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A Shoebox of Memories
Retailers discover a niche that digitizes and preserves customers' precious photos for all time.


shoebox of photographs

When my beloved grandfather passed away this past October, my entire extended family converged upon Long Island from all over the country to celebrate his life and reminisce about all the wonderful memories we had of Grandpa George. My aunt and uncle flew in from California to attend the funeral, and by the time they landed, my uncle had burned an entire photo slideshow onto DVD, complete with a Ukrainian folk-song soundtrack that Grandpa would have loved, using his laptop on the plane (thanks to my aunt's foresight to have a multitude of photos scanned ahead of time). We were able to view a digital tribute of Grandpa George and his trademark pipe making the rounds in India during World War II, flirting with my grandmother during their courtship, and enjoying his 12 grandchildren over the years.

This concept of taking shoeboxes of old family photos and digitizing them for posterity is an innovative (and obviously emotional) niche that many retailers have recently embraced, both for the profit potential and the sentimental value it offers their customers. Mitch Goldstone, president of 30 Minute Photos, Etc., in Irvine, CA, was an important pioneer of shoebox scanning and has become a leader in the industry for this type of service. "I've been in the memory business since 1990, so I understand how important it is to preserve memories through pictures," he explains. "Once digital took hold, all the pictures taken before digital were just sitting in shoeboxes." Together with his partner, Carl Berman, Goldstone came up with the idea of ShoeboxReprints.com [now ScanMyPhotos.com]."

Goldstone discovered that Kodak had a scanner (the i660) that was sold through its document imaging business unit. "That scanner was the genesis of the whole plan," says Goldstone. "Kodak then created a new software product called Kodak Image Capture, which converts these scans into JPEGs. This changed everything. From there, we came up with the name ScanMyPhotos.com."

Goldstone's online service allows people to call a phone number to order a prepaid shipping box; once they receive the box, they can fill it with as many photos as the box will hold (typically 1,600 to 1,800 pictures) for a flat fee of $99.95. Once they receive the photos, they're scanned and immediately sent back to the customer.

The feedback has been phenomenal, according to Goldstone, and now other retailers are jumping on the bandwagon. When Goldstone spoke at the Independent Photo Imagers (IPI) tradeshow in September, he explained to a crowd of about 250 photo retailers exactly what he was doing and how superfast and effortless it could be for the consumer. "Out of those 250 people, 150 wanted to buy the scanner immediately," he says.

Here's where IPI entered the picture, so to speak, purchasing the scanners in bulk from Kodak. "The reason we did it was pretty much member-driven," says Brent Bowyer, president and CEO of IPI. "Our members liked it so well that we did what we call a 'superbuy.' We bought the scanners in bulk, and the members bought them from us and saved everyone a lot of money."

Putting the Scanners to Work

Since adding this type of service to their repertoire, retailers have been enjoying great success, says Bowyer. "There are guys who are going gangbusters for this," he says. "What it did was open up a whole new revenue stream that wasn't there before. And in specialty retail, as you well know, you have to look for a special niche."

One such retailer who has welcomed shoebox scanning to his services is John Carroll, of Keaton Kolor, in San Angelo, TX. "We have traditionally scanned photos using flatbed scanners, but with the addition of the new Kodak i1220 scanner, we now scan most of our work on it," he says. "The scans are very good quality, and we seldom make a color correction. The Kodak i1220 paid for itself in just a couple of weeks in labor savings alone."

The shoebox scanning service Keaton Kolor is offering is still in testing mode, says Carroll. "We are offering the service to select customers only right now," he explains. "The customers who come in to use this service are usually people who want to share their photo collection with their children or their parents' photo collection with the rest of their family. We allow the customer to do the scanning, and the images are sent to a kiosk. When the customer finishes, he or she can then review the photos on the kiosk and order prints and CDs. This has worked well so far, and after some software modifications are made, we will offer it to the general public."

And while profits are not meant to replace all of the lost revenue from film processing, Carroll believes it will serve as a "solid profit center for a long time." And there's money to be made from more than just the originally ordered DVD, including duplicate DVDs, enlargements, photo books, and gifts. "Most of this is possible through a kiosk or online now," he says. "All of these different services are converging into a solution that is the same in-store and online."

Marsha Phillips, owner of F-11 Photographic Supplies in Bozeman, MT, is embarking on a similar photographic-documenting journey with her scanning service. "Our service is called Instant Heirloom, and we do bulk-scanning of prints to a digital file," she says. "The file is made at the maximum optical resolution of our scanner, which allows our customers to make fantastic quality prints that are at least double the size of the originalónice for making bigger prints to recognize faces, especially from all the old, small black-and-white prints that many of us have."

"The scans are delivered to the customer on archival gold CDs or DVDs for a long-lasting product. "The file format used is the universal JPEG," says Phillips. "We use a Kodak i1320 scanner, and process the images in third-party software to achieve what we think is a very good quality file."

Included with each order is a one-of-a-kind hardbound index book of all of the customer's images so they can easily locate the pictures they want to look at or use. "The book is a fast, fun way to view a collection of images," Phillips explains.

Phillips' decision to take on this new service was expedited by her own personal experience. "My mother passed away a year ago December, and it really drove home the need for a service like this," she says. "We had tons of pictures, but it took quite an effort to make them available in the format we needed them to be in, and in the time frame we had to work with. I went to Mitch Goldstone's presentation at PMA 2006 after that and began the search for a solution to fulfill the rather obvious need for archiving, digitizing, and sharing prints."

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