- While Agfa has worked with diligence and some success over the years to champion the cause of the independent dealer, that customer base is moving on hard times and their numbers diminishing. Even protecting those that remain will be a battle.
- The market has made a strong shift to the mass merchant/food/drug segment which is dominated by Noritsu and Fuji leaving Agfa on the outside looking in.
Bing has structured AgfaPhoto with both markets in mind by setting up parallel sales and tech organizations to service each sector.
Dan Kinsley, an Agfa veteran of 18 years, is vice president of Independent Retail Sales and Marketing. (He is adding to his portfolio independent grocery and pharmacies, cruise lines, professional labs and forensic labs.) Dan's job is to keep his flock happy and, especially, profitable so they can keep afloat. Also, to have interesting new products at hand in the hopes of picking off the other guys dealers—one at a time.
Picking them off a bunch at a time is the task of Frank Baillargeon, VP of Sales and Marketing for Mass Retail. A relative newcomer to Agfa but with a strong industry résumé, Frank has his work cut out for him. Even if the product is right and the price is right, cracking a mass merchant account can take years as it goes through multiple layers of approval while waiting for previous contract commitments to mature. A job for a patient man—and a patient company.
The Big Kahuna—Wal-Mart
The big kahuna out there that triggers the salivary glands around the globe is the Wal-Mart account. I understand its contract with Fuji matures in September 2006 after 10 years and that all business is up for grabs: paper, lab equipment, overnight processing, film. Fuji is pretty entrenched with its Frontier digital equipment and it's hard for me to envision Wal-Mart switching horses with a program that seems to run rather smoothly. Likewise with the overnight service provided by Fujicolor.The big kahuna out there that triggers the salivary glands around the globe is the Wal-Mart account. I understand its contract with Fuji matures in September 2006 after 10 years and that all business is up for grabs: paper, lab equipment, overnight processing, film.
The paper business, however, could be in serious play and with the worldwide print market waning, paper suppliers are looking down every avenue to keep their manufacturing plants loaded. There is only one Wal-Mart and you can expect the shuttle-bus between the airport and Bentonville rutting the road with folks trying to grab the paper deal. Kodak has to be considered a very formidable player here and would like nothing better than to upset the Fuji applecart by loading Wal-Mart's Frontier labs with Kodak paper. They have the horses to do it.
In the meantime Bing Liem and Frank Baillargeon are pounding on the Wal-Mart door and, as it should be, hope springs eternal. They are not strangers to the Wal-Mart scene as they provide them with their private label film under the Polaroid name. Breaking into the Wal-Mart equipment and/or paper portfolio is another matter, but it is being worked on aggressively by AgfaPhoto. At this point I would have to handicap it with long odds.
There is no doubt that AgfaPhoto has positioned itself well for the mass market from an equipment standpoint. Its d.lab-1 is a one-step digital printer-processor that has been well received and designed to fit the needs of the mass-er in terms of small footprint and simplicity of operation.
At photokina last month, they also introduced some new products that could possibly turn heads not so much for any technical breakthroughs but because of new approaches to the market.
An example is a series of two models they are calling Netlab.1 and Netlab.2 plus. These are digital input/photo output systems not unlike the d.lab.1 & 2 but with no film processor or film scanner. Netlab.1 has a 650-4R print/hr. capacity and will accept 8-inch paper; the Netlab.2 plus 1,700-4R/hr with a maximum paper size of 12-inch. They are list priced at $105,000 and $160,000, respectively, and are about $20,000 less than their counterpart models with the film capability.
Bing Liem sees the digital-in/photo-out system in such places as digital portrait studios, commercial offices, real estate offices and other places shooting all-digital. Also, an alternative for a busy location with a high-volume analog minilab that wants to add digital functions. He also sees it filling the need for a lab looking to create an online, e-commerce solution.AgfaPhoto unveiled a dye-thermal work station called the d-lab.5 at photokina but it was a concept only.
AgfaPhoto also unveiled a dye-thermal work station that Dan Unger, director of Marketing Communications, said was a concept unit only. Its working name is d-lab.5. Unlike the usual dye-sub setup this arrangement is designed to be used by store personnel behind the counter, Dan stating that the software was too complex for consumer use. As shown, it was equipped with a pair of Copal printers for 4x6 output and a film scanner. It is thought of as a modular system that can include any combination of printers, scanner and monitor, depending on the needs of the lab.
A survey sheet was given to show-goers for their opinion of the d.lab.5 to give AgfaPhoto some idea as to the product's viability and the future direction it might take. No report yet, said Dan.
Yes, said Bing, there has been some talk about an inkjet minilab for AgfaPhoto. He indicated that the Agfa graphics division is currently developing this technology and in the separation agreement with Agfa-Gevaert, AgfaPhoto will have the right to any such technology. "For the present it is not even on the horizon for us."
Don't Forget the Fundamentals
Speaking of inkjet, AgfaPhoto will continue to offer the Sherpa line of wide body inkjet printers from 24 to 60-inches. This is a product made for the Agfa graphics division by Epson and, according to Bing, will continue to be offered, at least for the present. "We may eventually offer other solutions to wide body," he said.