CPQ is now offering Remote Order Entry Software (ROES), which accommodates the professional photographer who is using a Mac OS X (and above) platform, as well as Windows users. A one-time download of a Java plug-in is required the first time the software is used.
"ROES is a JAVA-based program from Softworks Systems, Inc. (www.softworkssystems.com)," says Kimball. "It addresses the Mac OS crowd 10.2 and above, which is huge for us because we have a lot of photographers that are Mac-based. We also have a Windows-based program for package software. ROES is very popular right now, and we are very pleased with their software. It seamlessly interfaces with DP2 and requires very little training. Currently we have about 450-500 of our customers using it."
The lab also offers Collages.net, an online solution for professional photographers. The lab service improves the workflow for photographers and simplifies the process of fulfilling reprint orders. Professional photographers post their digital and conventional images of their events online with Collages.net and have their reprint orders handled by participating labs such as CPQ. "By partnering with Collages.net, it gives us another online image hosting alternative for the event photographers," says Kimball. In March, CPQ also launched an online service geared to the advanced amateur. "Digital camera sales are soaring with the consumer, and we are dipping our toes into that market as well," says Kimball. "Initial response has been good."
"If a photographer can deliver the final product faster, it's more likely there will be larger incremental reprint orders," he adds. Another benefit to online digital imaging is streamlining the lab's processes. "We're offering the same high quality and service that we always have for the last 30 years, but now we're more automated," he says. "When we compare our digital business growth to past increases in our analog business, there's a big difference. With digital, we need less staff to run the equipment. We just had our best April in the past six or seven years. Because of cost containment and better efficiencies through digital, our digital department is doing twice the work from last year with two fewer people."
Another challenge for labs today is absorbing increased operating costs in an environment where price pressures are so competitive. "Labs for the last year have been absorbing increased freight costs at about 5 percent a year from the major freight vendors like UPS and FedEx," adds Kimball. "In the past we were always providing free shipping on all our orders. To combat this, we instituted a higher minimum order charge. If an invoice falls below a certain price point, we act like a catalog merchant and charge them a flat shipping fee; but if the order is larger, you get it for free. That has really helped with our bottom line in 2004."
Online Services Growing at American Color ImagingACI president Mark Lane goes over production issues with plant manager Cheryl Panther.
Mark Lane, president of American Color Imaging (ACI) (www.acilab.com), Cedar Falls, IA, believes the online market has changed from being one of convenience to an expectation. "It's more about control than convenience," he says. "'I want it now' is a given. The reason our business model has been successful is we offer photographers a way to match their output to the lab, and we will work with them to get their prints faster and more economically."
The lab's online business is doing well. "In November alone, we had about 6,500 orders in over the Internet, and for a lab our size, that's a huge amount of business," adds Lane.
The lab offers a two-tiered pricing policy that lets photographers save on some processing fees by having
them do their own color corrections. American Color Imaging is an authorized dealer for the Colorvision Spyder colorimeter. Combined with OptiCAL software, this product enables the professional digital photographer to be balanced to their output profiles. "Once the photographer has the same calibrations down, it makes it easier for us to process their orders," he says.ACI utilizes three Kodak RP 30 laser printers.
They recently added exciting new features and options to their WEB Ordering Tools software. "American Color's new WEB Tools help our customers stay competitive with innovative products and features that allow them to work quickly and efficiently," Lane continues. The latest WEB Tools updates complement the already impressive list of products and features with the ability to order some of American Color's most popular digital products. New products include Ultra Pics multi-image digital templates, Christmas cards and graduation photo announcement cards. Photographers still have the option of either correcting the color themselves or letting ACI correct the color-by clicking on CPP or FTP digital products tabs. They even have the ability to order black-and-white prints right from color digital files, with no additional work on their end. The tools also offer an offline ordering capability so photographers with dial-up services don't have to be connected to the Internet to create orders. "It's ideal for ordering at remote shoots," says Lane.
Another powerful new feature in the "E-Special Events" area allows photographers to effortlessly create their own packages simply by clicking on the print sizes for each package, and then just clicking "Save."
Lane cites a highly trained customer service staff as a key to their success in the online market. "About 75 to 85 percent of our business is digital, and many of our customers have a lot of technical questions," he says. "Our customer service people are highly trained in color management, including color calibrating monitors, Photoshop, file management and getting optimal results from many of the different cameras out there. In order to better service our clients, we order one of every new (continued on page 37)