Magazine Article


Does Your Minilab Need a Makeover?

Likewise with Apple. Will says, while they sell essentially the same product as CompUSA, they have been able to "de-commoditize" their product by convincing folks "it's better, it's cooler" and, yes, "it's more expensive." And while Barnes & Noble is selling the same book as and Wal-Mart, they are able to get a higher price because "customer experience is the key."

Will suggests that the one-hour lab re-position itself as a boutique much in the same way these others have. To be a successful boutique, according to Will, the lab must offer "unique quality products and services; new products; marketing."

Under the marketing umbrella, Will discussed the need for a store ambience ["Don't smell like a lab"], store decoration, packaging, advertising and service. For "unique quality" Will says a lab should use the best raw materials, the best paper weight and finish and to put an emphasis on producing a quality product.

One idea he offers to put a store's quality in the forefront is to re-print, at no charge, any competitor's prints that a customer may complain about. Will calls it a trade-in program. He also suggests that poor competitors' prints be displayed on a cork board next to your own best quality comparison prints. Show the difference, damn the competition. (That's my philosophy, not Will's—JL)

Will is a big fan of being different from the competition ["but not too different"], as is Starbucks with its stronger coffee. He talks about offering artistic borders—maybe white, maybe ragged edge. He says thicker—like in paper—is better. Or, how about unique crop options or print sizes? That's a lot easier with today's monitors and software on digital labs.

On the subject of archiveability I learned that while standard color photographs will endure for about 50 years, inkjets that use pigmented inks will last 150 years. (Me, surprised.) Dye inkjet, by comparison, may last only a few years.
Will got into some depth on the subject of color management that had a few old timers in the one-hour business squirming in their seats—including me. The terminology alone is intimidating enough: ICC, ColorSync, ICM, calibration, color space, Gamut, Profile, LAB and LCH. Scary though it may be, Will stressed the point that if today's lab is going to compete in the digital world the people behind the counter will have to educate themselves and be in a position to educate the customer.

Included in Will's color manager essentials are these things that the lab operator must know how to do: match a digital file when printing; be consistent over time; screen to print match; match an original photo/chrome; handle files from different sources correctly.

Will said, "You tell your customer you're a professional—prove it."

He suggests that labs get the necessary certifications not only to upgrade their own expertise but to represent themselves to their customers with impressive credentials. He mentioned programs such as: PMA's CPC program; Society of Photo Finishing Engineers; Adobe Certified Photoshop Expert; Certified Digital Photo Processing—issued by IPI and PRO groups; PMA's Qualified Digital Processing Center.

Will is a big believer in offering new services. Using the Starbuck's model, he recommends offering "at least 10 new ‘Espresso' products" periodically. Among the more interesting: laminating, mounting, movie conversion to DVD, retouching, canvas stretching, frames and framing and Photo CD/DVD burning and archiving. Taking a "product" approach "means you think more like a retailer than a photo lab."

The simple "look" of the store was a subject Will dwelled upon, with his Letterman-ish style of humor, by showing a number of before and after photographs of stores that had been re-designed. He quoted Brian Noble, a high-profile, Hingham, MA, lab operator: "No one wants to shop where they have to mentally clean first." I can relate to this as I have surveyed countless minilabs that are simply so disorganized that it becomes a distraction to a customer.

He suggests that the minilab owner should survey successful boutique operations in his local malls. "Mimic those stores."

If one message from Will touched me it was his comment: "Stop being a lab. Become a digital lifestyle center." He said, "People don't want to go to a minilab anymore."

That's a message right out of book of Tough-Luv. Sort of like going up to a zebra and discussing with him the concept of changing the color of his stripes or he'll be slaughtered.