A Minilab Fraternity In Cyberspace: You Got Questions, We Got Answers
Bob has been careful to not stray from his mission statement. While he invites all comers (see sidebar) he has no problem denying entry to someone who does not contribute to the purpose of the board, which is to exchange information and ideas and solve problems. He generally will not admit people who are pitching products, though he feels that by allowing key persons from such key players as Agfa, Fuji, Kodak, Noritsu and Konica, these folks can be alerted to what may be going on within their own sphere of interest and provide some ideas to help them. I'm told that these folks follow the list postings very closely, sometimes from more than one department within the firm.
Just to illustrate how choosey he can be, he rejected my application to join when I first heard about the list in January 2001. His rejection letter, which is still in the bestphotolist archives, said, in part: "I've had requests from other suppliers and press but didn't feel that was appropriate." When I interviewed him recently for this column he said I would have "made too much noise." Good insight, Bob. And, by the way, no hard feelings.
Bob finally relented and let me in so I could gather information for this column. It has been quite a revelation to see how involved so many dealers are in their business and the industry.
The variety of topics range from the silly:
"It's so cold around here today! Didn't even turn on the air conditioning," from Reid Webber, Sarasota Photo Center, Florida; response from Duncan Hasker, Don's Photo, Winnipeg, Canada: "…with a high of -11C, it's almost like summer." That was on Jan. 20 and converts to 12 degrees F.
To the serious, a discussion of Noritsu's SM chemical system:
"I had Fuji Hunt convert a Noritsu V100SM to their system…it works really well. Our plots have straightened out and no more partially emptied F1 or F2 cartridges. Anyone want to buy my left over SM film chemistry?" Sid Davidowitz, Moto Photo, Paramus, NJ; "Fuji Hunt will be showing a Noritsu approved replacement system at PMA…we LOVE it. No more leaky cartridges…no more disposing of partially used cartridges...been running the system in 2-2611's, 1-2102 and 1-2921 with great results…sorry for sounding like a salesman, but we really like this." Joel Stearns, Harold's Photo Center, Sioux Falls, SD.
Even PMA comes to the list when it needs information. Chad Muncie, PMA executive, Digital Imaging Markets, wanted to know where to find a company that makes baseball card templates for minilabs. Steven Olock, director of imaging services for Dan's Camera City, Allentown, PA, gave Chad three website addresses he could go to (phototidings.com; aperion.com; synchroplex.com).
Now that I was a member I felt like a peeping Tom looking into the window of so many businesses. One element of bestphotolist that I wasn't prepared for was that it was "push" technology. This means that all of the messages posted on the list automatically go to every member of the list. That is it's real value since members immediately have access to every message without having to look for them someplace on the web when they get around to it. I just wasn't expecting to have 15-20 messages a day pop up in my e-mailbox.
All messages, from Day One, are archived on the Yahoo site. They total 9,138 as of early February. If you wonder whether it is an active board, that site told me that in the month of January alone there were 426 messages transmitted. When do these folks ever get any business done, anyway?
How do the members feel about participating in an activity that can get pretty consuming?
From John Moore, president, PhotoMagic, Austin, TX: "The bestphotolist has really given me a deeper sense of community among my peers in the industry… It lets me talk to my friends in the industry on a daily if not hourly basis… We give each other technical assistance, share humorous moments and discuss some pretty heavy topics with each other. There are not many punches pulled... I've had my share of black eyes! I like that-it's the real deal."
From Tom Mooney, Pridham's Studio, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia: "When a manufacturer realizes that its customer(s) are informed and aware of issues…they are more likely to be concerned about taking care of the problem. I can't count the number of times I've been told…you're the first ever to have this problem…Single greatest benefit: knowledge-gleaned from others, shared with others, discussed with others."
From others: Reid Weber, Sarasota Photo Center, Sarasota, FL: "This is almost the same as being at PMA all year round." Tim Ulmer, Ulmer Photo, Stockton, CA: "…as the industry downsizes and reduces services…this list provides real answers from field tested solutions." Christine DeCocker, AccuPhotoLab, Charleston, SC, "…with the bestphotolist I am no longer an island."
While I'm sure there are naysayers to the list, I have to admit I didn't find any. They are a committed group-involved in their business, and the industry.
You would think that the manufacturers themselves would be interested in having a website that would not only allow their customers to get authoritative answers right from the horse's mouth, but to exchange ideas. A great way to build a family feeling, no?
No. I checked the Agfa, Konica and Fuji websites. These sites were primarily consumer oriented and had no special links to a page for their minilab customers. Minilabbers are used to calling hotlines for quick answers.