In July 2003, SP&D began reporting on the shared challenges and individual successes taking place in U.S. imaging centers and pro labs, with the two-part feature "Out of the Box Thinking for Uncommon Times." The 2004 update presents a snapshot of the industry's current status and reveals which recent product and service innovations have proved most profitable for 10 operations and most popular for their customers: SP&D readers.
According to Ken Wilson, owner of LustreColor, Inc., Canton, Massachusetts: "Professional photography's transformation to digital has not only changed how images are captured and printed. It has introduced advanced computer production systems to our industry. Using the latest 21st century technology, labs today can design and deliver stunning new creative products quickly and economically.
"This led to our introduction of products such as our Digital Proof Magazines, Designer Album Prints, and WeddingPrints.com. Online Proofing and Designer Link Online Album Designing have streamlined the workflow for the wedding photographer, cutting costs and greatly increasing their sales and profits. Often, it has been the invaluable input, suggestions, and requests from our customers that have helped us decide to include new digital products in our line of services.
"So while digital has changed professional photography forever, we will continue to make the necessary investments in systems and services to fill the printing requirements of our clients, that is, professional photographers."
Allied Photographic and Imaging Lab
Kim Toren-Freeman, owner of Allied Photographic and Imaging Lab of Grand Rapids, Michigan, tells SP&D: "My first response to "What's cooking in the imaging center or lab?" might be our own gooseif labs continue to drop prices, charging less for an 8x10 now then in 1990 and selling Lightjet/Lamda for under $1 a square foot. But the good news is that nothing looks as good and lasts as long as a real photograph, and pretty soon customers will concede that point and we can move on to our million other challenges.
"Portrait labs are turning into design houses (how many new templates did you add this week?), computer wizards (call me, I can't get SMP to load!), print houses (we have to change the prices and services again), along with our usual responsibilities, which have quadrupled in the past few years. As for commercial labs, moving into portrait printing, photographing events, buying grand format and board printers, have shaken that world, as has 9/11. Everyone is looking for revenue and the challenge has been tough.
"What's hot in portrait labs? Innovative templates are right up there. We're pushing finishing services big time, as well as shoving our way into new market areas (I didn't spend all that money on a T1 line for nothing). We may decide to shoot events and add studios; that's how most of us started. We're shooting aerial photography, product photography, and business portraits (hiring some commercial shooters), and we're fine-tuning workflow big time.
"And don't forget retail. It's a huge market, and we've been
part of that family for years. We like cash, they have it, and they
can't get what we do anywhere else. We offer them templates,
artwork services, finishing services, and specialty albums. We'll
take care of everything, with front counter reps that have more
patience than a person deserves. Thank heavens for our
retail-friendly, not-much-to-look-at-but-paid-for location. It's
going to help save our goose."
Miller's Professional Imaging
Arnie Burton, manager of the Consumer Division of Miller's Professional Imaging, Pittsburg, Kansas, and Columbia, Missouri, tells SP&D: "The transition from film to digital capture is proceeding rapidly. Incoming film for processing and printing has declined nearly 50 percent in the past two years, and there is no indication of this transition slowing. A leaner, simplified workflow is, therefore, essential to accommodate existing customers, as well as attracting new ones to replace lost revenue.
"A Miller's digital customer can select from eight different
proprietary ordering systems that are extremely popular, primarily
due to their ease of use and functionality. A studio equipped with
high-speed cable or Internet connection might choose one of the
uploading options, such as Proofing, Pic-A-Pac, Undergrad, or for
typical orders, the Digital File Ordering Program. These orders can
be transmitted to the lab at any time without the inconvenience of
packaging or the expense of shipping. Turnaround is usually within
24 hours. Studios not equipped with high-speed connections would
select one of the stand-alone versions of these applications and
submit orders on optical discs. With overnight shipping standard,
our fast turnaround time can still be enjoyed."
Buckeye Color Lab
Steve Troup, president of Buckeye Color Lab, in North Canton, Ohio, reports: "We all know that digital changes everything. We've learned well that the industry as we knew it is gone and a new industry is emerging. Our challenge is to find a way to thrive in this new environment.
"It used to be that all clients wanted pretty much the same thing from us. However, digital gives photographers greater freedom, options, and responsibilities, so today every client has different needs. We've been learning what we can do well in the digital arena and what we cannot. Where we used to know we would be the only lab a client worked with, now we are one of several, with each lab providing the product or service they do best.
"Most labs today are starting to see what their niche is in the imaging industry, aggressively working on what they know they do well and walking away from certain other market segments. In the past, we would never think of not serving every segment.
"By far our most successful introduciton to date has been Fuji StudioMaster Pro 3.0. Photographers love this product since it allows them to preview, edit, present, and order all in one application. Ordering final prints is so easy that even novice computer users can be up and running quickly. This makes it much easier for clients to go digital. We also create templates to help our clients sell more and make ordering easier. By maintaining good client interaction, we continue to find ways to make the software even more valuable to them and to our workflow."