James Park, president of Colortek Image Shop (with four NYC minilabs), is a businessman first and foremost. "I didn't come into this business because I love photo-I came into it to make money," he admits. James enjoys what he does, and even though there has been a downturn from the heyday of one-hour processing, the business still makes him money "and gives me a good life," he says.
James is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, products, and services he can add into his existing business. Last year, Colortek (which has been in business for 17 years) added gifting; this year it was custom mat-cutting and framing; in the future, he plans on incorporating photobooks into his repertoire. "For me, it's not a big deal to spend $60,000 on a digital printing press-I can split the cost between my stores," he explains.
Colortek offers a large selection of albums and frames, some digital media, film, and one-time-use cameras. James has also recently added a variety of camera and computer bags, which are selling well. The bags aren't traditional-looking camera or computer cases, either-they're stylish, hip, and fresh; brands include Kipling, Manhattan Portage, Crumpler, and Baggallini. "As customers requested new bag lines, we added them," he says.
This new vision of the photo business-evolving as the industry and his customers' needs change-is what makes Colortek successful. Adding profitable items, while discontinuing slow SKUs, has been the key for James, as well as for many other dealers across the country. To this end, James spends a couple of hours daily on the web, searching for new products and services that will appeal to his customer base. "You can't get excited about one item anymore," he says. It used to be that retailers could rely on one item to be the panacea that brought in business-but that's now a thing of the past.
The Gifting King
Those in the industry who know the extent of photo gifting that Colortek offers its customers fondly call James Park the "Gifting King." Colortek currently offers 60 different gifting items. "That's a lot," James says. "With the two different presses [I have], I can do 200 different items if I want to."
One of the reasons behind the decision to do the gifting in-house is for quality control. James says he likes to be able to do the work himself, because he knows his customers are getting the best-quality items available. Also, he's confident taking in large orders and/or rush orders, because he knows what it takes to get the work done in the time required. "I can control my own destiny with my customers, so they're happy," he explains. Plus, Colortek offers a 100% money-back guarantee.
"I wanted to go with one supplier who could get me all the equipment and supplies that I needed," he continues. "I went with a sublimation system because it offers the best quality." Working with Condé, he purchased only the equipment he needed. Colortek already did some gifting in-house when the decision was made to expand the stores' offerings; James was able to use the heat press he already had in place. He bought a new mug press, and he outputs on an Epson inkjet printer that's been converted for sublimation inks. All totaled, he spent about $6,000 on equipment and $3,000 on supplies to get started with. All gifting is done in the 400-square-foot 47th Street store.
"Since day one, there isn't a day that goes by that we don't take in at least one gift order," he says. In addition to the retail sales, Colortek also wholesales out work to other area businesses. "Originally I thought it would take too much time, but it doesn't," he says.
James is a proponent of gifting as a new revenue stream. He recently spoke to other retailers about Colortek's gifting and art offerings at a meeting of the local NY/NJ Metro division of PMA. "I really think everybody should do photo gifts," he adds.
The trick to selling photo gifts and photo art is creating excitement, according to James. You've got to get your staff excited, training them to talk up the products-not just answering questions, but "selling" them on all the things they can do with their photos. Getting your customers excited is easy when you and your staff are excited.
You also have to display the products. Each of the four Colortek stores has a display window full of personalized photo gift and art samples. The window displays are changed monthly-switching the samples on display in one store with the samples in another store-so consumers walking past see fresh new products (with the perception that new ones are being added constantly).
Framed and Unframed Photo Art
Another recent addition to the personalized products that Colortek offers is the photo-art items. These include pop art, cartoon, watercolor, oil painting, and pastel treatments to photographs. "I don't have to stock anything," says James. "All I need is a sample, and I can sell it and make a profit." He has examples in each store, but he outsources the work. James explains the procedure: take an order, send a digital image file to DigitalCustom (the company that does the actual artwork), and wait for the completed file to be emailed back to Colortek; when he receives the file, James and his staff then output the photo art on an Epson 9800 wide-format printer (which he says is a money-making machine), mount it, and (if desired by the customer) mat and frame the finished product. The turnaround time is less than a week.
Customer response to the personalized photo art is extremely positive. "People love it," James says. He notes that people often stop and look at the displays in the windows. (Ed. note: which we saw firsthand when we visited him for this interview.)
Colortek brought in pop art in the summer of 2006. That Christmas, the stores took in more than 300 orders. Then cartoons were added, and later, the painting treatments. James says that each holiday brings a jump in orders-Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, etc.-and he's also begun taking in corporate orders.