In January 2006, Miller’s Professional Imaging installed a Kodak NexPress 2100 at their pro photo lab in Columbia, MO. In April 2006, David Guidry of Lakeside Camera Photoworks added the HP Indigo Press 5000 to his photo-specialty store in Metairie, Louisiana. With big business inflating the photo market, specialty stores and labs have had to fight the uphill battle of choosing quality over quantity. The hill posed by the Best Buys, Circuit Citys, Wal-Marts, and Costcos has become, in recent years, more like a Mount Everest. The tragedy of 9/11 created new economic quandaries for all industries to overcome, especially niche markets. Therefore, an obvious (yet fitting) question to ask these photo labs is: why make such an investment? The answer, according to Guidry, president of Lakeside Camera, is to adopt the “ability to produce products that will be driving the industry in the future,” rather than chasing the fickle tail of trends that will die out before the retailer can even catch up.
The new digital presses seem to surfeit the rapid demand for more localized quality printing. Running up to 4,000 four-color or 8,000 two-color A4 images per hour, HP’s Indigo Press 5000 connects the efficiency necessary for photo reproduction with the quality demand of photo retailers and their customers. After withstanding the calamitous effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Lakeside (PTN’s 2005 Dealer of the Year) uses the Indigo to create dynamic opportunities for new services like first-rate calendars, folded greeting cards, two-sided business cards, brochures, and booklets. “I liked the way it looked,” says Guidry, remarking on HP’s end-product. “Most of the photo-based products were being produced on Indigo presses, and we knew this already. We knew that there were supporting processes that HP was helping us fulfill—I think HP is further along than other companies for photo-based two-sided [output].”
Although the HP is Lakeside’s digital press of choice, other big-name companies have their solutions as well. The Kodak NexPress has wielded success for Miller’s Labs, says Richard Miller, chief executive officer at Miller’s Professional Imaging. “The Kodak NexPress 2100 and 2500 allow us to move beyond the confines of traditional photographic printing. Our customers are very pleased with the artistic effects and various creative products that we now offer, and our staff loves the flexibility of the workflow in our digital environment,” he says. Miller’s installed the 2100 into their Columbia, Missouri, location in January, and has since invested in the 2500. According to Miller, the NexPress is responsible for “increased productivity, optimized operations, and new value-added products and services.” Why Kodak? James Jamison, manager of Miller’s, says, “The fact that it was a Kodak device weighed in heavily—we are a Kodak-supported business. We like the look and image quality of the NexPress better than the Indigo.”
An important feature to both of these presses is their ability to create cost-effective prints for short-run jobs, with relatively fast turn-around speeds—thus the transition from labs outsourcing to print shops, to labs investing in such in-house technologies like those from HP and Kodak. “The nature of our business is very low volume; it is rare for us to do hundreds of copies. The NexPress allows us to take on such jobs,” says Jamison.
The digital press is tailored to coincide with this type of low-volume printing. In the past, only high-quantity prints could be achieved, making it more expensive for customers who would have to comply with such demands. Now, clients no longer need to make such a compromise, and photo labs can outfit customer needs more exactly.
With the establishment of such presses as the NexPress and the Indigo, users can maintain centralized control over their assets, widening the services offered and respectively increasing the amount of profit brought into their businesses. “We can now print on alternate substrates besides just plain paper, like fine-art, velum, and cotton rag. I feel that the end product has a little bit more of a quality feel, a little bit of differentiation. We have more flexibility because we do it in-house. We’re also local, so if you need something in a hurry, we can offer quick turn-around,” says Guidry.
The proverbial “quality versus quantity” question has been a key feature to the photo lab/big business seesaw. However, with smaller labs investing in such technologies, the balance of that seesaw begins to give way to the photo retailer landing on top. No longer do clients have to sacrifice higher-end products for those that barely satiate their instantly gratified palate. With businesses like Miller’s and Lakeside armed with these new digital presses, serving quality prints more efficiently, photo retailers can solidify their presence in the photo imaging industry more concretely and wave the just flag of the underdog.