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Jerry Lansky Exclusive: San Marco Imaging Expecting New Ownership

San Marco Imaging, the Italian manufacturer of the Marko line of minilabs, is currently undergoing a restructuring that could result in new investors taking control of the company.

An informed source within SMI said the new investors are from Italy and that at least one individual has a connection to the photo industry. The source would not reveal any names but said the deal could be completed within the next few weeks.

In the meantime he noted that production of the Marko line of minilabs was continuing, and the company is filling orders from Europe, Mexico , and South America . Also, he indicated that SMI was still supplying parts to the U.S. , particularly to Qualex, the major provider of tech services to the Gretag brand of minilabs, the forerunner of the Marko brand.

As for U.S. sales, the source acknowledged that there was no representation at this time. Bob Ricci, a former Kodak vice president, who joined SMI in 2004 as president of the firm's sales company, San Marco Imaging S.p.A, Laguna Niguel , CA , with responsibility for the U.S. and Canada , left SMI in June and has not been replaced.

SMI has been an exhibitor at PMA for the past two conventions with a modest space but as of this writing has not made any reservation for the Las Vegas convention in March. The source said that it is planning to have space but was waiting for the new owners before making a commitment; however, important announcements would be made at PMA.

San Marco Imaging acquired the minilab assets of Gretag Imaging in May of 2003. At the time Gretag had an installed base of maybe as much as 10,000-12,000 minilabs in the U.S. , plus a worldwide presence. The U.S. installations of Gretag Masterflex and Masterlab systems were almost all the result of the Qualex on-site program whereby these units were placed at large mass merchants here, such as Walgreens and CVS. Many are still installed but being replaced. Gretag began having serious service problems. When these problems became apparent, Kodak purchased a piece of Gretag as security for continuing parts supply for its large network of machines.

When Gretag went into receivership, Amilcare Berti, an industrial entrepreneur with a long history in the manufacturing of photo processing equipment, picked it up with the hopes of re-establishing the minilab brand. He was faced with such major obstacles as a declining international minilab market and only one customer in the U.S. , Qualex, who was struggling to keep Gretag machines in operation.

The introduction of the Marko line, consisting of three models, at the 2004 PMA convention was met with some interest as the line was awarded the DIMA “most innovative product” prize. However, the marketplace has seen the failure of the Agfa and Konica brands and had no room for a new player as the market dwindled.

In June, 2005, San Marco made much of the first installation of its new line in the U.S. when it plugged in an MK-4 at Lake Shore Camera Exchange, Palm Harbor , FL. This is an old line, full service camera store owned by Gregg Hickman and his wife, Dawn. At the time, Gregg was very high on the unit and how it was performing.

Contacted to get a reaction to the non-representation in this country of the equipment he owned, Gregg was surprised to hear that the U.S. office had been closed. Where have you been getting your parts, Gregg? “Haven't needed any,” he said. He was as enthusiastic about the performance of the MK-4 now as he was 18-months ago. “It's a fabulous machine,” he said. He does his own preventative maintenance and has not had to replace any parts so far.