As mentioned, most PP stores have San Marco optical systems with a few utilizing Noritsu 3202 digitals. John, and corporate management including Lisa Berman, president, are currently on a search for a single minilab manufacturer to standardize digital equipment for the entire chain in an upgrading program that, because of the large investment, is expected to take a few years. They have met with the principals of all manufacturers, often visiting foreign shores.
The selection process is methodical and time consuming. Brian Parks, director of imaging, a 16-year veteran with the firm having joined when it was Express Portraits, is in charge of the Modesto lab where it fulfills orders for posters and certain photo specialty items, and all camera repair and equipment spare parts. It is a 13,000-sq.-ft. facility with a staff of 15.
To Brian fell the job of analyzing the models being considered by PP. The selection has been narrowed down to four potential models: Fuji's 550, Agfa's NetLab, San Marco's MarKo 10 and Noritsu's 3202. Ten-inch paper capacity was required. Two other pieces, the Noritsu dDP-411, an inkjet output machine, and a Fuji thermal autochrome unit, were eliminated early because of low-volume capability.
Brian said he created a four-page testing document and put each machine through its paces over a period of two months. Some of the elements being judged: speed, quality, chemical package, effluence, paper changing, serviceability, software packages, ease of use, and others. A team from the training department, service department, and IT were part of the inspection process. As expected, Brian wouldn't give any indications of his rankings other than to say, 'They all turn out beautiful quality prints.'
John Johnson said that a final decision would be made by the end of August. He indicated that part of the decision would include each manufacturer's total price including hardware and consumables.
As manufacturers see the number of high-volume potential customers dwindling, picking off an account like Picture Perfect is a plumb and no doubt all cards are being played. With 330 stores now and the chain growing by about 30 stores annually, according to John, it is a piece of business to be coveted.
Once Picture Perfect promotes the all-digital route with its sexy sales appeal and operational benefits, it would seem to me that the other guys, CPI, PCA, Lifetouch, etc., would have to sit up and take notice. From what I understand, these firms may already be testing on-site digital at some locations. It would open up some juicy sales possibilities for digital equipment manufacturers.
I see a big potential for a customized digital lab for the mass portrait market with: output to 10-inch paper; digital input from a single source; dumbed-down portrait package software; and a portrait billing program. Could be chemical or inkjet. Potential customers: CPI, PCA, Lifetouch.
On idea gnaws at me: Here you have a firm like PCA with studios in 2,400 Wal-Mart stores. Each Wal-Mart store is equipped with a Frontier digital lab, yet PCA sends all of its printing work back to a central lab. It would seem to me that something could be worked out between these two partners that would benefit both-and the consumer.