Keeping the Staff in the Know
Education is just as important for the staff at F-11 as it is for the customers. "We spend quite a bit educating the staff," says Doug. "You really have to in this day and age with electronics. You have to keep staff up to the level of knowledge your customers have." (He explains that nature photography in particular is one niche where you really need to know what your customers are doing so you can have knowledgeable conversations with them.)
The store recently became an Apple Value-Added Reseller for Professional Photography, and currently there are three employees who are Aperture-certified. "It helps them out," says Doug. "Not just in selling product, but for their own education." They're excited about having Apple in the store. "We can now provide an end-to-end solution for our customers," says Marsha. Doug adds, "And it's a good way to keep in contact with younger customers."
"To teach customers how to use their digital cameras, you have to also teach them how to use their PC," Doug continues. Although this education is fast-paced, "it creates opportunity, too," he adds. Everyone that buys a camera walks out the door with a coupon for free prints; customers are educated in caring for their media cards and how to archive their images properly. One concern with digital, however, is that they'll only remember a hard-drive crash for six months. "Whatever their habits are, they'll do it again," Doug says.
Doug notes one of the things digital has done is change the way that pros operate. Local pros don't come in on a regular basis like they used to.
Another aspect of educating the staff is cross-training. "I like to have backup for every position in this building," says Marsha. "It keeps track of workloads, so I know if employees are working too hard, and it diversifies everyone's skill sets."
F-11 was originally founded by Duncan MacNab, who opened the business in a downtown basement in 1979 doing mail-order and walk-in sales. It moved to its current location in 1983. F-11 has the honor of boasting the seventh small Noritsu installation in the U.S., having added a minilab in 1984. Even though the store went digital in 2001, they still consider film a part of the business. F-11 has a full-service lab featuring E-6 dip-and-dunk processing, as well as B&W developing and printing-they've still got a full B&W darkroom. High-end scanning is done on Imacon Flextight and Nikon scanners; prints on a Kodak document scanner; and wide-format printing on two printers, one that's designated for color, the other for B&W piezography printing. LifePics powers the photofinishing on the F-11 website (www.f11photo.com). Cameo Style has just been added to allow ordering and fulfilling custom photo books, folded cards and other unique photo gifts on site.
A year ago the kiosk area was expanded to three units, comprised of a Noritsu CT-1 and two PC computer-based units running xKiosk Turbo. The kiosks are situated on a high table with stools, with hooks for customers' pocketbooks. A small selection of toys allows kids to keep themselves busy while Mom works on her photos. "The toys help the moms a great deal," says Marsha. The kiosks were situated across the floor from the main sales counter to allow customers privacy while working on images, but in direct sight of staff. "We set it up so we can see if customers need help," Doug says. F-11 displays many examples of the photo gifts and printing options on the shelves near the kiosks, as well as beneath the glass counter by the register.
In addition to the lab side, F-11 offers a wide range of products, from Apple computers and iPods to professional lighting; cameras; lenses and accessories; bags and cases of all shapes and sizes; frames and albums; inkjet and dye-sub printers and their consumables; and binoculars and scopes, which are set up by the front door so customers can peer out the windows to get a feel for the products.
Reaching Out to Locals & Tourists
The population of Bozeman and the surrounding area is around 65,000; about 12,000 come from Montana State U., which has a strong photo program. The students do a large amount of business at F-11. Tourists are seasonal, coming to town for fly-fishing in the warm months, skiing in the winter. There are many vacation homes in the area, so you get to know those folks for six months, don't see them for the next six, and then they return. F-11 advertises in the local tourist publiations to reach visitors, and in the insert that goes to Yellowstone National Park. They also work with local radio stations, providing prizes for contests. "Radio stations love to give away valuable prizes," says Marsha. She notes that they're also working on PR efforts to create content for the local publications.
"We still really enjoy photography-it's what makes sense for us," says the couple. That enjoyment and passion allow Marsha and Doug to help their customers document their lives with images while operating a successful business, doing something they love.