A Message to the Photo Industry:
Put Your Egos Aside & Make Your Products Play Nice with Each Other
by Mike Woodland, Director of Operations Dan's Camera
If one thing could be said about this year's PMA, it definitely featured more digital technologies than ever before. As consumer acceptance of digital imaging has grown, so too have the number and variety of products available to dealers. Yet despite the variety of choice, most retailers I have talked with find themselves in a similar quandary. We want to offer our customers the best solutions when it comes to working from their digital images. Making it easy for consumers to share and use these new technologies in ways we can profit from is on every retailer's mind. Reducing the amount of time it takes to work with customers dropping off digital images is critical.
But after several long days of intensive questioning, we came to a disappointing realization. The complete, simple, affordable solution was nowhere to be found. Sure, one company had a great solution for on-line, a different company had a great solution for my Drop Sites and yet a different company had an efficient counter top unit for my main store. Should we care they were all different companies?
Let us look at it from the customer's point of view. Every user interface, or Graphical User Interface (GUI), is different. Now we need to train our staff on three different systems. They need to ask the customer where they expect to use our service and then know which system to explain. Customers will have to remember which system offers which options. Since each different company has different options available. Instead of realizing a savings in time and energy, we would likely have to devote even more!
The "Solution" We Found
For our specific needs, we settled on the following vendors.
For On-line ordering we chose GraphX, Inc., the folks who brought us the software package Raster Plus. This is based on their combination of lower upfront costs, no cut of our sales going forward and the functionality of their system. Many on-line systems make you choose from no cost of entry, but a cut of sales, or high cost of entry with no on-going cut. The PhotoGize system allows customers two options for working with the files to order prints. One is a straightforward up-load if you do not intend to share the photos. The second is the ability to email us the photos.
For our Drop Sites we initially chose the low cost "Transfer Station" units from Kodak. While not in production yet, this under $2,000 unit allows customers to order prints from their digital camera cards. Once the customer has chosen the files to be printed, the unit burns them to a CD-R. Our plan was to have our Courier simply pull out the CD and bring it back to the store for printing. We might still use these in Drop Sites with lower volume, but we found a better solution, which I will explain in a moment.
For our in-store countertop units, we came across a solution called "Touch Prints APM" by Lucidiom. They have a less expensive counter top and kiosk solution, compared to most. We found their ability to customize the GUI to our liking very desirable. Even better, by using their counter top unit in our store and at our Drop Sites, we now have fewer GUI's for our staff and customer to learn how to use. The Lucidiom unit will print to several different digital labs. This is starting to look attractive since we can now realize a timesavings. Lucidiom also offers a software package for doing the film to CD production in our lab. No big deal you say, but the intuitiveness of their package will save my operators time in producing finished CDs.
As for printing while-u-wait orders in our store, we hope to be able to use the Phogenix digital inkjet minilab. While this has a higher machine cost, the lower material cost and far greater range of products make this a very attractive option. We would love to offer wallets up to 12x18 in glossy or matte on demand. The Phogenix minilab offers the additional advantage of allowing us to replace our Create-A-Print and Picture Maker units with one, more capable, machine.
The Solution We Need
So while we finally have a decent solution taking shape, I could paint a picture of what would be even better.
Imagine if each of these vendors, who we feel are leaders in their area, would work together. We could offer a service of "order from home, or almost anywhere, pick it up when you get here" for a premium of course.
We could have a uniform GUI on all of our digital camera input options-be it in our store, at our Drop Sites, from our photo CDs and on the web. This way, we could teach customers how to use our ONE system and no matter where they go, they would fully understand how to use it and what options were available. This would truly be a timesavings and present a more professional appearance.
Furthermore, this solution approaches the ease of use we need to offer our customers. One interface to learn, four options to access it and a range of print choices, what more could you want? Oh, you are a Fuji or Agfa house you say, no worries if GraphX and Lucidiom cooperated, this "dream system" could likely use any printer you choose.
My message to our vendors, please focus on your strength. Noritsu and Fuji each have great components, but neither offers what we feel to be a strong solution combining all the avenues. Moreover, in trying to lock us into your system we have to accept at least one compromise somewhere.
Why did one camera company regional spend more time showing us a very overpriced kiosk than he spent showing us their cameras? Why are other camera companies investing resources in on-line fulfillment? These are not the areas where you excel. And, these are not services customers are expecting you to offer, so now you will need to invest resources in marketing these fringe services.
Now is the time for the photo industry to cooperate. Focus on your strength, make a great product and make it play nice with as many others as possible. The digital revolution has brought many competitors into our business. The photo industry needs to set ego aside and work hard to be the leader it is capable of.
If you don't, someone else will.