Four generations of Hanson family members have been providing 90 years of photofinishing excellence to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, area—adapting to change as technology advances—while always offering their customers a wide array of solutions for their imaging needs. "Most important is to sell our company as a solution for whatever they need," Bob Hanson says.
The business began in 1911, when Bob's grandfather first opened a portrait studio; then, in 1938, Bob's father and uncle opened the company's first camera store. The business adapted to change as necessary through the years, exiting the wholesale photofinishing business in 1992 and getting back into portraits in 1993, which had been phased out earlier.
Currently, Harold's Photo Centers consists of eight stores in the Sioux Falls area—six of them sell cameras, five have portrait studios, five have drive-up windows, and all have Fuji Frontier minilabs. In addition, Harold's also has a central lab, which is an important part of the business. "We grew up as wholesale photofinishers—photofinishing has always been a big part of our business," explains Bob.
Harold's offers its customers much more than the one-hour services that each location's minilabs can do. Bob explains that the onsite minilab units in each of the eight stores output wallets through 8-inch printing. The stores' "express" kiosk units are set up to route printing orders to the minilabs for fulfillment.
The central lab, on the other hand, receives orders from the "creative" kiosks and online orders, and is responsible for all larger enlargements, E-6 and other special processing, B&W, creation of photobooks and greeting cards, video transfer, and custom framing.
Bob says of the central lab, "The main advantage is being able to justify adding the products and services we have, because we only added one machine to the central lab that was supported by eight stores, feeding jobs into it." So the capital equipment purchases weren't an economic hardship for the business that they may have been for one-location shops. In this way, they were able to add APS photofinishing capabilities, their first digital lab, book-binding equipment, printers for greeting cards, the custom framing, and more.
And while Bob acknowledges he's felt the drop in photofinishing that others have (because of digital, he admits, they still felt the pain), "The central lab certainly helped ease [it]," he says. Processing units have been downsized, and hand B&W was phased out, along with other low-margin services.
How does Bob feel about the advances that digital has had on the industry? "It's been more beneficial going ahead than hanging onto the past."
Phenomenal Photo Greetings
When Harold's Photo Centers first added photo greeting cards to their product mix (they were looking to increase revenue), the normal size for snapshots was 4x6. According to Bob, they realized that a 3-1/2x7 card, which had become standard for photo greetings, didn't have much impact, so they modified one of their Kodak minilab machines to print 4x9 photo greeting cards.
Bob says that the first year the greetings were offered was very successful. Each year since, they've added new designs and styles, while still keeping all the best old ones. Bob says customers would tell them that they did "that one last year," so he made it a point to add as many per year as he could, to give customers a wide array of options. "When you're in a small community, you need to have repeat business and significant market share," says Bob. "We have to have the same people order cards year after year."
Eight years ago, Harold's Photo Centers added plain paper cards as an option. "We started with a color copier," explains Bob. "Now we use the Xerox 250 printers." He explains that two-sided plain paper printing made a real impact: "As soon as we went to two-sided printing, the floodgates were opened [for choices]."
Check out the company's website at www.haroldsphoto.com, and you'll see a large assortment of photo greeting card styles and other products showcased—but that's just the tip of the iceberg. "We do offer more products than the website allows us to show," Bob explains.
Live or Die by the Website and [Drive-Up] Window
How important is a website to a business? "Life or death; for us, it's absolutely the most important thing," says Bob. "Our new front door is the internet.
"It becomes a cliché to talk about 'Jennifer,' but our customer is a young mother who probably works and doesn't notice commercials or print ads," he continues. "Even before they enter the store for the first time, they check us out on the internet."