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Winkflash Takes Over Club Photo Customer List and Stored Images

Jerry Lansky

If you are one of those unique people who know how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin, then maybe you can tell Darrell Lucente how many photo images there are in 40 terabytes of memory.

Lucente, vice president of business development and one of three founders of Winkflash, North Kingston, RI, has no idea, though he was the winning bidder in the purchase of the computer servers of Club Photo, the online photo site that disappeared when its owner, Photo TLC, closed its doors about a week before the PMA convention in Las Vegas.

Photo TLC was also a large fulfillment operation supplying photo gift items to such customers as Walgreens and CVS.

Over the years the online customers of Club Photo stored images on the firm's website as they ordered prints and photo gift items. When the site went dark without notice these customers were also in the dark as there was no information available as to how to get their images restored or even who to contact for information. One of the executives of TLC admitted that his own images were on Club Photo servers and he wasn't sure if he would ever see them again.

Escalate Capital, the liquidators of the Photo TLC assets, put the Club Photo customer list and images out to bid and Winkflash walked off with the package. The price? All Lucente would acknowledge was that it was in the six figures.

What did the money buy? According to Lucente, Winkflash was able to add the customer list of about one million names to its own base of about three million customers. "We don't know how many of the Club Photo customers were active, but we would expect it to be more than 15% of the total." He anticipated some customer overlap.

"So far," said Lucente, "the response from the Club Photo customers has been very positive. We're happy to see that."

The privately-owned Winkflash was founded in 2003 as a retail-only, web-only, photo site. No retail brick and mortar. Today it consists of a facility of 50,000 sq, ft., according to Lucente, with 30 employees. Its website keeps busy some 20 Fuji Frontier digital labs and Lucente said that he was in the market to add to this number if he could find some model 370 and 390 Frontiers, a model discontinued by Fuji. All printing is done on Fuji Crystal Archive paper using Fuji chemistry, according to the Winkflash website.

The print volume is generated by an aggressive, customer-friendly website, that offers a full menu of photo services along with about 25 photo gift items and photo albums. Lucente said that production for all items offered is completed in-house.

Winkflash opened a new page at the old Club Photo URL calling it "Club Photo Update." It advises customers that on April 26 it had reached agreement "allowing us to recover customers' photo albums" and that it would begin restoring albums during the week of May 13. "We do not charge for this service, and there is no storage time limits or purchase requirements." Customers were advised to click the Winkflash link and enter their original Club Photo ID and password.

The Winkflash business model promises "unlimited storage forever" and defined in its website that "unlimited is a lot" and "forever is a long time."

Lucente said that in order to attract as many of the Club Photo customers as possible, he was offering to make 4x6 prints for 6-cents each. The Winkflash site shows an everyday price for a 4x6 at 12-cents each and charges 99-cents for shipping 4x6 prints regardless of quantity.

Buying 40 terabytes that are installed on servers in Austin, TX, is one thing. Transferring the information to the Winkflash servers in Rhode Island is another. Lucente said that doing so over the internet would have taken weeks. The solution was to physically move the servers along with the data.

So how many images in 40 terabytes? Lucente's best guess: tens of millions.