The logistics of receiving thousands of individual orders daily over the internet, parceling them out to the individual stations for production, sometimes having to marry multiple items for the same order, identifying each order with a bar code that would survive the high production temperatures, packaging and addressing each single box, and moving them to the shipping dock suggests the movement of a finely tuned Swiss watch. Larry keeps it wound by his constant presence in the plant, with the assistance of his wife, Patty, who concentrates on HR matters, and his sons, LR, a law student, and Justin, a high schooler, who work on the lines.
Turnaround time? Larry said that almost every order is completed and shipped out on the day it is received. At peak holiday time: within 48 hours.
Larry has a unique combination of talents. His early interest and education was in the art and design field and he wanted to be an illustrator. Yet he was the consummate entrepreneur and employed both skills in designing and air-brushing panel trucks and, in the 1980s, began manufacturing and designing trade-show booths.
His personal interest in photography led to his eventual ownership of six L.A. Camera stores in the area, full-service camera and processing operations employing 72 people, which were eventually sold. They were part of the Kodak KICS program, and Larry was a member of the KICS advisory board. In his main store, Larry began custom-framing and started putting his toe into gift-making such basic items as mugs, puzzles, and T-shirts.
The group of KICS stores had been getting their photo gifts from Wolf Camera (now Ritz), but Kodak came to Larry and asked if he could be the prime supplier to the 400 KICS stores. A big gift-item seller became photo cookies, which Larry designed using food dye instead of ink for the image reproduction.
Photo This was born in 2000 with four employees in the back room of L.A. Camera. In six months it began to gift for District Photo, which, at the time, owned the Snapfish online operation with its huge customer base. As the business grew, it was obvious that a larger production facility would be needed, and District made an investment into Photo This that allowed the young firm to get into the current facility in 2004.
Photo Gifting Is Big Business
Among PMA's aisles, its easy to find vendors hawking devices for a photo specialist to do his own on-site gifting. You've all seen the mug presses, T-shirt presses, picture puzzle cutters, and the like. Maybe you've invested in them with the feeling this was putting you into the gifting business.
Consider this: According to Larry, Photo This has 861 SKUs of gifts. While the independent photo specialist with a mug press can offer a selection of one design, Photo This has seven different mug designs ranging from the classic style to stainless-steel mugs, insulated mugs, commuter mugs, latte mugs (a new item), and more. To overcome the concern about the orientation of an image on the mug and which way it faces for the left- and right-handed drinker, Larry employed his art talent to design a tile-image look, which is made up of 13 repeats of the same image on the cup. A man's tie has 1,700 tiled repeat images; a ladies 12x72-inch scarf, 2,500.
Each year, according to Larry, Photo This adds about 60 new items and drops about 15. At present, about 30 are under consideration. Where do the ideas for gift items come from? Everywhere. For example, Larry has a golden retriever (appropriately named Kodak), and he decided there was an opportunity in the pet gift business. Walgreens' website offers a Photo This dog dish, dog collar, and leash, each adorned with the pet's photo, for $19.99 each.
Some of the other Photo This items, each with a personal photo: poker chips, playing cards, shower curtains, bath mats, hand towels, book covers, baseballs, soccer balls, photo stickers, teddy bears, puzzles, posters, Christmas tree ornaments, trivets, snowflake ornaments, coaster sets, notebooks, baby throw blankets, placemats, aprons, tote bags, cutting boards, wall clocks, candy tins, serving trays, clipboards, etc. A new item is a bistro table with embedded images. Puzzles come in an industry standard 250-piece design, but Larry went beyond with a 500-piece puzzle that was recently introduced. And, of course, boxer shorts.
Biggest sellers: mugs, mouse pads, Christmas ornaments, ties, and puzzles.
Photo This does not have its own website and does not deal directly with the consumer. All of its sales are to the trade. And most of its trade is with the mass merchandisers that have sophisticated websites where gift items can be shown and ordered. Walgreens has dozens of web pages devoted exclusively to various Photo This products, with two more pages on FAQ's. Larry said that most customers will carry between 50–75 different items.
However, Larry feels that the independent photo specialist without a website can also get into the photo gift game and is in the process of developing a program to make that possible. He will provide an ordering tool software, not web-based, by which a dealer can take an order at the counter from a consumer and transmit it via the internet to Photo This for fulfillment. The completed order can either be returned to the store or sent directly to the customer.
If a dealer is set up with on-floor kiosks, Larry works with such kiosk software suppliers as Lucidiom, Pixology, and PhotoChannel to offer the consumer the opportunity to do her own shopping in the store.
He said a dealer would order samples for the items he wants to display and sell, and that Photo This would supply counter cards and other material for in-store merchandising. Payment would be by credit card.