James feels the art looks best at a size of 24"x24". "We tell customers the standard size is 24"x24", and they can go larger, but we don't suggest they go any smaller," he says. Once customers like the work, price becomes a non-issue.
Colortek recently also added mosaics to their photo-art repertoire. A mosaic is created utilizing 100-plus individual images-output onto 42"x110" stretched canvas.
James has seen the success in offering digitally manipulated photo art: "It's fun stuff you can come up with." To better utilize Colortek's employees' time, image retouching is also outsourced to DigitalCustom.
"When we brought in art, we brought in custom framing-which, incidentally, was something I'd always wanted to add but didn't know how to sell," he says. "It's a natural fit." And James admits that if the system is simple enough for him to be able to sell, then his staff can certainly sell the service.
"Framing has been around-we're just putting a different spin on it," he says. He explains that it's easy to sell with the ArtTech mat/frame conceptualization software his business utilizes. The software lets customers see what the finished product will look like and calculates the retail cost in real-time. Along with the software, each store does have to keep a collection of mats and molding corners on hand to give customers the chance to feel the texture and heft of the actual mats and frames. "We do have to have corners, so customers can see we do framing," he says. Each store has a dedicated computer and corners-all situated in only eight linear feet of space. But all of the actual mat cutting and frame production is done in the 40th Street store. The stores all display samples of custom matted and framed photos and artwork.
"The guys like to sell it [custom matting and framing]," says James. "It's techie and they can show off." Employees only spend about 15 minutes with a framing customer. "If they're going to order, it's most likely going to be in the first 15 minutes," he adds. (He says 95% of his customers do make their decisions in the first 15 minutes. If they're taking longer than that, the staff lets the customers work with the computer, since the conceptualization software is on dedicated computers.)
"Customers are comfortable ordering it because they can see exactly what they're going to get," he explains. Without envisioning it, you're not sure what it's going to look like, and the software makes it easy. He says the software even lets you replicate the color or type of wall that the artwork will be hanging on, so you can see how well the mat/frame color choices work. "By being able to visualize it, they get it," he adds. And, like the gifting and photo art, Colortek offers a 100% money-back guarantee on the custom mat/frame work.
The custom framing is another example of new services that can be added to an existing photo business affordably. "It's not hard to do," notes James. His initial investment was only $5,000. Colortek utilizes a Wizard International computerized mat-cutting system that's rented through the company's rental program. "It's their machine, so if there's an issue with the equipment, it's their problem, not mine," James says. "They'll replace it; they'll even take it back if you decide you don't want it anymore." Other equipment includes cutters and joiners for the moldings; and any other incidental tools as needed, which he can pick up inexpensively from Home Depot.
Servicing Your Customers
At the end of the day, it comes back to service. Excellent customer service is the backbone behind all successful businesses. "We'll do everything we have to make [our] customers happy," James says. "Photo is a service business; it's not just retail." He says of his staff: "They're not just cashiers or counterpeople, but integral assistants helping customers with their images."
James explains that he makes a point of getting on the phone directly with customers who call with a problem-they'll come back again if they feel that you sincerely dealt with their concerns. "It's the service, it's not the product," he adds.
James suggests that if a customer comes to you with a question and you don't know the answer, never tell them you don't know. Instead, tell them you'll find out the answer and get back to them; otherwise, you're doing a disservice to the very people walking in your door, who are coming to you for your authority on the subject of photo.
Colortek's kiosk setups assist customers in their quest for printing their memories. Each of the four stores houses at least 10 kiosks, arranged to provide customers with privacy, while allowing them the space needed to work with a friend or family member. While James doesn't feel the industry will ever go back to the high point of the 1990s (when he'd be processing 900 rolls in a day), he does feel that at some point, printing may come full circle. He's seen more (and larger) print orders coming in via the kiosks and realizes it is because customers feel comfortable enough to stay awhile. "Once they sit at the kiosk and get used to it, they love it," James says. "They don't want to be bothered-they want to do the work by themselves. They'll show the final prints to their friends and family and tell them ‘I did that'-they feel like they're great photographers." James may soon be adding a few more kiosks to his corrals of Whitech Photo.Tellers.
"As long as we stay with the image," he says, "we'll make money." The services aren't necessarily new, but marketing the correct way is what brings in revenue.
From a traditional one-hour minilab to a business that offers image services to its customers, Colortek's James Park is on the right track.