After watching his photofinishing business decline a few years back, David Gerwels decided he needed to take control again. So after a few years in photo retailing, he decided to rebuild his business using a new model for success.
As a result, Memories Photo & Digital in Knoxville, TN, has transformed itself in a host of ways during the past few years. Where it once was mostly a one-hour lab, now the store is entirely digital and offers a slew of commercial services, a portrait studio at a second location, and a wide range of album and frame merchandise to complement photofinishing. “We needed to find a way to do more than just process images at retail; we needed to create not just a destination but a distinction that sets us apart,” Gerwels says.
He admits that photography has always been in his blood. “I grew up with a camera in my hand from early childhood on,” he says. “My parents encouraged me and would always buy me the latest and greatest cameras. That love of photography continued through school, college, and the business world.”
Gerwels opened Memories Photo & Digital in June 1998. He purchased an existing business that had a photo lab and a portrait studio in a 1,400-square-foot location. “The store and the business has changed for us over time,” he says. “In 2000, we went to an all-digital workflow, and from there we really started to market the studio business.
“2003 is when we really began to make a major move to expand, when our studio business began to outgrow our photo lab business in terms of revenues. The margins were much greater selling studio prints than processing digital images in an hour. We also needed more space. We were starting to outgrow our 1,400-square-foot location. We needed to go upscale with the portrait studio, and we needed to expand the lab as well,” Gerwels points out.
Joining the Kodak Image Center Solutions program helped him do that by creating a consumer-friendly retail environment. “We needed to remodel,” he says. “The Kodak program refreshed the store, helped me merchandise products more efficiently, and gave us an overall cleaner look.”
As part of joining the Kodak Image Center Solutions program, the store added a selection of frames, albums, and some photo gift items. One hundred percent of his photofinishing business is digital. He operates two Noritsu QSS-2721 and 3011 digital minilab systems. He also has ExpressDigital order stations in the store that are used to promote reprints and enlargement sales.“The three ExpressDigital kiosks we use are great with their ability to look almost exactly like the home viewer/ordering software that we distribute,” he says. “The consumer/photographer now can order easily from their home with little to no training because the home viewer/ordering software looks and feels the same as the kiosk software. The only challenge has been to get customers to sit down for five minutes and install the home viewer/ordering software. But once they do, they really like the option of ordering prints from home.”
Gerwels had offered in-house portraiture for years, and with revenues on the portrait side growing, he decided to go upscale and move the studio to a different location to handle all the foot traffic coming into his store. That same year they purchased a new building and moved the studio to a new location about a mile away. “We wanted to have something that was a high-end portrait location for our customers,” he says. “The studio side of the business has evolved for us in a huge way.”
The studio building sits on a three-acre property. “It’s beautifully landscaped and has big trees with a creek running though it,” he adds. “It was an older building that at one time was the first custom framing business in Knoxville. With the purchase of the new location, we were able to add custom framing to our list of services as well. It’s a neat place.”
Memories Photo & Digital has a total of seven employees, with two working in the studio and five in the photo lab. The studio uses Nikon D1X digital cameras, allowing customers to view virtual proofs immediately after sessions. Prints are output on the Noritsu labs.
Having on-site photo labs gives them control over the quality for the portraits. So during crunch times, a customer can walk in for a portrait session and walk out with framed prints in hand, all in less than an hour.
The portrait studio helps bring in new customers, so Gerwels views the time a portrait customer is in the studio as an ideal opportunity for explaining all the other services that Memories Photo & Digital has to offer. “We tell the families about the benefits of digital photofinishing, and tell the business customers about other services we offer that might be useful to them,” he says.
Focus on Children
Gerwels markets the studio service primarily to families with small children. “We specialize in photographing young children,” he says. “We have a babies’ first-year program. It helps to provide us with cementing a relationship with the parents in the hope that they bring their kids back to be photographed each year.”
As for children, he learned years ago that parents love pictures of their kids and will buy plenty. “Besides, kids are a lot of fun and nobody else around here seems to go after that market like we do,” he adds.