Magazine Article


Agfa’s Fate May Be Known By The End of July

Bing Liem
“We are proceeding in a business-as-usual mode...” —Bing Liem

Bing is most optimistic as to the final outcome. He answered the obvious question as to how Agfa could continue to manufacture in Germany if the parent company had no money: Enough funds were advanced to continue manufacturing operations through the insolvency period.

Agfa manufactures its own minilab printers but purchases the film and paper processing side from Copal in Japan. Final assembly is in Peiting, near Munich. Paper and film is coated and slit in Germany.

In the meantime, while asking customers to deal with Agfa on an 'as usual' basis, Agfa is doing the same. It just announced the appointment of John Roberts in the new position of senior marketing manager of Consumer Products.
The uncertainty surrounding Agfa has not been lost on the competition. There are pending deals with mass merchant accounts as well as independent minilabs where decision makers are holding their breaths.

The Agfa d.lab.1, a compact, fully digital, one-step system has been looked at with some favor by many in the business. It has an output of about 900, 4R prints from digital or film sources, and is priced at about $130,000. It is the unit of choice in the Agfa line, they claim. The d.lab.1S, without film processor, is about $10,000 less. A unit with less features, called Starter and priced at about $95,000, will begin shipping to the U.S. shortly. All are 8-inch capable.

Speaking to the upper management folks on the buying side of the business, there is support for the concept that the industry is stronger when there is more competition. They see the opportunity for better pricing and a much healthier R&D environment when there are more players in the game.

However, they are not blind to the possibility of a financially weaker Agfa being unable to fulfill commitments. For now, it's wait and see as they are willing to accept Bing Liem's "business as usual" posture.

On the sellers' side, the attitude may be a bit different. While competitive manufacturers may give lip service to the "competition is good" philosophy, does one think Wal-Mart would shed tears if Target were to fold? So far I have seen no evidence that anyone in responsible sales management has a campaign to take advantage of the Agfa situation. Unfortunately, salesmen are salesmen and they always find a way to grasp any opportunity to undermine a competitor when there is a possibility of an order, facts notwithstanding.

For many years Agfa has beat the drums for the independent photo specialist and, according to Bing, has about 2,000 such accounts. More recently, the exigencies of the industry has forced the firm to develop units for the mass retailer and pursue that segment of the business. Until the Agfa smoke clears, orders from mass retailers and independents alike, remain in the balance.

The minilab industry lost the Gretag label a few years ago and many suffered the consequences. Only recently has it been reborn as the MarKo brand by San Marco Imaging. Earlier, such minilab brands as Oriental, Copal and Hope bit the dust. We are already down to a precious few remaining manufacturers. Hopefully, Agfa emerges from this crises to sustain a healthy, competitive environment in the minilab industry. ptn


Fujifilm Terminates Staffers From All Departments

June 17 was 'black Friday' for a number of Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. employees who received termination notices on that day.

While there was no official number as to how many were affected, it is understood to be somewhere between 50 and 75 and that those terminated came from all areas of the company including management and sales along with warehousing and administrative personnel.

Tom Shay, Fuji director of communications, issued the following statement:

"Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc. eliminated a number of positions in June in order to improve performance and position the company to be more responsive to changing market conditions. The company kept reductions to a minimum and offered equitable severance packages and career support to the affected employees. The job reductions were balanced throughout the company nationally."

Cutbacks at other major players in the industry, such as Kodak, have been ongoing as the imaging industry fights to survive the digital revolution.