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Bing Liem, Still on His Fuji Honeymoon Answers Questions on What to Expect

Q. There has been much speculation about the Fuji-Noritsu relationship. Can you clarify that?

A. These are discussions taking place on a headquarters-to-headquarters level in Tokyo. As far as Fuji USA is concerned, nothing has changed. Noritsu is a competitor and will continue to be unless we are told otherwise. I understand that there has been a technology exchange with Noritsu incorporating the back end of a Fuji paper processor using Fuji chemicals into a Noritsu minilab and that Fuji will get some technology in return. We are not privy to these negotiations, which are all going on in Tokyo. With the minilab volume worldwide on a down trend, it would not be surprising to see a certain amount of industry consolidation.

Q. We have seen recent Fuji price increases on paper and chemicals. Where do you see equipment pricing going?

A. I don’t see the same trend on equipment. It’s already difficult for retailers to cost justify the price of a big lab. I can’t imagine getting more volume by lowering prices. We may be looking at new cost effective solutions, like dry systems. We are also looking at our “bells and whistles” to see which features are no longer needed, in order to get our pricing as low as possible.

Q. There seems to be a greater emphasis these days on kiosk solutions than ever before. Fuji has gotten beat out by Kodak for the Walgreens and Ritz kiosk business. What is being done by Fuji in response?

A. We are working more closely with Fujicolor Processing. With our V5 head we offer the service of a digital drop box, allowing customers to upload to a Fujicolor lab for less expensive prints. In addition, we can offer on-site prints immediately with onboard printing or one-hour service through the lab’s on-site processor. No one else has this flexibility. We have been doing joint sales calls with the Fujicolor Processing people to push this concept and it’s starting to pay dividends. We have a point of differentiation from our competitors. Also, we are looking at ways to offer lower price points by eliminating features from the kiosk. For example, the individual bays for media slots, a plug-and-play idea, is a nice feature, but it drives the cost up. Besides that, we have a new corporate philosophy that allows us to locally source product. It doesn’t have to be invented and shipped from Tokyo anymore. We are working with local kiosk manufacturers to obtain product that we could market at lower pricing.

Q. Scrapbooking and albuming seem to be the new focus. HP and Lucidiom have been active in this area. Does Fuji have any plans?

A. We have just recently been involved in a scrapbooking show and talking to people to see what we can do. I don’t know of anything off the top of my head right now, but we are definitely looking at it. There are a lot of creative software developers out there and there is a place for it. There is so much price pressure on the 4x6 print, the real opportunity is on larger prints for longer margins. We want to promote enlargements and are looking at different templates.

Q. We’re seeing more emphasis on dry solutions. Noritsu has inkjet; HP, inkjet & laser; Photo-Me and Pixel, ganged dye-sub printers. What is Fuji doing to offer a dry solution?

A. We are looking at a Fuji dry solution and are in beta test now with a V5 head going thru a PIC management system controlling a gang of dye-sub printers—all behind the counter. We could also add a film scanner. Basically, it’s the same as a digital minilab except that the wet processor is replaced by dye-sub.

Q. I’ve heard complaints about Fuji field service not being what it used to be. Comments?

A. In some cases I’ve gotten individual complaints on specific issues, but it was the same at Agfa. I don’t believe we have a systemic problem. In fact, I’ve gotten some compliments on our service performance. To head off any problems like this I have started weekly staff meetings that include the heads of marketing services, sales, marketing, product development, and tech services. We talk about all issues and everyone knows what is going on throughout the division. That was never done before.

Q. Mass has always been king for Fuji. At Agfa, the independent was king. How will Fuji be approaching these markets in the Bing Reign?

A. Much of Fuji’s business has been based on large relationships. One thing I would like to do is diversify our portfolio to spread risk. I have a three-tier approach: