"As the market grows, the tide will float all boats." Omura said.
There is still the problem of lag. Wal-Mart is only just starting to rear its head in the digital market, while processing revenue continues to falls off. Will the market for digital printing be built in time for smaller shops to endure?
Jerry Feuerborn, co-owner and president of Salina, KS-based FastFocus is certainly concerned. He says his business is down 15 to 20 percent and manufacturers have been too slow out of the gate in laying the groundwork for retail printing.
"They haven't done enough to get the word out, there is only so much we can do," Feuerborn said.
The general consensus among retailers, manufacturers and industry experts points to the contours of how the competition against the Goliaths will (and should) play out in grabbing the digital shooter. Roughly: stress quality, service, personalization, and commercial work - never price.
These are the stones that can, if not slay, than at least stagger the Goliaths.
The key, according to Omura, is acting now. "Immediately begin emphasizing quality of print and customer service. Immediately emphasize personal relationships with current customers. Use the Internet, to create a buffer as the mass merchandizers enter the market. Never compete with the Goliaths on price."
Carl Abissi of Norwich, CN-based Cooper's Photo Imaging, says that cultivating the digital customer takes a focused, aggressive advertising campaign. According to Abissi, 75 percent of his advertising dollar is spent on digital camera developing promotion. His shop, which employs Fujifilm equipment and was honored by the company for its merchandizing efforts, has been outspoken about its digital printing abilities.
"It's something we're always stressing to our customer."
He credits his supplier with being very aggressive on its advertising, making digital camera developing "very self explanatory."
Abissi, who noted that business has been relatively steady, sees digital making up 7 percent of his 'roll volume.' He uses two Frontier 370s with Aladdin input stations which, he claims, has been a "big hit" with consumers. Abissi chalks up his digital success to "being ahead of the technology curve."
James Park, president of New York-based Color Tek said the message starts with every digital camera he sells.
"We're on them [customers] the minute they buy the camera, letting them know how easy it is to come back to us for the prints." Park, who was beta-testing the late Phogenix's DFX inkjet minilab, expressed disappointment that his low-cost digital printing solution was gone. Because though his digital camera business is growing, "it's not worth a $200,000 investment, yet."
A quick testament to the power of simple advertising: In the town where I used to live, New Providence, NJ, my local finisher, located in a middling-sized strip mall, literally plastered an enormous sign over his entire façade, in all caps: "We can make prints from your digital camera!" Can't get much more direct than that and it casts a wider net than to just digital camera owners like myself. You can just imagine how many shoppers in the strip-mall (which includes a CVS and a supermarket) are contemplating the purchase of a digital camera - now they know where they can go to get prints, so they might be more inclined to buy digital and less inclined to go the home-printing route
Quality of prints is also another key differentiator that has been traditionally used against the Goliaths and be in the digital realm as well. Jerry Feuerborn is sanguine about the competition when he indicated that business is down. "Sometimes they go to Wal-Mart, sometimes they come to us. We are not going to compete with the big guys on price, not at all. We tell our customers, if you want something done cheaply go to them, by all means. If they want a picture worth keeping, if they want great quality and service, they come to us."
Size has another key benefit, says Abissi, and that is flexibility. "We can move quicker in our promotions." He says it's largely in the mindset. "If labs look at digital as a hardship, that's going to come across to the customer."
"The smaller shops have a loyal customer and they can use that relationship as a differentiator," said Paul Tucker, photofinishing manager, Kodak.