Magazine Article


Lab Owners' Behind-Counter Choice: Is It To Be Wet or Dry?

KIS-Photo Me's DKS 1510
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 1510 is a silver halide system.
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 900
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 900 is a dye-sub system.
The Noritsu dDP-621
The Noritsu dDP-621 offers inkjet output.

We thought it was complicated in the old days.

When it came time to select a new minilab, either for a new store or to replace an old machine, we had maybe six or eight minilab brands to choose from. We would agonize over the choice, speak to our buddies, kick the tires, maybe lose sleep. But the decision would usually boil down to such as: how is my present brand servicing me? Do I really need a machine that outputs 2,000 prints/hr.? Which salesperson takes me out to lunch, and which to the ballgame? The finance package; and, maybe, which has the lowest price?

One thing was certain: we would end up with a silver halide system.

Not so, anymore. Add to the debate whether the best choice for a given location is still a silver halide product for print output as retailers are now being presented with options: dye-sub or inkjet. As roll counts decline, as media costs get more competitive, as quality and archiveability become less a concern as papers and inks have improved, as there are more players offering non-traditional systems, retailers have new options for their behind-the-counter equipment. Go wet or go dry?

There’s no argument with the reality of lower film roll counts. It must be scary for a photo specialist to look at year-to-year roll count numbers these days. In the early history of on-site, equipment sales folks would talk in glowing terms to prospective buyers of their labs about 100-roll days and how quickly the break even could be expected. Then, there were many stores that racked up those roll count numbers—especially on Mondays. Old timers now talk about those 100+ days with misty eyes. Now, how about 100+ weeks?

Those rose colored glasses have long ago been replaced in the digital world—though some specialists still wore them while they were putting the padlocks on their doors.

Mass merchant locations have no less a problem than the specialist in deciding a switch except that lots of zeros have to be added to any choice made. Those mass merchants that committed to the on-site business early on are faced with the choice of what to switch to. Walgreens, for one, is estimated to having over 1,000 stores that still have (very) old Gretag optical systems.

Every chain has stores that never even had on-site equipment, either because of low volume expectations, environmental considerations due to having chemicals in the store, available floor space, or whatever. Large, full service labs were not reasonable investments. Might management consider some lower cost, dry lab solution that now makes it feasible to go on-site, potentially creating a plethora of even more on-site locations overall?

Until recently, the behind-the-counter standard has been the chemically based digital minilab systems offered by the likes of Noritsu, Fuji, Agfa, Konica, San Marco Imaging (né Gretag) and KIS-Photo Me. However, the same market forces that have decimated the retail ranks, have been no less kind to the manufacturing sector as Agfa and Konica have bitten the dust in the past year (though Agfa is trying a comeback) leaving Fuji and Noritsu to share maybe as much as 95% of the U.S. market.

At present, there are two back-counter dry choices that a retailer might elect instead of a chemically based system. The more popular is a dye-sublimation system now available from a few sources, and an inkjet solution championed only by Noritsu.

Dye-Sub Solutions

KIS-Photo Me is the only manufacturer that currently offers a choice of either a conventional silver halide lab or a dye-sub setup and ties the two together, both from an engineering standpoint as well as marketing.

Called the DKS 900, the Photo Me dye-sub system consists of a pair of printers that will print 550, 4x6 prints/hr., but will also handle output of 5x7, 6x9, and 8x10. The master control unit will handle up to three modules of two printers each, for even greater capacity and can output a variety of such specialty products as calendars, greeting cards, business cards, etc., as well as burn images to a CD.

The basic DKS 900 sells for $24,000, according to Mark Lawrence, director of marketing, and each module with two printers costs another $6,000. Shipments began in late 2004 and Mark said there is a growing interest in the product.

To satisfy a new retailer who isn’t sure just how much volume he might expect as he opens a new location, Mark outlined the firm’s Volume Assurance Program: a dealer purchasing the DKS 900 dye-sub can, anytime within 12 months, trade it back to Photo Me for a full credit allowance toward the DKS 1510, a silver halide system with an output of 800, 4R prints/hr.

The switch is easy, Mark explained, since the software operating system for the dye-sub DKS 900 is identical to the DKS 1510 so that there is no re-training for a dealer that may upgrade.

In Mark’s judgment a dealer should consider upgrading from dye-sub to silver halide when the daily print requirement exceeds 500-600 prints.

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