"Customers want to learn what you can do, and how you can help them," to realize their own goals, says Hart. "Lab owners who take that on as a mission can always succeed. It all depends on how badly you want the business. "
Building A Digital Future On A Photographic PastThe web has also proven a well of opportunity for expanding Lou George's customer base. BWC's new advertising campaign promotes their digital as well as their traditional services.
Most lab owners accept that it's not a question of if you want the digital business, but how to position your lab to get more of it, from new and existing business clients. Some may find Lou George's success in making that transition with BWC Photo Imaging of Dallas enviable. Many more will consider her experience typical of the challenges they face.
"Digital is now the lifeblood of the company," says the company president, estimating that nearly two thirds of sales involves digital services. "Up until four years ago we were a strong commercial lab. We still process 100s of rolls daily, but there's no question the film business is decreasing."
Although her company built an early presence in the digital market, it was not readily apparent to all business customers. "We were thought of as a photo lab, and it was once easy to assume what a photo lab offered," she explains. "Our take on marketing is that we want to promote our traditional services as well as our digital services, and make people aware of all we can do."
The message she wants to convey: photo or digital, whatever technology photographers use, BWC is there with the services they need. She's carried that message in every vehicle, which might reach prosumers and professional photographers: newspapers, trade publications, direct mail even email.
All ads point to the company website. " One of the biggest changes in our business is the use of our online services," George confides. "A great deal of our counter business has gone to the Internet, and we now advertise heavily for online business."
The web has also proven a well of opportunity for expanding her customer base. "'I've found the website to be one of the strongest door openers we have for attracting new clients," she reports. "We make sure we respond to every request we get from our website." The website itself was designed as a resource to alert potential customers to all the company has to offer, and make it easy for them to submit work. "With Fed Ex, we can take care of anyone, anywhere," she notes.
As far as traditional advertising media goes George says she's still trying to identify where she's getting the best return on investment. Getting referrals requires an absolute commitment to customer satisfaction. "People today are definitely looking with a partnership in their lab, someone who can help them make the transition to digital."
For that reason, education programs can shape positive perceptions. They may not be a moneymaker, but are the kind of value added service which breeds loyalty. "We put on our own educational seminars for customers and that's been very beneficial," she notes. "The feedback is always good, we get strong turnouts including people who may not have come to us before."
Her sales staff is also trained to be attuned to the changing needs of customers. "The sales staff is really our eyes and ears, they are in constant contact with customers. They're good at listening to clients, and what they need from us, and we get that feed back on a daily basis."
All of these efforts allow her company to experience growth, locally and nationally, in a fiercely competitive market. The accounts worth keeping, though, are looking for much more than the lowest price around.
"The major factors now, on who gets the business, are the services you can provide and comfort level you can give them," George sums up.
A New Look
For most businesses, reaching the 50 year mark would be a milestone opportunity to celebrate past success as preface to the future. For Matt Hesketh, owner of Photomation in Anaheim, CA, the company's golden anniversary served as an opportune moment to re-launch the company with a new logo and new marketing campaign in a pitch for new business.
"With film sales declining and competitive pressures increasing, I felt we had to do something to get more business from our existing clients," says Hesketh. "Many still think of us as a photo lab, but that's not who we are anymore. We're much more involved with digital graphics, but that's not obvious to people who still think of us as a photo lab."