Magazine Article


Rush Hour: Photo + Wireless = A Successful Mix

Rush Hour Photo & Wireless’ owner, Paul Rentz is surrounded by a range of product at the wireless counter.
Diane Berkenfeld

The exterior of Rush Hour is full of eye-catching signs and banners, alerting customers to great deals, sales, and contests.
Diane Berkenfeld

Kendra Hincheberger working the drive-thru window during our visit in June.
Diane Berkenfeld

Not one to separate the photo and wireless areas completely, customers browsing the wireless counter can enter a contest to win a digital camera.
Diane Berkenfeld

In addition to Rush Hour’s digital minilab, the store also offers the products that can be created using the HP Photosmart Studio (l.) and Lucidiom Luci kiosk (r.).
Diane Berkenfeld

The building that houses Rush Hour is small (it’s only 1,500 square feet). But it does feature dedicated parking and a drive-through window. Paul notes his customers appreciate those two conveniences.

Rush Hour is a photo lab. Paul tried selling digital cameras when they were first on the market, but eventually decided to stick to photofinishing. He found that because the camera models changed so often, he didn’t have enough room to stock all the product he’d need to do it justice. Even without digital cameras in stock, Paul says he and his staff spend a lot of time explaining digital to their customers.

Rush Hour has a Noritsu minilab and two Noritsu CT 1 terminals, along with a recently added Luci (Lucidiom). The staff named the Noritsu terminals: Zeus and Athena, a little touch that Paul says helps customers distinguish which one they’re working on.

Paul is also always on the lookout for the next big thing to bring into the store to increase sales. Rush Hour has the designation of being the site of the first HP Photosmart Studio installation, installed this past spring (of course, it helps that Corvallis is also the home to one of HP’s campuses, the one responsible for designing the HP Photosmart Studio and Express kiosk). (Ed. Note: Local Corvallis newspapers, as well as PTN, have covered Rush Hour’s receipt of its HP system. See the April 2006 issue of PTN).

“I really like the Photosmart Studio,” Paul tells us. “We’ve found that it’s such a great word-of-mouth tool.” He notes that business increased substantially in the time prior to our June visit. “It takes time to build up,” he says.

When one of the staff suggested hanging a poster that they’d created on the Photosmart Studio as an example, Paul found that Rush Hour began selling more posters. It isn’t enough for the order terminal to list all of the items it can create—when you show actual examples to your customers, that’s when they’ll get the creative itch to make something with their own photographs. So now Rush Hour has many examples at the ready to show customers. That includes scrapbook pages output from the Lucidiom Luci kiosk.

One of the great benefits of the HP Studio is that “it lets people use images in ways they haven’t used pictures before.” The items you can offer your customers are “products that don’t sit in a shoebox—the photos are out and looked at,” he explains. Paul thinks anything that gets people to do something with their digital images is a good thing. He’s found that many of his customers don’t just grab a bunch of images to create a calendar or book; instead, they’ll often think about the images they’ll use, and in some instances they’ll plan before going on vacation what photos they’ll need to take for a project they want to create. So instead of taking a picture, looking at the preview, and thinking “This will make a nice enlargement,” his customers are planning on shooting specific subjects in order to create a photo book or other photo gift.

Those Who Can Do, Teach

Paul, an avid photographer in his own right, began offering classes two years ago after being inspired by Chris Lydle (owner of Chris’ Camera Center, Aiken, South Carolina). He says some of the people who’ve attended the classes admit they had never set foot in the store previously, but each group of students to Rush Hour’s classes is a prospective future customer. Due to the small size of the store, Rush Hour’s photo classes are held in a nearby hotel (and contrary to the belief that an in-store classroom is the only way to go, Paul says the classes are well-attended).

There’s a constant learning curve with digital, according to Paul—there will always be newer versions and technology changes that people will need to learn. “Two years ago, it was critical to teach consumers how to email photos,” he says. “Its not a critical issue anymore.”

Although Paul doesn’t teach Photoshop, he does introduce his students to some photo editing tools and what they can do. He works on a tier of Picasa first (which is free), then recommends Photoshop Elements and then, of course, Photoshop CS2 for those really wanting to get into advanced editing. He offers a recommended ‘guide list’ of ‘how-to’ books that he’s found very helpful for students to teach themselves while he sticks to teaching photography and basic digital camera tips. “I find trying to teach Photoshop frustrating—it’s such a powerful tool with so many complexities. I learned the ‘do-it-yourself’ method myself and found classes frustrating—at least at first,” explains.

Paul worries that digital has created a “throwaway generation” and feels strongly that it is important to get people printing and not hitting the Delete button. He worries about the day when consumers will look for certain digital images they had shot and not be able to find them—whether the lost images are due to deletion, a computer crashing, media becoming unreadable, or photos simply getting lost. He feels there may be a revival of printing photos, but that it will also be a painful time for the industry.

Once Rush Hour’s customers have experienced making a photo project with the Photosmart Studio or Luci kiosk, he says, “They want to bring analog pictures in so they can use them like they use their digital images.” When we visited Paul, he was searching out a “shoebox scanning solution” that would fit the amount of work the store does. Although he’s excited about the idea of scanning shoeboxes full of his customers’ photographic prints, he believes the idea is limited, mainly because there’s not an efficient way to get analog images digitized. Currently, it’s easy enough to scan in large numbers of prints, but not negatives or slides.

Scanners like the Kodak i600, which scans a multitude of prints of all shapes and sizes, don’t do negs or chromes. Paul doesn’t see how tying up his $200,000 Noritsu minilab to scan in a few slides could be very cost-effective, especially when one customer might come in with a bunch of slides in plastic mounts, others in cardboard, and still others in glass mounts—all of which have to be carefully handled.

Paul feels strongly that the industry needs to focus more on memories than on devices, because when consumers feel passionate about photography, that’s when they’ll thoroughly experience the best it has to offer. He knows what he’s talking about—just ask any of the customers he’s helped, or take a look at the great prints and other photo projects they’ve created.