The pro photo lab has a lot to contend with these days. Despite the best of intentions, clients who were loyal repeat customers back in the film days are finding new venues in which they can find the services they need. For professional photographers, for instance, wouldn't it make sense just to do more printing themselves?
There are always those rare jack-of-all-trades who somehow manage to do it all, from capture to output to presentation. These photographers enjoy printing their own work; are a whiz at custom mounting, and (perhaps most importantly) they have a deep pocketbook to pay for the appropriate gear and staff. But what about the rest of the pros? Here's where the prolab can shine, helping photographers who don't really have the time or inclination to take care of the workflow issues that plague them. These photographers (the vast majority of them) are the ones who can only benefit from a prolab's know-how, efficiency, and cutting-edge technology.
Knowing the Costs of Controlling Your Destiny
CPQ Professional Imaging, located in Cleveland, TN, is a full-service professional lab that offers everything from photographic printing to digital four-color publishing.
"We also offer thermal transfer and dye-sublimation products, which includes novelty items like coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc.," says president and chief operating officer Paul Kimball. "These are items that aren't printed using a standard color process, [its] where we use a heat press to apply color to the products."
Kimball notes that there has been a proliferation lately of part-timers (sometimes called "weekend warriors") attempting to do more of their output and color management themselves. "There's even a new term out there: the digimom!" Kimball laughs. "When film went away, the ability to capture images digitally went up exponentially. The advancements of today's DSLRs are totally amazing."
Photographers started entertaining the idea en masse of taking on more services in-studio around 2001, when Kimball recalls a nudge by some of the inkjet manufacturers in this direction. "First off, I'm a big inkjet fan," he says. "The color gamut is outstanding. But these manufacturers wanted to convince photographers that they should be in control of their own destiny and do most of the work themselves."
What they didn't tell the photographers, according to Kimball, is how much their cost of business would go up. "Photographers usually have a capital limitation on what they can take on," he explains. "Printers are expensive, and then there's the chemical issue. If I'm a photographer doing X amount of volume, I would have to buy the printers and the production software just to get started. By the time all is said and done, I could outlay a quarter of a million dollars to get everything I need.
There are also costs you might not think about, like worker's comp insurance, which drives costs up. A photographer might think they can do an 8x10 for .80-cents, but they have to realize a prolab can print it out two or three times before they get the print they want. As a result, we've seen a lot of people around here go out of business, unfortunately."
So having the services and the know-how to help professional photographers in their craft is one thing; extolling the virtues of these services is another. "We advertise in the trade journals on a monthly basis to get the word out about what we offer; we have it scheduled into our budget," says Kimball. "We also have a growing and aggressive email campaign based on approval lists, so we don't violate any spam rules. That's where we see the majority of our growth."
Using their email blasts and website enables CPQ to employ some unique marketing techniques geared toward the pros. "We just got our hands on a new Canon camera, for example, and we can have a contest where we can give away the Canon body," says Kimball. "We don't have to wait for a print ad, either, to do that; we can usually do it within 24 hours. It draws photographers to our website, too, so they can see what else we have going on." Other recent "giveways" include a store credit for filling out a customer survey on the CPQ website.
Saving Time and Money
These are the same issues Efotolab.com, located in Wilmington, DE, has witnessed over the past several years. They've tried to keep their own products and services viable to attract professional clients. "Photographic printing is overall our most popular product," says president Joel Plotkin. "We have seen incredible growth over the past year in giclée printing on fine-art papers and canvas. We get the sense that the incredible quality of these products have given photographers an enlightened perspective on their work and have sparked their creativity."
In addition to their giclée prints, Efotolab.com has introduced various mounting options-in particular, their popular box-mount. "It has considerably cleaner lines than a stretcher mount, a more finished look, and is delivered ready-to-hang," says Plotkin. "Our box mounts can be made with any type of print-photographic, fine-art paper, or canvas. Traditionally box mounts are used in museums; the contemporary clean look works well in all environments."
The reason professional photographers should continue to take advantage of a prolab's services comes down to three main items, according to Plotkin: time, cost, and quality. "Managing your own printing requires a substantial amount of time-from color-correcting files to actually creating an acceptable print," he says. "Although the cost to acquire an inkjet printer is relatively low, consumables (ink and paper) are expensive. Getting that ‘acceptable print' could equal two to three tries per print.
We have had many photographers stop using our service in favor of printing their own images, only to return to the ease of having a professional lab do it for them at a lower cost per print."