The Harold's Photo Centers website offers a comprehensive guide to many of the products and services that the business offers, and it has just added an e-commerce area. "Our stated goal is not to sell cameras on the internet, but to tell local shoppers what we have and to come to our store," he says. Harold's Photo Centers also has an eBay storefront, a necessity in the internet age: "It's all part of making the website a destination." The eBay store is used for selling clearance and one-of-a-kind items.
Bob says that of the total photofinishing that Harold's Photo Centers does, about 10% comes from online orders, and that it's growing at about 50% per year. He says about 80% of the customers who place orders via the website come into the stores to pick up their photofinishing.
A caveat to the large amount of online photofinishing orders is that Bob says he has an extensive email database, which is becoming an important part of their marketing.
Another way the folks at Harold's capture customer/email information is through the company's digital photofinishing rewards program. They've had such a program in place for years. In the age of film, it was a punch-card system. Now they use a digital system that utilizes a swipeable card, but employees can also input customer names or phone numbers to access their accounts.
Bob says that rewards programs are something customers have asked for, and it makes for a nice reason for them to choose coming through their door as opposed to another retailer.
Another reason for choosing an efficient, computerized rewards system is that five of the eight stores have drive-up windows. "You want to be very efficient with them," Bob says. "The drive-up windows are critical for us, probably more so here than in many other locales. One store even has two drive-up windows." In the old days, bags of film were dropped off via the windows; now most everything is done via the drive-through, including Christmas card order placement. "We'd be reluctant to put in another store without a window," Bob admits.
The drive-up windows make it easy for customers to drop off or pick up photofinishing orders and make purchases, regardless of the season.
A number of retailers around the country have found drive-up windows to be a plus when it comes to offering the most convenient ways for their customers to be serviced.
And in South Dakota, moms appreciate pulling up to a drive-up window on a 12-below-zero day, and not have to park and drag the kids out of the car, only to have to bundle them up and drag them back in a few minutes later, after her errands are complete.
Portraits a Plus
Portraits were the impetus for the founding of the business by Bob Hanson's grandfather, Emil, in 1911, and were phased out for a time—only to be reborn in the early '90s. One of the deciding factors for bringing the portrait studios back was when the company switched to newer, more moderately priced one-hour minilabs.
While the portrait studios allow Harold's Photo Centers to utilize their in-house central lab for the studio's proofing, printing, framing, and other photo gifting, Bob says he wouldn't have opened a studio just to make money on the finishing end, "but it's a great feeder to the central lab." He adds, "We decided we have to operate the studios as separate stores," explaining that it takes a devotion of time and energy to run them. Any photofinishing items such as greeting cards, photo books, or other photo-related novelties are also marketed to the portrait studio customers—in essence, offering more products by allowing them to create such items with their own images or the images that the Harold's Photo Centers' staff professionally created. Online proofing is available for customer convenience. Bob explains that as they add new products, they look for new ideas to bring to the studio part of the business that can help generate revenue. Some of the more profit-generating products from the studios include the greeting cards, photo books, and custom framing.
The Harold's Photo Centers' central lab houses the custom framing department, where two full-time employees are kept busy doing the work generated by the eight locations and the website. They use Wizard International's computerized mat cutter (cmc) to cut the mats; they also chop their own mouldings to make the frames. Each of the stores displays a collection of corners and "lots of examples."
"We're trying to create framed products—not just making enlargements that customers may also think about framing, but putting together an enlargement, mat, and frame to be sold as one unit, making it easy for customers to order framing," Bob explains. "One quick, simple decision [to make]." These ready-to-hang options lend themselves well to selling on the internet, Bob adds.
Value to the Customer
There are many ways in which Harold's Photo Centers offers value to its customers. While the stores don't have "kiosk lounges" per se, there are areas set aside in each store for a grouping of kiosks. Harold's uses Whitech kiosks and has them set up in two different output configurations. "Express" units in each store (for wallet through 8-inch prints) are networked to the minilab in that location, while the "creative" kiosks, which offer the full array of photo printing and gift options, are networked to the central lab for fulfillment.