What do cafés, lounges, bars, and spas have in common? Digital. In the year since we first wrote about the growing trend of dedicated kiosk printing areas at photo retail, digital printing cafés, photo lounges, and picture spas have been popping up all across the country.
While some are new, many retailers have revised their business models to incorporate comfortable areas in their stores for customers to fraternize with each other while they spend hours submitting digital print orders—from snapshots to enlargements, posters, scrapbook pages, and much more. We take a look at what three retailers are doing to entice their customers to come in, get comfortable, and print to their hearts' content.
The Foto Stop
Pier Del Frate, owner of the Sunnyvale, California–based The Foto Stop, designed his store from scratch. He opened the store last August, and from day one, it was digital all the way (as opposed to retailers who were in business during the heyday of film sales and d&p).
Del Frate has a combination of workstations in his store, including six Noritsu CT-SL input stations and three PCs loaded with Adobe Photoshop and scrapbooking software. "I wanted to create an environment where there were enough stations," he says, explaining that with enough workstations, his customers wouldn't have to wait until a kiosk freed up. When people are waiting to use a workstation, the customers at the stations may feel rushed. Del Frate says that with enough work areas, customers can all "walk in, do work, and leave."
Del Frate set the store's layout up for maximum comfort and convenience. There are two tables configured with the Noritsu CT-SL units, which run the PhotoCenter, EZ lab, and home photo center software that was created by ExpressDigital. The kiosk data is run through servers to a Noritsu QSS-3211 minilab and Epson 7800 wide-format printer.
Del Frate has Adobe Photoshop loaded on the PCs. One computer has Memory Mixer software on it, the other has Nova Development's Scrapbook Factory installed. Del Frate says he steers customers to the one with the Memory Mixer software because he likes its functionality. He explains that it is easier for customers to use when they want to create scrapbook pages that will be printed out via the minilab.
Although The Foto Stop is relatively new, Pier Del Frate has 30 years of experience in high tech, marketing, and sales. He's spent the last 20 years in digital video, graphics, and audio. As he puts it, he's got a "very good understanding of the technology behind all this."
The Foto Stop is located in California's Silicon Valley, and Del Frate says he opened the store knowing he wanted to do something with photography and looked for what was needed. He says there were no places set up for the future wave of digital photography, and that other retailers in the vicinity had kiosks added as an afterthought.
Del Frate found that most folks weren't printing. "It's a whole new paradigm," he says of digital. Often they were intimidated by the setups at mass merchants, and instead of seeking help, they just didn't do it. "So I wanted to create an environment here. There are no counters. We greet customers, and say 'We're here to help you.'" He says he tells customers they can ask the same questions over and over if need be, because the staff wants to help them print their digital images.
Del Frate felt the Noritsu setup offered the best-quality prints. "I'm small enough to have the quality control; output is consistent. I strive to use the best-quality paper, Kodak Royal Gold paper, and chemistry. Ninety-five percent of customers have brand recognition with Kodak paper," he adds.
Because the home software is the same as the software being used by the kiosks in the store, once customers learn how to navigate it in-store, they'll be able to understand the home version. "It's got the same feel, so they can use the software and get the prints done at the store," he explains.
While some retailers have set up a veritable coffee shop in their stores, with drinks and munchies, Del Frate decided against it, as there's a Starbucks located next door to The Foto Stop. Once in a while, he'll offer snacks and bottled water. "I don't want this to become a coffee shop. I just want to provide you the best quality, the best experience possible," he says.
A varied spectrum of people come into the store, including those visiting California from out of state, who use the store, and often ask if there's a sister store in their hometown. Del Frate says he has a lot of repeat customers. Often he'll have consumers come in, not wanting to print on the first visit, but who just want to know more about what they do. They'll often tell their friends, and their friends will come in and say "so-and-so said to come here."
Del Frate has a couple groups of people who come in to do scrapbooking and chat—the same with other customers, moms and daughters, or friends coming in to chat and show each other what they're working on. "It's a fun experience to see that," he says. "I am in the process of [setting up] some scrapbooking parties." He explains that customers can schedule a time and have an area set aside for them (for example every Saturday between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.) for a mini scrap seminar on digital scrapbooking or to do work.