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Lab Hunting: Finding the Right Lab Doesn't Have to be a Chore.
Finding the right lab doesn't have to be a chore



Today's pro lab not only needs to offer high-end products and services that professional photographers can't get elsewhere, but it also has to monitor trends and look for new revenue streams that will keep it competitive.

Some of the products and services offered this year had more of an impact than others. "We're finding three items photographers are utilizing to keep their business competitive: press products, online ordering, and sports/underclass photography," says TIM BANDURA, director of marketing for Burrell Colour Imaging. "Many studios are using our various press products to create add-on sales. Our online order service enables relatives around the world to order images from weddings they couldn't attend. Online ordering also enables grandparents to purchase images of their grandchildren. Sports/underclass photography provides studios, especially those that have seen their wedding business get smaller, a chance to diversify into other segments."

JOEL PLOTKIN, president of efotolab.com, says that their box-mounted prints did well. "This contemporary way of displaying photographs seemed to inspire photographers in how they display their images," he says. "Box mounts work very well as a stand-alone option, as well as being displayed as diptychs, triptychs, and larger groupings. However, overall traditional photographic prints prevail as the winner in overall popularity."

"Our Neuvision coffee-table photobooks and Sedona press-printed books were popular in 2008," says KEN WILSON, owner of LustreColor. "[Plus] many of our photographers have moved to our Direct Print and Ready2 Print proof and reprint services. The lower prices on those services are especially helpful to the photographer's bottom line. Also, our recent announcement of free album designing for all online events using our WeddingPrints.com one-stop wedding network archive program has been well received."

At Miller's Professional Imaging, digital press products are popular, especially books (both hard- and soft-cover). "Our album products are also increasing in popularity," says JOE DELLASEGA, Miller's marketing director.

"Large-format prints and gallery wraps were our two most popular products," says DOUGLAS KEENEY, CEO of MyPhotoPipe.com. "In gallery wraps, we saw a shift to the 2-inch stretcher bars (from the 5/8-inch). The extra relief is an attractive way to showcase a photograph. Choice and variety of finishes, substrates, and print sizes [are helping our customers stay competitive]. What paper delivers the look the photographer wants? What finishes? It does us no good to restrict a photographer's artistic freedom."

Folded press cards were a big hit at Nations Photo Lab, according to marketing director CHRIS THERKILDSEN: "We truly believe the convergence of the press-printed capabilities to the classic folded greeting-card layout is the reason that this product resonates with so many customers. Also popular were our artistically influenced gallery wraps. Many of our clients enjoy the look of their images stretched and made into a piece of artwork. We find that our "Volume Priced Printing" gives our customers the option to save money while receiving high-quality prints."

JAY PERSKIE, president of TheWeddingLab.com, says "Our Design, Print and Bind service has helped so many clients by saving them money and valuable time doing everything in one step by one company at great price points, yet allowing them and their clients full access to the design process by including an approval step that allows for changes, and delivering a very handsome handmade professional album. It has allowed them to be more competitive and to differentiate themselves. In fact, we have become so specialized that most of our business is providing this service with its many choices."

FRANK JOHNSON, PhotoPrintPros senior account exec, says that 8x10 package printing and underclass, school, and sports photography, has worked well for them; KATHLEEN TAYLOR, controller of ProlabExpress.com, cites aluminum prints, gallery mounts, and signature gallery acrylic prints.

TRENDS AND ISSUES

Burrell's Bandura sees more and more photographers coming to the realization that they need to better market themselves. "To address this growing need, Burrell has developed fresh, a new in-house design agency available exclusively to Burrell customers. We're the only major lab offering this custom-design service.

efotolab.com's Plotkin says that pro photographers are now often resorting to drastic measures to get business. "We've noticed that in the past year or so, many photographers are starting to give their work away," he says. "Photographers don't realize the negative impact that releasing images to their customer can have on their businesses."

Brides keeping their eyes on the final bill are also playing a role, says LustreColor's Wilson. "The rise of the 'Frugal Bride' continues to have the greatest influence on our products and services," he says. "Today's brides are much more price-conscious than the brides of the '80s and '90s. Brides are shopping around for the best deals and values. As a result, many of our customers have had to alter their product offerings. To stay competitive in a frugal market, many photographers have incorporated lower-priced packages into their product offerings, such as 'shoot-and-burn' weddings and photobooks instead of leather."

"In the online world, we're taking business away from the kiosk model and the local camera store by offering hundreds more print options, the ease of online ordering, and the convenience of mail delivery," says MyPhotoPipe.com's Keeney. "When you add in the time it takes to go to a retailer (and the gasoline), we're contributing to a photographer's profit model.

Nations' Therkildsen cites the introduction of unique products within the industry as an influence on customer requests: "When one lab offers a superior product or unique service, every lab is expected to follow, which is a great thing, because it keeps the industry moving in the right direction. Pro labs are facing the issue of increased competition from the continual introduction of new labs. Again you have to view this as a positive, because it keeps the industry competitive. We found that launching an interactive, customer-oriented website that let our customers truly interact with the personality of our lab helped us deal with the issue of new competition."

Miller's Dellasega says that customers are demanding different options. "We're introducing new products at an unprecedented rate, and I don't see it slowing down," he says. "Plus, hundreds and hundreds of new competitors are entering the market each year. And the line between pro and consumer labs is blurring. Pro labs who have been in the industry for years do still have an advantage, as long as we focus on our core competency--producing a high-quality image on whatever surface or substrate that image happens to be on."

GEORGE ROSA, chairman of the board at Hallmark Imaging, states that, "If you have Uncle Harry shooting a wedding instead of a professional, he gives the bride a CD and says goodbye--there's no album. We provide pros with what Uncle Harry can't."'

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