Kodak Trying to Make Nice with Photo Specialty
"We took our eye off the ball."
It was not uttered in the privacy of a confessional booth, so I can tell who said it and what it was about.
The mea culpa was spoken by Joe Diliberto, vp and general manager, photo specialty channel for Kodak. Joe, a 27-year veteran at Kodak, was discussing the subject of his firm's lack of focus on the photo specialist over the years. While it comes as no surprise to the specialist dealer, certainly, I guess it's refreshing that someone at Joe's level can admit to it publicly. It has taken a long time.
He further acknowledged that Kodak put its resources where the growth was, mass merchants, etc., and along the way lost the partnerships and relationships with the specialist.
According to Joe the climate has now changed and a new emphasis is being focused on the photo specialist. "My role was created because we need to have somebody give 100% attention to this channel. We understand the importance of this channel." Kodak likewise has 'Joes' as vp's for three other channels, as well: mass merchant, food and drug.
What Took You So Long?
Why now, Joe? The huge base of photo specialists has been diminishing for years. Why, now that the number is at such a reduced level, (about 8,000 according to Joe), has Kodak decided that it's time to start paying attention? Joe said, "We had two choices. Continue to do nothing or make a conscious decision that not only should we be working with the specialist but that there is a role for the specialist to play as we move into digital. We need to have a force of retailers that can help consumers understand what they can do with their pictures."
Given that Kodak is serious about the need for the specialist, what real action is taking place that could make a difference?
For one thing, Joe now has a field staff of about 27 sales reps, (an increase from seven) or, business development managers as they are now being called, totally dedicated to the photo specialty channel. These folks will be reporting to three regional sales managers (east, central, west) and representing to the specialist all of the consumer products and services that Kodak has to offer: film, cameras, chemistry, finishing products, paper, etc.
Joe acknowledges that it will be impossible to have the staff of 27 call face-to-face on over 5,000 photo specialists now on Kodak's books. The bigger guys will get that attention. He is using a combination of tele-marketing, B2B Internet (see below) and mailing to keep the communication channel open and the information flowing.
Also, presently under way and continuing into the Fall is a series of 20 seminars entitled: Putting the Specialty Back in Photo Specialty. Two members from each dealer will be invited to attend a 4 1/2-hour meeting during which "we're going to show you how to stay ahead of the technology curve."
Joe also described other initiatives for the specialist. He feels, for example, that the single use camera (OTUC in Kodak-ese), is an under-developed product at the photo specialist level as the mass guys dominate this still rapidly growing segment. He said Kodak is now selling a 24-exposure, 35-mm Fun Saver, with flash, to the specialist at the same price that the mass merchant pays.
Another offering that is designed to help the specialist differentiate from the mass guys is a new metallic paper that has previously only been available in cut-sheet for the professional market. It is now being made in rolls that Joe said will work in minilab equipment. Price, Joe? Maybe as much as 70-cents a sq. ft., but he said that he showed it to some dealers who felt they could get an extra $1-2 per enlargement for only a little extra paper cost.
Of the new programs that Joe talked about, two especially caught my interest: the B2B Internet program, and a new department that will work with the field staff to guide the photo specialist in the selection of equipment for the lab. I've spent a little extra time and space in describing these in some detail.