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The Picture Spa Could Be The Future of Digital Retailing



It was just 25 years ago last month (1981) that I opened the first of my eight Photo To Go locations in New Jersey. This was the first free-standing minilab in the state, and to my wife and I, as well as to our customers, it was the eighth wonder of the world. People came from miles around to get their prints in an hour (when we newbies could manage it) and were happy to pay our price. It was a green Christmas.

Maybe, just maybe, I may have visited the new wonder of this photo generation: The Picture Spa.

The Picture Spa is the invention of Sid Davidowitz with the input of a lot of other folks who helped create this concept operation to see if it is possible to devote a separate storefront to a retail site focused strictly on the digital customer. Is such a store ready for the digital consumer? Is the digital consumer ready for such a store?

The trade has been inching into the digital service business with the caution of a stalking cat. Likewise, the consumer, quick to jump on the bandwagon to purchase digicams with ever-increasing megapixels, has been somewhat at sea in terms of what to do with the billions of images being captured. Printing at home was the easiest concept to embrace in the earliest days, especially since the traditional retail locations for photo processing were, themselves, slow to react to the changing market.

Kodak may have been somewhat ahead of its time with its Create-a-Print, a cumbersome system designed to scan prints and make copy enlargements. It was in the early ’90s, the pre-digital era, but it introduced customers to the idea that they could come into a retail environment and make prints all by themselves.

Bringing a kiosk into the lab environment and placing it on the customer side of the counter seemed to be the first step in the digital era for retailer and consumer alike. As this concept started to catch on, consumers let us know that they were not so happy to stand in line and wait for the previous customer to finish her order. A second and third kiosk was plugged in at busier labs.

The more progressive operations caught the scent of opportunity and developed the idea of setting aside an area of the floor exclusively for a gang of kiosks to serve the digital shooter and make it as easy as possible for her to convert those captured images into hard prints. Mike Woodland, owner of Dan’s Camera City, Allentown, PA, carved out an area of his store to create a DigiPrint Lounge.

Many dealers, knowing that 4x6s have become a commodity and no longer sustain their business, have been juggling various ideas and floor plans to incorporate a kiosk area within their locations.

An Experiment at Photo Retail

Sid Davidowitz, an industry veteran with two high-volume Moto Photo stores in northern New Jersey, also saw the handwriting on the wall as he has watched his business drop by double digits in each of the past few years—as have most lab operations in the country. Having opened his first lab in 1982, when the business model of one-hour service was still a question mark, Sid is not adverse to looking into the future and trying new concepts. In fact, at one time he was hired by Moto Photo, Inc., to be its director of emerging technologies.

He is now a well-known and well-respected minilab operator with a unique understanding of the industry. Hardly a newcomer to the photo business, he’s second generation, having worked in the family business, Leon’s FotoShop, Bayonne, NJ, and his opinion is sought by many, manufacturers and retailers alike. He converted his own one-hour lab to a Moto Photo franchise in 1984 and has since been a very active Moto champion, having been named Franchisee of the Year, Area Developer of the Year, and recipient of the President’s Award.

Sid was intrigued by the challenge of how to best serve “Jennifer,” the Gen X lady that seems to be the target of the entire retail world. He was inspired by The Complete Picture store design unveiled at PMA Orlando, visited Mike Woodland’s DigiPrint Lounge, and spoke to many in the industry on the matter of enticing the digital Jennifer.

Sid decided it was time to do what he refers to as “clearly an experiment.”

Rather than simply reconfiguring his Paramus store with a kiosk corner, it was his idea to test whether he could develop an entire business around a variety of digital services by having a complete store with its own storefront devoted to all things digital with the latest technology and equipment.

A storefront meant there had to be a big sign out front with a name on it. What to call the new business? Digital Lounge and Digital Café are being used in some labs, and Sid felt these were okay for a section inside a store, but not so when the name was blazing in lights outside. Sid and his wife, Debbie, felt “Lounge” might be inviting people to a coffeeshop, and “Café” could be welcoming passersby in for a stiff drink and represent a turn-off for women.

What is it that Jennifer relates to when she thinks of a casual, relaxing, comfortable environment? Yes, her spa. Sid credits Debbie with the name of The Picture Spa and is in the process of having it registered as a trademark.

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