So how does the digital production line differ from the optical side of the house? One major difference is organization. "The optical world is more departmentalized," Bullock says. "We had staff dedicated to specific tasks, like printing or editing or packaging. But digitally run production has less staff whose skills are more generalized. The same people scan negatives, enter orders, video analyze, send jobs to the printer and then package the orders. So many steps are consolidated that we have been able to streamline the workflow to 24-48-hour turnaround for all of our products and finishing services."
Each of the lab's digital printers typically operates at a capacity of 400 8x10 prints per hour. "Those are great numbers," he says. "Any color lab can make a profit by printing 3,200 8x10s in a regular workday from one printer. We've even made gains in production by continuing to expose prints after the lab is closed for the day and everyone has left. It's a great production advantage to know that our printers are running totally unattended several hours each day."
Digital Printers Exceed Quality Expectations
And the digital equipment's output quality, Bullock continues, exceeds his expectations. "When we first installed the digital printers in 2000, we tested them using film that some customers had sent to our optical lab. The photographers could not tell they were digitally exposed since the same paper was used. In fact, we think the images are sharper and more dimensional when they're digitally produced on Endura paper."
Bullock offers new styles of print proofs featuring photographers' logos and copyright notices, and proofs that showcase other options like sepia and black-and-white photographs. "A lot of people don't know they can sell these types of prints. Once photographers see our samples, they love them." Bullock also indicates the expansive growth he's seeing in Bullock's stylistic "Preview Albums and eCommerce" offerings.
As the lab has introduced products from its digital production line, photographers have responded with enthusiasm. Their feedback reinforces Bullock's belief that modular digital lab equipment has been a successful move for today's professional labs. Bullock estimates his lab's new digital equipment pays for itself in three years.
He is not the type to embrace technology simply for technology's sake or because another competitor has a particular piece of equipment. His lab has never installed a voice mail system, for example, because he wants photographers who phone him to reach a live person and never receive voice mail. But digital laboratory equipment is technology that Bullock believes improves customer service while positioning his lab to grow.
Bullock summarizes his digital approach as: "Simple. Streamlined. Smart." That tagline speaks to what photographers value most from his lab and Bullock Professional clearly delivers.
Imager SnapshotBullock Professional TYPE OF LAB: Portrait/wedding, school, professional lab
Bullock Professional is located in Albemarle, NC. BUSINESS MODEL: A simple, streamlined, smart professional lab system for imaging film and/or digital camera files to unique products and eCommerce. CHALLENGES WITH DIGITAL: The complexity of interaction between the lab and photographer. How to send files, what do I do with it when it arrives? It requires more customer service with the photographer. DIGITAL BUSINESS: Increasing about 30% annually. LAB HISTORY: In business since 1986. Employ about 45; ship 15-20K prints per day; receive uploads from website 24/7; also get a lot of orders via fax (to be printed from high-resolution files saved on-site). EQUIPMENT LIST: Professional Printers: Three Kodak Professional Digital Multiprinter II printers for up to 10-inch prints Wide-Format Printer: Durst Epsilon (up to 30-inches on photographic paper) Online Photofinishing Service: www.bullockpro.com