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AIE Tours & Seminars Score High with Labs

AIE tour stop
Attendees take a look at real world solutions on their tours.

MINNEAPOLIS, MNComing together to hone their marketing and production skills, owners of portrait and commercial labs attended the Association of Imaging Executives 2nd annual meeting, which also included two facility tours. The high-profile tours included Lifetouch Inc., a portrait and school business, and Graphic Systems, an industry leader in large format digital photo and inkjet graphics.

Lifetouch Tour

Lifetouch host John Segal (VP, Special Events) and his management teams graciously allowed AIE visitors behind the scenes of the mega photography business.

Tom Rieger, incoming AIE president, whose company, Rieger Imaging, a commercial graphics and sign operation—commented that he got some of his best ideas from the Lifetouch facilities’ visits. The elaborate corporate headquarters mirrored a Silicon Valley building. By far the largest in its digital photo category, Lifetouch has 20,000 employees, and 650 portrait studios and digital minilabs in 11 states. Its in-store operations at Target and J C Penney focus primarily on children photography and typical minilab services for its studios. Its Flash Studios are stand-alone high-end portrait studios in suburban malls that cater to a more diversified clientele including children, seniors, business, and glamour portraiture.

Today the studios are still partly film, but six per week are being converted to digital. This conversion is taking 18-months to complete. Their photographers shoot with 35mm DSLR cameras hand-held, to move with the subject(s). Lifetouch is achieving its annual growth by adding new products in addition to the digital conversation of its studios. Lifetouch currently books 300,000 sittings per year.

John E. O’Malley, VP Production, explained how the internet is becoming a bigger piece of their business. "…From 30 years of sending film to our plant, to Fed-Exing CDs, and now sending images over the internet, Lifetouch wants to be a high-quality, low-cost producer." Their portraiture is imaginative, and creative. The goal is to bring this creativity and productivity into the company’s School Division.

Although Lifetouch is converting its studios to all digital capture, they still sell film and process both color and B&W in their store operations. Printing is, of course, on photographic paper because of the speed, cost and quality it offers them. One of their largest printing plants is in Reno, NV, receiving images from 200 studios over DSL lines. The percentage of B&W we’re told, is between 6% and 8%.

Graphic Systems Visit

Herm Kauls opened his Graphic Systems’ doors to AIE visitors. Many were in awe to see the new world of large format rigid and roll-to-roll UV printing on Durst equipment complemented with automated MGE flatbeds, vinyl cutter routers with icut cameras, and Fotoba X-Y cutters. Kauls shared his sales growth figures with the group, who were amazed when he said that out of 35% growth last year, 22% was from digital photo printing. He also bragged about his ultra low 2% waste factor. "The trend is ‘green’ [printing]," he said. Graphic Systems has no solvent printing devices.

The main difference between the former APCI imaging association and today’s AIE is a broader business perspective and inclusivity. The program is not only applicable to all photo imagers, but also to industry suppliers, as a tool for networking and learning specialized business practices.

Hitting the Bullseye

The second day of the AIE meeting was devoted to not where digital imaging is today, but where it’s heading, and how you hit the "Bullseye!"

Thomas Winninger, founder of Minneapolis-based Think Tank, talked the entire day about "Market Quake 2020, Capturing the 10 Trend Forces That Impact Your Future." Vendors in the audience were pleased with the seminar, especially John Pecororo, National Sales manager, Commercial Photo Labs, Hewlett-Packard Co. He was quick to say how beneficial the work session was for him, "This is great, just what we need."

Arden Glanzer, Northwest Professional Color, who missed the tours due to attending Rob Davis’ funeral, said, "Winninger is a helleva speaker."

Steve Samuel, Graphics Gallery, thought that, "Winninger was amazing. I don’t have a portrait lab, but the things he said to make you think about what you’re doing with your business were extremely helpful. Touring Graphic Systems gave me ideas that I could implement, especially how they handled production."

Future Events

Joe Byrd of the Future Image gave a preview of the 6Sight a future-based conference that brings together a powerhouse of high profile CEOs, CTO, CMOs, VPs, and directors involved in digital imaging. The two-day event is set for November 6-8 in Monterey, CA; and will delve into how a billion digital cameras will transform our visual work and personal communications.

The AIE event would not be possible without the support of its sponsors: Durst Image Technology, U.S., Eastman Kodak Co., Pacific Mounts and Brooke Eng/Brooke Intl., PhotoLynx Inc., Fujifilm U.S.A., Inc., Quality Media & Laminating Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. These suppliers made it possible to network at receptions, luncheons between business events, and dinner.