Magazine Article


Re: Groups

Group Affiliation Could Solve Some Problems For the Photo Specialist

The photo specialist in today's changing photo environment has a series of challenges to be met if he is to remain afloat. The breed is a dwindling one and dealers have had to look in different directions for the formula necessary to succeed.

A significant number of specialists have turned to joining one of a number of various industry groups to help them obtain the best pricing deals, guidance in business operations and the need for a networking system. In some cases a group connection has meant the difference between survival and failure for a dealer.

There are a number of these groups in the industry, some regional, some national, but each with a flavor of its own. I have been able to identify some of these organizations, though there are probably others that I'm not aware of. I've made no reference to PMA, the granddaddy of all photo industry groups, as their activities are well known.

In case someone may be interested in membership while at the PMA convention, I've indicated the names of the people to contact, their phone numbers and if they have a show presence.

Brent Bowyer

Independent Photo Imagers—

Largest Group Serving Photo Specialists

It started out in 1982 when three California members of the Fromex family, a one-hour pioneer now long-gone, decided they needed to band together in the face of problems with their franchisor. From that modest beginning was born Independent Photo Imagers, the largest, by membership, of the various groups serving the photo specialist. Its emphasis is on the on-site operator.

For a short period the group was known as Pacific Minilab Association and focused on West coast dealers. It went national in 1995 and is now headquartered in Charlestown, WV where, according to Brent Bowyer, president, it serves 355 members that operate about 550 store fronts throughout the country. Brent is a CPA and lab owner (Foto 1, run by his wife).

With this size membership and an annual purchasing volume approaching $100 million, according to Brent, IPI has considerable clout when it comes to negotiating with vendors. To add to this leverage, IPI joins hands with the buying committee of the PRO group (see next section) to work over the vendors for the best deal for members. "We have to compete with Ritz, Wal-Mart and the rest of them." This is the most effective way to get what Brent quaintly calls "privileged pricing."

Once deals are cut, members buy directly from the vendor at the IPI price. The organization never takes title to merchandise. An IPI staff of four conducts the business of the group.

IPI vendor groups fall into two categories: platinum and gold. The platinums are the five paper manufacturers (Fuji, Kodak, Konica, Mitsubishi and Agfa) along with Fuji-Hunt and Noritsu. The balance of the 90 suppliers are gold category.

"The platinum group plays a bigger roll in supporting the membership," according to Brent. At the four-day annual convention held in the Fall, these members host special events and sponsor speakers in return for receiving extra time to present their product stories.

The IPI website ( is one of the most professional I've seen. Not only does it give full details and an application for membership, it also shows its staff and 10 board members and allows a customer to find a local IPI member that is also a Certified Digital Photo Processing lab.

Brent said that what you see on the website is only a small portion of what is otherwise available to IPI members with passwords. Every pricing deal with every vendor is posted on the site for ready reference. In addition there is an IPI Forum feature that has 45 separate topic areas for members to post questions and suggestions. Brent said that it includes special sections for members to connect with platinum vendors, such as 'Ask Fuji', and that the vendors monitor these sites daily for rapid response.

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