The Orlando PMA convention will be remembered as the show in which the minilab, for so long the glamour product of retail photo finishing, has been pushed into the background as the kiosk is getting the greater klieg light focus on the retail scene.
What better evidence that the minilab equipment industry has seen better days than the fact that two brands that have long been in the minilab battle, Konica and Agfa, were present at the show in name only. Their booths were filled by others as their epitaphs were spoken in somber tones.
But, being off center stage doesnít mean the players are not playing. Fuji and Noritsu unveiled interesting new digital labs and Photo-Me is moving into the industry mainstream. At risk behind the counter is silver halide equipment as retailers have new choices of output from an expanded series of dye-sub and inkjet systems.
No longer is energy being spent on the matter of film vs. digital. Thatís old hat. Gone. The industry is now concentrating on how to draw the digital shooter back to the traditional printing venue, the retailer. Kiosks are getting fancier and offering more output innovations than ever. Scrapbooking is moving from the art specialty store into mainstream photo and the newcomer, Hewlett Packard, may have hit the timing just right with its Photosmart Studio and its appeal to the scrapbooking and poster customer.
These are some of the activities both off and on the show floor that caught my attention:
AGFA: Meeting of Dealers and Suppliers Leaves Most Satisfied For Positive Future
Agfa was officially absent from the convention floor but there was no shortage of Agfa equipment owners with questions and concerns as to what was in their future. I met folks on the airplane on the way to Orlando, at baggage claim, and in the hotel lobby all looking for Agfa information.
PMA management wisely decided that it would serve its members well if it would act as a coordinator of a meeting of Agfa dealers with the principal players in the drama: Bing Liem, president of AgfaPhoto U.S.A., the former distributor here for Agfa equipment; Ron Skaggs, president of Integra Technologies, the Austin firm contracted to sell service, parts, and chemicals here; and Andrew Light, operations manager for a&o Imaging Solutions, the European firm that is the worldwide supplier of Agfa parts and chemicals.
Gary Pageau, PMA group executive, served as the moderator and maintained a professional meeting from what might otherwise have been a rowdy affair. There was, after all, an attendance of about 125, all of whom had major investments in Agfa equipment and felt they were cut adrift by the Agfa bankruptcy.
To those with equipment for which there remained a warranty obligation, Bing explained that Integra had been paid by AgfaPhoto U.S.A. to fulfill the balance of the commitment. To those dealers who had paid for a service contract in advance, Bing explained that refunds were made to them for the unused portion of the plan.
Ron Skaggs stated that Integra intended to keep the former Agfa service facility in Plymouth, MN in operation and that he had retained many of the former Agfa tech team. In response to complaints that Integraís price for new service contracts was somewhat higher than before, Ron indicated that the labor rate hadnít changed and that the pricing for parts was close to what they had been.
The big difference in the service plan, it appeared, was a $2,000 deductible. Ron explained that this was a result of the high cost for the laser engine which was available from only one source worldwide. He said he was trying to find additional suppliers with the hope of lowering the price.
(Ron Skaggs advised me that as of April 1, Integra had contracted to be the exclusive supplier of parts to Canada in addition to its U.S. territory. He noted that he had hired Rick Myers, formerly of Agfa, to work out arrangements with wholesalers to handle Agfa chemicals.)
The only tension during the meeting occurred in a few individual situations regarding leasing plans that had service programs packaged in them.