Kansas City, MO—The school bell rang at the first meeting of the Association of Imaging Executives (AIE) for an intense business management seminar conducted by two nationally recognized Baylor University business professors, Gary R. Carini, Ph.D., and Mitchell J. Neubert, Ph.D.
AIE has evolved from APCI, a group that catered primarily to professional and commercial photo labs. But the way we produce prints has changed, and technology has opened the door for photo imagers to cross over into new services and applications.
The eye-opener at AIE was the lack of boundaries between industry segments. Consumer imagers are buying digital offset presses, commercial labs are offering people/portrait services, and commercial labs are migrating into signage.
A preseminar visit to Custom Color in K.C. had many visitors in awe as they viewed a large flatbed UV printer and CNC router on one floor, with a people/portrait operation on another. Because the group was so mixed, some had never seen large-format printing equipment and were amazed at the space required for fulfillment and logistics.
The challenge for PMA’s organizers and the AIE board was to present a program with value for such a diversified group of imagers, which included studios, photographers, event companies, people/portrait labs, wholesale labs, digital graphics shops, and supporting manufacturers and vendors.
A Short Course in Business Management
Baylor graduate school professors Drs. Neubert and Carini ran an interactive-style seminar, and to their tremendous satisfaction this format resulted in active audience participation. Kirk Green of Ferrari Color, AIE’s outgoing president, said that the new organization needed a “different approach.” Dr. Neubert concurred: “It’s a pivotal time in the industry,” adding that leadership and implementation issues are necessary. Dr. Carini added that the industry must have vision and direction, and implement goals.
The program was the idea of Paul Fuller of Full Color (Dallas, TX), who had brought the Baylor professors into his business because he had closed down his photo optical operation to migrate to a new digital online business model.
“I was surprised to see the suppliers sitting through the entire [seminar] day,” said Bob Leidlein, PMA executive, International Trade Exhibits.
AIE offered a great networking opportunity for vendors as well as imaging executives. When questions arose, the suppliers were always there with answers.
The professors made the audience aware of their business culture, and the necessity of setting goals, implementing changes, and getting employees to buy into change. They used the “Red Ocean” and “Blue Ocean” examples. Red stands for existing markets, business as usual, while Blue encompasses a different marketplace and a focus on strategy and differentiation. The one common buzzword was “opportunity.” Even though the industry is in a digital transition world, all agreed that there are plenty of new opportunities. Because AIE is great for networking, various opportunities were batted around—Web-based management, corporate libraries of content, and on-demand offset printing.
Durst U.S., Fuji Photo Film USA, and Eastman Kodak representatives formed a panel for the discussion of important industry issues. Dominick Insana, VP, professional market sales from Fuji, offered some good news: “Home printing is in decline; retail printing is growing.” He said that Fuji’s goal is “to preserve the culture of photography,” and he appealed to the mixed group by suggesting one big umbrella: “You are all imaging solution providers.”
When it comes to new opportunities, Insana talked about Fuji’s joint venture with Xerox, and their new on-demand digital printing press with an entry-level model at $50,000. The printing applications he suggested were vast—ID market, B2B, signage, plastic, fine-art, online fulfillment, photo books, and so on.
Durst U.S. president, Ron Waters, said there were more print opportunities for [retail] consumers going into higher-margin items such as a large-format minilab and producing prints for people/portrait. He announced that Durst’s goal was to introduce a new printing model every six months. BWC Photo Imaging (Dallas, TX) is testing the new true black-and-white Theta printer with inline processor. Waters also mentioned that Durst would introduce a smaller Rho flatbed, ideal for people/portrait labs. Waters explained his positive view of the new industrial specialty division for markets outside of photo, namely furniture and ceramics, that the company has, and suggested it will be 60 percent of their business in the next two years.
Chris Van Zandt, Kodak worldwide marketing director, Output Systems, offered good and bad news. He said that the pro lab’s business is flat to declining, due to fewer photo sittings, while commercial photo display is enjoying double-digit growth. He added that photo lab consolidations will continue and to watch out for “soft copy” proofing with part-time photographers who are disrupting the studio business.