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Services, Software Help Lure Digital Customers Back to Store



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With the battle for the digital services dollar intensifying, small and independent lab owners often find themselves hard-pressed to remain competitive and gain customer loyalty. There are, however, several vendors offering a range of turnkey solutions they can use to lure customers back into the store.

On the service front, a number of companies now specialize in image restoration and manipulation services for the dealer. A lab that can't afford a staff artist will find these programs are a cost-effective way to expand services and add a new profit center.

It's a good bet everyone who steps into your store has at least one cherished photo they'd like restored. If you don't have the time and tools to take on that work or can't afford to employ a staff artist, you'll send that business elsewhere.

Several companies now specialize as outsource providers of such services to imaging retailers, offering an attractive price that still leaves room for comfortable margins. Some of these web-based operations maintain staffs in foreign countries where the cost of labor is significantly lower, passing along some of the savings to the retailer.

For instance, a national network of labs and minilabs now offer photo restoration services, which they purchase at wholesale prices through Hollywood FotoFix (www.hollywoodfotofix.com). The company promotes this network with a store locator wizard on its website.

"What we offer is a turnkey profit center in photo restoration services," explains Michael Waters, vice president of business development. "These retailers become partners with us in our business. They take the work in from their customers, scan the photo, and upload the digital file to us over the Internet. We complete the work as specified and back to them with a quick turnaround."

Retailers pay a wholesale price per image, ranging from $10 to $33 depending on the amount of work involved, and can charge whatever their market will bear for the services. "Pricing is entirely up to the local retailer," Waters stresses. "We can provide them with material to promote the services, but they decide what to charge."

A combination of factors enables the company to price the services so aggressively. Waters says the company has restored more than 150,000 photos to date, giving it insight into the amount of work involved on digital restoration projects. "You can tell your customer exactly what it will cost when they bring in the photo, not an estimate of what it might cost," he says.

By shipping the work offshore, where the cost of labor and living is substantially lower, the company is also able to contain costs and pass along the savings. Waters says all files are uploaded to the company's facilities in Lima, Peru, where it maintains a staff of 120 artists. They complete the work and ship the files back over the Internet to the retailer for printing.

Another company, Online Photo Fix (www.onlinephotofix.com), offers photo restoration services over the Internet from facilities in Argentina. According to company founder and director Alejandro Cerutti, the services are currently offered through more than 100 retail locations in the U.S. Dealer cost ranges from $4.95 to $29.95 per image.

PhotoTLC (www.phototlc.com) also leverages the global reach of the Internet to provide photo restoration services to clients throughout North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. The company reports it has restored more than 220,000 images to date. Services include photo restoration, colorization, or digital editing and manipulation to create an entirely new image. Clients pay a flat fee of $59.95 per image, regardless of how many services are required to produce the desired image.

Bellamax (www.bellamax.com) offers a photo manipulation retail service that enhances digital images for the consumer. Prices range from 49 cents to $2.99 for the premium service. Bellamax does the restoration work and sends it back to the customer. The photofinisher gets a percentage of each print, as does Bellamax. The service is digital to digital, so they don't print it. Instead, they're attempting to attach to output stations such as the Sony ImageStation, where customers can click a check box that they want their photo enhanced.

More Software Solutions
A variety of software programs and applications are also available to help retailers differentiate themselves from the competition and to give customers a reason to return to the store. Some of these are software applications for organizing, viewing or sharing digital images that retailers can sell their customers. Others are specialized applications, which the retailer can use to promote the lab and services.

Callisto Software (www.photoparade.com) offers several imaging applications that consumers can purchase to enhance enjoyment of their digital images. The flagship product, PhotoParade Maker, allows them to improve digital images and then share them in digital slide shows created with the software.

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