One line item on my expense budget in those first days was interest expense on my lease. Today's lab owners may gasp, but the prime rate in the early 80s was 18% and my lease interest was 22%. While we sometimes look back longingly for the good old days, making those lease payments at those rates is something the old days can keep.
Back then customers were very wary of what we might be doing with their prints since we were able to return them in a hour when they were used to waiting 7-10 days. The one memory that will never fade for me was the smile that my early customers would have when they opened the package and looked at their beautiful photos. Or, was it relief?
The Challenges Ahead
By Dr. Henry J. Oles, Founder & President, Virtual Backgrounds
With 40 years of perspective, I've never seen a more challenging time for studio photographers than now. The public's tastes are changing, demanding new looks that many photographers aren't offering. The biggest issue is the digital revolution, which is enabling the public to take and produce their own photos. Much of our traditional "magic" is gone. The industry is experiencing a "Perfect Storm," a confluence of many factors at once.
To succeed, photographers must move aggressively forward, and offer what their customers can't do themselves. Technology provides us with phenomenal opportunities for success but we will have to work smarter than ever to incorporate them, while adapting to offer the new looks, but without forgetting the basic principles of lighting and posing. If we continue to offer only the traditional, and forget how to create really professional quality work, we have a big problem.
As individuals and as an industry, we will have to work much harder to promote the unique products we can offer in order to create public awareness. If we just sit on the methods of the past, we will fail. The future of studio photography sits in our hands.
Photofinishing Over the Years
By Bill DiMinno, Retail Photo Industry Consultant
A well known articulation is "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." During my 40 years in the industry there have been similar pronouncements about the industry, including the minilab business, most of which didn't happen; though it has gone through many technical changes and channels of distribution; and has evolved into a daily part of our photo lives. It still is a vital and important part of the overall photo business and will continue to be.
One Sunday in 1978, a headline in the business section of The New York Times was titled "Photo, A Sunset Industry." By coincidence, I was scheduled to speak at a photo analyst's meeting in New York the following Monday, along with others. Needless to say, that was the main topic, with all speakers agreeing this wasn't the case. Indeed it wasn't a "sunset," but one continually facing change and challenges. The same holds true for the minilab business.
In 1976 Kanichi Nishimoto, founder of Noritsu Koki Co., LTD, introduced the first On-Site Daylight Minilab, revolutionizing the photofinishing business as we all knew it. When Mr. Nishimoto passed away on August 27, 2005, he left a great legacy, one that should be respected and remembered.
In 1978 the QSS was introduced in North America, starting the minilab business. Many (including myself) couldn't understand how a machine costing over $150,000 doing 50 - 100 rolls/day could effectively compete with the central photofinishing labs in existence at that time. We found out soon enough.
Initially, non photo entrepreneurs embraced the minilab concept. Early on, Fromex was the main player; and when Dr. Frome was featured in Parade Magazine, that kicked off the franchising minilab business nationally.
When Mike Adler bought MotoPhoto, he brought franchising to a new high, with over 200 stores nationally, and again with non-photo entrepreneurs. Unfortunately both companies met their demise, however, MotoPhoto exists, as a new company and there are still many minilabs using the Fromex name.
In 1984 I was hired by Mike Adler to run his East Coast operations. Over the years, whenever I'd give a speech on the minilab business, I'd be asked, "Haven't we reached saturation? My answer then was "No" and still is. At that time, I estimated there were less than 5 - 7,000 minilabs in existence. Even then some were writing off the business. Today, counting all the various channels with minilabs, I'd estimate well over 20,000 minilabs in operation.