of discount (often it's $2 off a photofinishing order).

Digital Customers Mean Bigger Orders

Once a digital camera owner comes in for photofinishing, the battle is mostly won. They love the look of real silver-halide prints. And they shoot lots of pictures.

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