Few businesses have been impacted by the digital revolution more than the photo lab. Over the past dozen years, digital cameras, printers, and new digital technologies have completely transformed work processes of the photo lab and the services they offer. For many lab owners, the choice was simple: either you made the proper investments in equipment and software, fully embraced these changes and diversified your services, or you closed up shop.
Dallas, TX–based BWC Photo Imaging (www.bwc.net) is one output provider that has remained on the cutting edge of technology and has been able to roll with the changes. This prolab's ingredients for success come from investing in the right mix of equipment and technology, providing a host of diversified output services, and offering fast turnaround and excellent customer service.
Established in 1975 by president and CEO Ms. Lou George, BWC (Black-and-White-and-Color) has offered top-notch film processing to award-winning photographers worldwide. Surprisingly, even today, film processing, black-and-white prints, and color prints remain a large part of their core business.
Building upon their extensive experience in providing photographic services with fast turnaround times and exceptional quality, BWC has become a digital printing and production powerhouse with a cutting edge in-house design team. They feature one-stop solutions for all visual communications, from museum/trade show exhibits and retail store décor to corporate collateral, branding development, and website design.
"When we started the company back in 1975, our intent was simple," says George. "We wanted to offer a better way to process and print black-and-white film."
George's interest in photography began in her early teens and has been a passion ever since. After working both as a commercial and portrait photographer, she became hooked on "image conversion"—transforming those films into works of art by use of the darkroom, which grew to become the full-blown lab it is today.
Although the lab also handles its share of color work, its emphasis on black-and-white reflects the interest and the mastery of the genre by George—she even numbers a black-and-white Harley Davidson among her stable of beloved motorcycles. BWC was one of the first labs in the country to install two 307 Refrema film processors to meet the demand being generated by its high-end black-and-white processing and printing.
"I've always had a love for black-and-white photography," says George. "Black-and-white was deemed dead even back in 1975, because color was the next big trend that all the labs were getting into at the time. Many felt the rise of color was going to make it obsolete.
"Some of our competitors thought it was funny that we would open a lab serving mainly the black-and-white niche," she continues. "But what we found in our market research was that it was something that photographers were looking for and could not find in the Dallas market. They wanted black-and-white processing, and they wanted it fast. At that time, the standard turnaround time for processing a black-and-white roll of film and making a contact sheet was about three days.
We were able to cut the turnaround time drastically to about four hours, which was unheard of. We grew to be quite successful at it." BWC remained a niche black-and-white lab for about three years and then moved into E-6 processing and many of the color services that they still offer today.
George says that back then they ran E-6 around the clock during the week, with just a two-hour turnaround on their two 307 E-6 Refrema processors. "We were running a production schedule of 24 hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week," she adds. "We did that for about 20 years."
Today, they still process film 10 hours a day, five days a week. "We still have a decent amount of film volume, despite the digital revolution," she says. "The reason that we still process a large volume of film work is that we have a lot of national accounts and we entered the portrait market. We've even seen an increase in the film processing in the past few months! We will still be processing both black-white, color, and E-6 film until the market tells us otherwise."
Transitions to Digital
As the market began to change in the late 1990s, so did BWC. George says they took their core business and went in a couple of different directions with it.
"In 1999 we purchased an existing photo lab in Richardson, TX, which is just outside of Dallas," she says. "We did this with the sole intent of moving our entire commercial-based business to that location, while prepping our Dallas location for online portrait services, which we believed would be a huge part of business in a few years. Fortunately, our predictions were dead-on accurate. So we were able to successfully run two businesses—one out of each location.