Issues Still to Tackle
Overall, the main issue for today's pro lab, according to TheWeddingLab.com's Perskie, is a combination of offering quality service while making money. "[We need to find] new ways to deliver services that free clients up while saving them money," he says.
Fighting price-undercutters remains a challenge. "All labs are looking for market share," says ACI's Monson. "Some are offering deep discounts and ‘not so professional' products to gain or keep market share. This trend makes it difficult for the quality- and service-oriented lab to compete. In many ways, photography is now being viewed as a commodity business."
In addition to cost, quick service counts. "Cost and turn-around time," says DigiProof's Wei. "We continue to invest in infrastructures to get things done properly the first time around." Coleman of Miller's and Mpix agrees: "All of us here at Miller's pride ourselves on our fast turnaround. Before introducing a new product or service, we ensure they can be produced in an expedient manner. If an order is uploaded at noon, we expect it to ship within hours. Earlier this year we purchased two additional NexPress systems, bringing our total to four. We probably could have survived with two presses by printing around the clock, but most of the orders uploaded today wouldn't have shipped until tomorrow-not good enough in today's market."
Wilson of LustreColor mentions the decline in actual events to shoot. "Perhaps the greatest issue facing all pro labs is the declining number of events available for professionals to photograph," he says. "Weddings and portrait numbers are down nearly everywhere. For both our lab and our customers to remain successful, we have to continue to add new products and services and maintain an efficient and productive workflow."
A winning combination of quality, service, and cost, therefore, will prove the most beneficial to today's pro lab. "There are many fly-by-night labs that claim to offer great prints and products at low prices," says Nations' Millman. "We're known as an industry leader not only because we offer some of the best pricing in the industry on high-quality Kodak Endura papers-we're also known for fast delivery and outstanding customer service."
Staying on the cutting edge of equipment remains crucial as well. "There's a need for constant development and investment in new services and equipment, which we continue to dedicate resources to," says Bay Photo's Abitbol. Lieberman of Ken Lieberman Labs says, "We must maintain both digital and conventional (via enlargers) printing methods at substantial labor costs." CPQ's Kimball weighs in: "[We try to maintain] growth patterns and provide new products to a fairly stable (in terms of growth) client base in a competitive environment," he says. "There is always pressure on pricing, but we have to pay for technology improvements to be able to offer new and exciting products. It's the lab's responsibility to help the professional photographer create a demand for value and grow his or her business."
Understanding technology and society in general is also a plus. "Kids are becoming adults, and adults spend money," says myPhotopipe.com's Casabonne. "These new adults are different from the pre-digital generation. Cameras are integral to their life; photos are part of their personality statement. They've been posting to Flickr, Facebook, and MySpace for years. When I was in college, guys wouldn't be caught dead with a camera. Now almost half of all prints are ordered by guys. That's a powerful piece of data. So we've got a generation of tech-savvy users moving into our space, and you'd better be in-step with them or they'll take their business somewhere else. We're big on the technology front, and we're focused on the last mile-how a photographer gets an image to us. We'd like to see a well-integrated, fun-to-use web interface that bridges that last mile. We've toying with some fantastic looks-we've got some ambitious goals!"