As camera stores and photo labs look to add new services to their mix of offerings, one tried-and-true solution harkens back to an oldie but goodie—finishing services, which include mounting, laminating, and framing.
Although photo retailers and labs have come a long way on the output side of digital imaging, there is still a great deal of benefit to be gained from the variety of finishing services available once the image is printed. And for dealers looking to become full-service output providers, laminating and mounting services can be just the thing, not only to enhance the quality of a poster-sized image, but also to increase the bottom line.
Little Investment Required
"Adding mounting and laminating services to augment large-format print sales should be a no-brainer for most photo retailers," says Jerry Hill, VP, sales and marketing, at Drytac Corp. "If you're not capturing the extra sales from mounting and laminating, chances are someone else is. Any print larger than 11x14 will most likely require some form of finishing services in order to be useful to the consumer."
Hill says the addition of these services doesn't require much of an investment, especially when compared to the expense of adding print services. "A basic electric mounter/laminator will cost just under $1,000," he says. "It's easy and convenient to use and offers great flexibility in the types of products offered. Some retailers have paid for the investment with their very first project. The availability of precoated substrates can save time and materials, or you can purchase rolls of adhesive and coat your own boards. A variety of laminate finishes, everything from gloss to canvas texture, can enhance an image, adding greater impact."
Greg White, regional manager at Coda, Inc., also sees a good avenue for retailers to enter this market. "From our standpoint, the equipment involved for pressure-sensitive mounting and laminating would be a Coda Cold-Mount Press (ranging from $2,100 to $4,750, depending on the width of the machine and options), a cutting device, and a table," says White. "The ROI on the equipment can probably be recuperated quicker than any other piece of equipment in the lab. There are no special power requirements, computer smarts, night classes, or additional costs for training. With a little bit of practice, you can be ready for a great additional source of revenue in no time. In addition, knowing what laminating film combinations work best with a particular media, ink, and application, and gaining experience producing such applications, is also key to having successful service in a retail establishment."
Peggy Palmiter, owner of a Moto Photo in Washington, DC, is proof that finishing services can pay dividends at the retail level. "As my regular 4x6 printing has decreased over the years, the area that has increased is anything associated with custom products," says Palmiter. "When I say 'custom,' I mean work that is specifically tailored to the customer."
She got serious about adding mounting and laminating services when she went to PMA 2006. "I was part of a small group of Moto Photo franchisees who went to PMA looking at adding new services," she recalls. "We stopped by the Drytac booth and I liked their 25-inch laminator. It had a good price and small footprint and was easy to use."
Palmiter has an Epson 7800 printer. "Wide-format printing has allowed us to take our business in different directions," she says. "We produce a lot of posters, photo collages, and digital mats. We also output a lot of signage and commercial work for businesses for trade shows and promotions. On order, we do significantly more mounting than laminating. And we do tend to mount most wide-format prints we produce. Once you sell a big print, the next logical step is to get it mounted and framed. We constantly point that out to our customers."
She reports that there was a bit of a learning curve with mounting and laminating (but not a big one) to get up to speed. "It does take some labor and skill, but once you get the knack of it, it does go pretty quickly," she says. "Drytac was helpful in providing us some education. We use Drytac window adhesive to print our own window signage. It's good for advertising specials and services."
Palmiter says it's services like these that are the future for the photo dealer's survival. "The business has changed over the years—it's no longer just about making prints," she says. "It's much more than that. The business model has changed. I now call my business a digital custom lab. It's a whole new way of doing things. Custom is about spending my time with the customer, engaging in new ideas, hand-helping them to create more specialized products using more specialized services."
What You Need to Know
Angela Mohni, VP, marketing, Neschen Americas, manufacturers of SEAL and Neschen brand laminating equipment and materials, also sees enormous profit potential for the retailer or lab. "Finished prints command a higher retail value and a greater level of customer satisfaction than digital prints alone due to their increased durability and enhanced appearance," she says. "With the range of laminates available today, there is a vast array of graphics solutions that print producers can offer their customers. Laminating is a profitable service that adds value to digitally printed signs and displays."
One successful Neschen/SEAL user, Matt Simpkins, purchasing and estimating manager for Andrés Imaging & Graphics, located in Chicago, IL, recommends lamination for all photo and aqueous-based inkjet prints leaving their facility.
Simpkins says Andrés Imaging has found that it can "easily maintain good retail margins on mounting and laminating because of the value it adds." He also notes that customer satisfaction is a key factor for laminated graphics. "You've got to make recommendations and present the customer with the advantages of laminating," says Simpkins.
For shops looking to add image finishing, Mohni says today's pressure-sensitive mounting and laminating technologies offer some key advantages. First, the initial investment is lower with pressure-sensitive systems because you don't need a "hot" roller laminator. Cold or warm roller laminators cost less than fully heated machines. Also, the cost of pressure-sensitive laminating materials has dropped considerably in recent years, making a complete pressure-sensitive finishing system very cost-effective.