Magazine Article


Virtual Photofinishing

The 65-year-old photo retailer has long been known for its high standard of printing. All 156 stores have Fuji Frontier systems, 70 percent have in-store kiosks - as many as three kiosks in several locations because of the high demand. "Our strategy is to drive as much printing as possible to the store level," says Phil Chapman, director of Imaging Products and Services. "The only items we will have to keep at the processing centers are mugs, t-shirts, and other novelty items.

"Blacks has always taken a leadership role," he says. "It's easier to be at the forefront of a business and have all of your competitors trying to catch up with you than the other way around. The Internet is an area we saw back in 1997, although not as lucrative at that time. Certainly we had to be there and be positioned to be the leader back in 1997. Since moving to PhotoChannel, we've been enjoying exponential growth in online photo processing."

Total Systems Solution

Konica Minolta Photo Imaging is a major supplier in the photographic industry - from film cameras and accessories, to digital cameras, scanners, inkjet paper, and digital minilab equipment - most of which is handled out of its Photo Imaging Division in Mahwah, NJ. With its breadth of photo imaging products, the company is able to be a total photo imaging systems solution provider to its more than 4,500 photo dealer locations in the U.S.

"We already sell on-site digital minilabs and consumer digital order stations for a complete in-store digital workflow solution," says Todd Tereshkow, VP technical service and on site marketing for Konica Minolta Photo Imaging, U.S.A., Inc. "Now, by partnering with PhotoChannel, we can offer our customers the option of uploading their digital images from home and having the prints returned by mail or available for next day pickup at the customers' select retail location."

The shear number of Konica Minolta dealer locations makes a two-step approach to introducing online digital services more plausible. "The dealers can offer their customers the ability to upload to either Konica Minolta's site or to a private label website designed by PhotoChannel. Initially, all of the online print orders will be handled through Konica Minolta's central processing centers and the photos will be delivered overnight to a neighborhood store for pickup," says Philippe Gascon, Vice President Sales U.S. for PhotoChannel. "As retailers add digital labs and expand their digital processing services, they can seamlessly have the orders sent to their stores for printing at the location selected by their customer."

"The ability to direct orders to any lab equipped with digital equipment is already in place and available under the PhotoChannel distributed printing model," says Gascon. "Konica Minolta is presently in discussions with several large dealers for the development of private labeled websites."

Konica Minolta began working with PhotoChannel approximately nine months ago, to design a system that would capitalize on home-to-lab printing, the next big photofinishing trend. Many of their existing photo retail accounts have approached Konica Minolta asking for the service.

"They provided us with an effective solution for capitalizing on a major marketing opportunity," says Tereshkow. "After looking at several companies, we found that PhotoChannel provided the best product to meet our retailers' online digital imaging product needs. We're already out selling this service to our retail partners."

Konica Minolta's website, the Online Digital Photo Center, is already up and running, with a search engine to help visitors find a location where they can pick up their prints.

Building a New Network

Wal-Mart Canada has been on the photofinishing fast track since 1994, shortly after it purchased Woolco Canada. Anthony Hugens joined the company that same year to manage its in-house printing operations.

"We installed Noritsu equipment," says Hugens. "Back then, we bought everything through Kodak, and Noritsu minilabs had the Kodak label (Noritsu 1701/Kodak 52s). In 1997, we began adding digital printing equipment, which included Kodak Picture Makers, with dye-sub printers, and later adding Noritsu digital input stations, linked to the Noritsu minilabs, for making photographic prints from digital files."

In 2002, Hugens began looking for an online photo service provider. Rather than going to one vendor automatically, he researched all of the companies that were capable of setting up an Internet-to-lab fulfillment solution.

"I took my results to senior management at Wal-Mart and explained the pros and cons of each company," says Hugens. "I told them why I thought PhotoChannel was the best fit for Wal-Mart. It had open architecture, so it would work with the Noritsu equipment and any other equipment we added later on. We wanted to make sure that we had the technology today to meet our customer's needs tomorrow.

"Our goal was to provide retailers with the capability to accept print orders through their own websites," says Kyle Hall.

"For example, photo cell phones are very popular here, and printing from cell phones is definitely growing. We also wanted to make sure that customers could order pictures through their X-Box game systems, and eventually other game consoles, which are gaining access on the Internet. PhotoChannel had all the ramps necessary to get pictures to and from the customer."