Professional labs and imaging services have to constantly stay ahead of the curve, from both a technological and creative perspective, to continue attracting new, digitally savvy clients and retain the loyal customers they already have. Protecting against natural and man-made catastrophic disasters, which could potentially wipe out a business is another hot topic that merits serious consideration. All of the companies featured in this annual SP&D feature have implemented heavy-duty backup plans, storage strategies, and insurance solutions to keep them functioning during a crisis. For a look at how some of today's pro labs are coping with the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace, tough economic environment, and a demanding clientele, read on...
Adorama, New York, NY, isn't shying away from an increasingly digital world. In fact, according to marketing director Jerry Deutsch, the company is embracing it. "Adorama's in-house pro lab has been riding the wave of digitization with great success," he says. "Satisfied repeat customers are our best source of advertising. Pros like us for [our] high-quality prints and quick turn-around time, and our low prices attract the general public."
Understanding the importance of fresh inventory and innovative services, Adorama has started offering surfaces other than simply glossy and matte, and customized "sloppy" borders and black-and-white prints have become increasingly popular. Special deals help provide additional incentive: "Our new online rentals department (www.adoramarentals.com) has an ongoing promotion offering free prints with each digital camera rental," says Deutsch.
Adorama's website has started making inroads with users, as well, says Deutsch. "We are constantly looking for ways to make our website, AdoramaPix.com, more user-friendly," he explains. "Our new program makes it very easy to upload and navigate our site, even for first-time Web users. We offer discount promotions and coupon incentives, and our most recent service is same-day delivery in New York City. Upload images from your computer (home or office) before 12 noon, and we'll deliver the prints to your doorstep by 7:00 p.m."
An off-site backup system for AdoramaPix helps everyone breathe a little easier, but, as Deutsch points out, nothing is foolproof. "Heaven help us if we have another 9/11 and at the same time there's an earthquake at our backup location," he says. "But there's no amount of backup protection that is guaranteed."
If you're looking for a lab that works with its customers to help their customers, Apollo Photo Imagizing, Milwaukee, WI, might be a good starting point. The company, which positions itself as "not your normal 8x10 lab," provides photo products to pro photographers to increase their sales to clients, according to Tamara Hauck, director of marketing. The lab also provides its client studios with the marketing tools to communicate about all the products offered.
The Illuma brand, which includes memory books, photo art cards, and playing-card decks, enables professional photographers to grow their businesses with incremental sales to each client, says Hauck. "These unique items, and additions to the Illuma line in 2006, give consumers a reason to 'go to a pro' for their special photography occasions," she says. "Only Apollo offers the Illuma products, which are all easy to create and order through our exclusive Illuma Online system. The design and creative opportunities are endless. The profit success for our customers is enormous."
Apollo doesn't take any chances when it comes to backing up all of its valuable files. It uses three different sites and also stores files in a fourth physical location, minimizing the impact of any disaster to a given location. Business interruption insurance helps, too. "Additionally, we have relationships with other photographic lab services that would provide assistance to us in case of real need," explains Hauck.
Buckeye Color Lab, North Canton, OH, wants to raise the bar for what's available to today's pro photographers. "What we do as a professional lab, we hope, is at a much higher standard," says president Steve Troup. "We have to listen closely to what our clients demand and respond to them faster than ever before."
Much of this demand revolves around digital ("digital products are absolutely exploding"), but Buckeye hasn't forgotten about its film customers—it's simply adapted the digital medium to accommodate them. "We continue to serve film photographers, so film scanning is very important for us since it helps us compete and serve all photographers," says Troup.
Internet order submission programs have also increased, and most of Buckeye's clients now use them. "This allows us to stay competitive with the many new options in the marketplace," adds Troup.
Tailoring its product offerings to its clientele also helps Buckeye stay in the forefront. "Our order-entry methods are all structured to build in products unique to Buckeye that our photographers request," says Troup. "These are products that set them apart in the local market—bordered proofs, for example, or high-quality, customized templates for weddings. This allows the photographers to grow their business and ours."
Before the digital revolution exploded onto the scene, Buckeye carried traditional business interruption insurance, as well as insurance on valuable items it had in its possession, e.g., negatives. Now, however, the consequences of loss, while always cause for concern, are not as great as they once were. "In most cases, we're working with a copy file and our client has a duplicate file," explains Troup, "so the risk of a total loss is lower than it was with film."
Tim Kasberger, president of Color Incorporated, Grandville, MI, believes customer service sets his lab apart. "One of the best-selling products we offer is our uncompromised customer service—we pride ourselves on it," he says. "It's the number one reason for our success. We really believe in taking care of the customer first—everything else will fall in line. Plus, great customer service is recession-proof, and it's free!"