The store is also listed on the employee intranets of some 100 companies, some local, some national, and offers special promotions to develop new customers. Where does Mitch find the companies to contact? “Every time I read an article about a company I contact them and make an arrangement. They love it.”
The internet chat room has become one of the unique aspects of our high-tech culture, allowing people to communicate in real time on their PCs. Its use in social pursuits is well-known, but Mitch has brought the concept right into the minilab, where he “talks” to customers who fire off questions about their orders, pricing, services, etc. through the store’s website.
How about this: Mitch keeps his chat room line open 24/7 and is willing to engage in a chat even though the customer might log on at 2 a.m. He keeps the records of these chats for follow-up. “I don’t want to miss a sale, and it develops enormous loyalty.” Mitch, Carl, and Bryan all respond to the incoming chats.
There is no magic to doing things like this, according to Mitch. Any lab can do it. All it takes is the management commitment and having a web-savvy person on hand. Bryan fills that bill for 30 Minute Photos Etc., as the store’s website is updated almost daily. (Think about sites that still offer Christmas promotions.)
30 Minute Photos Etc. is a minilab, after all—though Mitch refers to his business as “a nationwide online boutique photo service.” It got into digital with an early Noritsu QSS 2711 with Kodak DLS software about seven years ago. Today the store is equipped with a Noritsu QSS 3213, six workstations (all networked), and four kiosks (Kodak Preview & Select, Kodak Picture Maker connected to the QSS 3213, Lucidiom with an online connection, and a unit made up of generic components used to demonstrate website functions). There is also the Kodak i660 high-speed document scanner, and a portrait studio setup.
The interior of the store is a rather unique experience for a retail lab. One long wall is devoted entirely to a display of framed articles that have been written about the business and Mitch’s involvement in a wide variety of national and community activities, many of which have nothing to do with his business, but which reflect his personal commitment to being involved in positive causes.
The counter always has a display of fresh flowers, and pleasant music is always playing in the background. “I learned the value of that from visiting the Noritsu office.”
Missing is the ubiquitous wall mounted price list for various services. “Price is just not relevant today. I want to dazzle them with service,” said Mitch. Nevertheless, he charges about $12 for a 24-exposure roll of d&p and .49 cents for in-store orders for prints from digital media or .34 cents for online digital orders.
How big is his business? For once, Mitch had no comment to my question. But my guess is that Mitch probably generates more dollars per square foot in his 1,200 sqare foot store than Ritz does in its 1,200 stores.
Turning Shoeboxes Full of Old Photos Into $$$
Mitch is a master of taking an idea and running with it. Fast. Sometimes he ends up in a corn maze with no place to turn. Then again, he sometimes hits on something that not only ends up as a winner for his business but could have a positive impact for other dealers.
His most recent pursuit involves a product that was never considered to have photo industry potential—even by the company that made it, Kodak. Yet, Mitch, ever the entrepreneur and always with antenna extended, made the connection. It is the Kodak i660 document imaging scanner that might be used by a large financial institution or medical facility to scan vast amounts of documents. It came on the market in 2004.
Mitch discussed the scanner with a Kodak executive one day with the thought that if the machine could scan and convert documents into digital images, it might well be utilized for the high-speed scanning of photographs, as well.
He brought a unit to his Irvine store to see what it could do and was amazed to find that the i660 could scan about 750 pictures in only five minutes. Not only that, Mitch could put a stack of 500 photos into the loader of sizes ranging from wallets to 11x17, intermixed, and even if some of the prints were turned askew, the scanner would correctly handle all of them. Connected to a monitor, the scanned images would pop up on the screen faster than the eye could keep up with them. One plus: the i660 has duplex scanning so that pencil notes that might have been jotted on the reverse side of a print decades ago are also preserved.
In Mitch’s mind’s eye, a new business was born. He envisioned being able to tap the market of those shoeboxes full of photos that were slowly deteriorating with age or might otherwise be lost to flood, fire, earthquakes (let’s not forget, 30 Minute Photos Etc. is in California), etc. He purchased the unit for its price of $60,000 and made some software enhancements.