Magazine Article


Fromex is Alive and Well (and Standing on Its Own)

While all the Fromex stores started with Noritsu (didn't we all?), the Silnas have bought into the Agfa philosophy of supporting the independent specialist and all stores have MSC systems (12 of the 13 sites with the Agfa DPU setup) and either a Kodak Picture Maker or Fuji Pictrostat.
How about digital, Dan? Is that the way to go? "We are not inclined to get into an all-digital lab yet. We were very quick to install an early MSC-200 and we had lots of start-up headaches. We want to make sure it works next time."
In the meantime Fromex has digital work stations in seven of the stores. According to GM Wanda Gonzalez, "We are selling CD-ROM by the ton" at about $10 each. Printing slides from digital files and restoration are other popular digital services. Two trucks circulate to the city stores twice a day and the mall stores once to move around orders and merchandise.

How does one advertise in an expensive media market like New York? Not cheaply. For a small operation it's cost-prohibitive to consider mass media like newspaper, TV and radio. Dan said most advertising is via direct mail though he has used cable in some areas. Zip code mailings with Valpac ("we get a 4-6% return") are sent to about 100,000, six times a year. A major advertising expense is for Yellow Pages which Dan said runs between $90-100,000 annually. In-store couponing is a constant with every customer being given a coupon with some sort of offer every time a roll is picked up.
According to Dan a new theme will be promoted in future advertising: "New York's Photo Finisher."
Fromex started a club program about 2-3 years ago and Wanda said that they have already signed up over 20,000 members. Called PCC (preferred customer club) the deal is not too different from other club plans except that it charges a bit more, $24.99, but is generous in its sign-up bonuses: five rolls of Agfa 200 film (three APS rolls); an 8x10 enlargement; and a free portrait sitting. (Oh, yes, Fromex has one studio, at it's 86th street location, that "manages to hold its own.") Membership earns choice of replacement film, second set or discounts. Clerks are spiffed $5 per signup or renewal.
"I quickly became a big believer in the club," Dan said. With a cash flow of $20 times 20,000 members, I would guess so, Dan.
Important to maintaining the level of service and internal communication are seminars that Wanda conducts each month, one for the managers of each store and one for the assistant managers, at the more spacious 45th street store. New personnel are trained by store managers and begin with such basic subjects as how to load a camera, according to Wanda.
The newest Fromex store was opened in March, 2000 at 60th street and Broadway. First year sales are projected at about $350,000. It started out with an Agfa MSC-23 and was quickly upgraded to an MSC-100 to get APS capability.
Additional stores are being considered. "We are always looking for Manhattan locations," said Dan. "We could do at least one new store a year." Two stores in the chain were purchased and "if the setup fits our needs we would consider other purchases." Criteria: a neighborhood location and lots of foot traffic since "where there are people there is film."
Dan also acknowledges that he has been speaking to the Kodak folks on possibly entering into a KICS agreement for at least one location. This would certainly alter both the look and promotional approach for Fromex. Dan said that he is considering a new mall location in the NY metro area (he wouldn't say where) and that this might be a KICS candidate. He said, "Kodak still has a great name. It would be a neat and easy installation." He indicated he might even consider KICS for other mall stores.
You would think that a successful chain in a high profile market like New York City would be a charm that many in the photo business would like to add to their bracelet. Are your stores for sale, Dan? "My father once told me that everything was for sale except his wife and child. I've added the dog."
He acknowledges that there had been discussions with CPI some years back and more recently with Wolf Camera but that the parties could not agree to terms. Dan said that it was shortly thereafter that Wolf opened its modern 86th street location, literally one block away from Fromex.
It is apparent that Dan was not too happy with Wolf's site selection. He acknowledges that it is a 'pretty store' but 'too glitzy.' "In this neighborhood customers are more concerned with quality and service than with the glitz."