“custom”

When I googled the word “custom” this is what I found:

cus·tom /ˈkəstəm/ noun: A traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time. Synonyms: tradition, practice, usage, observance, way, convention

adjective: Made or done to order for a particular customer.

At FotoTechnika the noun would be used like this:

“The age old custom at FotoTechnika is offering excellent quality and service.”

and the adjective, like this:

“a custom print”

Enlarging

Analog Enlargers

In my last blog, Last Lab Standing, I mentioned that I have started many posts, only to have circumstances change in such a way that the information for the blog would be erroneous or out of date. As I was looking back through my missives I noticed a common thread – the fact that almost everything we do is – and always has been – “custom.”

When we opened our doors in the late 1980s, one-hour labs were just coming into vogue. The more automation you could acquire the better, but there was a trade off – expensive equipment required less personnel but gave less options for operator control. The changes that could be made were large – no fine tuning. Many settings were preset and required considerable expertise to work around. That (and the fact that the first minilabs weren’t exactly mini size-wise or price-wise) is why we opted for custom equipment.

A lot has changed since then. Most of the products we offer today are based on adaptations of analog skills we developed long ago. When we finally acquired “one-hour” equipment, it was digital, not analog, and the fact that it was digital actually allowed more flexibility – aka “custom” purposes. And the fact that we acquired minilab equipment never meant we would offer one-hour services – that notion just never married well to our definition of “custom.”

Even though we use complex equipment and software, we approach our work like craftsmen, not technicians, and these days, we often receive very little training from the manufacturer. That’s just the way the world is these days – most manufacturers figure training is just as good on youtubes created by someone else, not to mention it costs them less if they don’t have to provide training on site or at a regional office. From our past experience, maybe that’s okay, because most trainers we have had were only equipped to create “commercially acceptable” results, which is not always acceptable enough for our requirements.

Our List of Services rack card further illustrates our “custom”-ness:02 List of Services Rack Card 0316

Film

Film Processing

Traditional Lab Services (In-house Film Developing): Our color negative film is machine-processed in a Richcolor processor, and our black & white film is processed by hand. Both film processes are done by the “dip-and-dunk” method in deep tanks. In both cases we load film onto reels, and the reels onto a spindle in total darkness, and at the end of the process, we pull the film out wet and hang it in a film drying cabinet. Most other film processing labs still use leader card machines that are 95% automated. I think one could make the case for our film processing being “custom.”

Noritsu

Printing on the Noritsu minilab

Traditional Lab Services (Prints on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper): This may be the most automated process in our shop, but even the prints we receive over the internet are evaluated for color and density as we print (unless “as is” is specifically requested). And we are constantly creating “custom” sizes of prints, when the standard sizes don’t meet the needs of our customers.

GicleeInkjet Prints and Giclees: Most of our inkjet prints are “custom,” period. With today’s software we don’t have to make as many tests to achieve correct color as we did when we used enlargers in a darkroom, but we can still make tests to make sure everything is spot on, if the standard profiles don’t meet our standards. Prints are sized individually, and trimmed per the customer’s request.

ImageCapture

Digital Capture

Scanning

Scanning

Converting Images to Digital: This topic was originally going to be the focus of this blog post until I realized that much of what I wanted to impart about scanning and digital capture has already been covered in other blogs (see “Thanks for the Memories”). Our scanning department fits well with our “custom” mindset. Even though we have special batch pricing for most of our scanning services and discounted prices for “bulk” orders, there is still much custom handling required, even if it’s just in the preparatory stage, when we organize which type of scanners to use based on the materials we are to scan. And you don’t get more custom than handling fragile antique prints and film.

CreativeServices

Creative Services

Creative Services: As a follow-up service to the above “Converting Images to Digital,” we can use Photoshop for digital restoration of scanned images, and we often create custom arrangements or collages if desired. Some shops send out their restoration, others hire free-lancers, some even use ready-made templates. Our strength is that we do all creative work in house. Of course, some customers like DYI opportunities, and we are glad to print from their supplied digital files, but even then we check to make sure everything looks right before we run it.

Digital 2

Printing on KM C6000

Small- to Medium-Run Digital Printing: We really move away from the norm here. We are fanatics about the color reproduction of our Konica Minolta C6000 digital press, even though it is highly automated. Where we make it “custom” is that we push the quality capabilities far beyond what is “commercially acceptable” (or generally expected). Shortly after we received the press we printed our 25th Anniversary magazine on it. Our salesperson was so impressed with what we achieved, she took samples to show to her office and the Konica Minolta people were surprised to see the quality of the booklets produced by their machine. Recently one of the owners of a local bindery, which uses similar equipment for on-demand publishing, commented that no one in town matches the quality of our machine’s digital output — he told us that we are in a class by ourselves. Maybe that’s because we are “accustomed” to producing continuous tone prints and we aren’t satisfied with anything less.

Digital 1

Digital Press Products

Photo Gifts: This is the one product we outsource at present, but we hope to eventually acquire our own equipment so we can produce personalized gift items in-house. Yes, that’s a byproduct of being control freaks.

 

PhotoGifts

Photo Gifts

Photo Books: In January and February we purchased and installed equipment so that we will no longer have to outsource our photo books. We are tired of paying for mistakes that could have been easily avoided if we were printing the books ourselves. You just don’t get more “custom” than photo books – every book is a one-of-a-kind creation.

Photobook

Photo Book Samples

Being a shop that offers custom products presents some real challenges aside from the special attention it requires. How do you sell “custom” to the masses? Some people are actually hesitant to break out of a mold, feeling more comfortable doing what everyone else does; but all people and families are unique — preserving memories shouldn’t be cookie cutter. Hopefully the fact that you have been willing to read this blog will encourage you to use our highly individualized services if you haven’t already. Many assume that “custom” means expensive – we like to think that FotoTechnika’s “custom” (noun & adjective) translates to excellent value.

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It’s About Time

Yes, it’s about time, but it is also about time management. I’m well aware my last blog was all the way back in June, but things have been really crazy in the Howard household, and I just haven’t had opportunity to write. Unlike my daughter Sarah, I can’t just pop out a blog on demand, especially when I am mentally and physically drained. Hopefully I have pulled my wits together enough to give you an intelligible update, so prepare yourself for an information barrage.

First, have you seen our new signs? It took a year to select the right person to do the job, but we are very happy with the results. Grant Thornton, a mural artist who paints signs between mural commissions, painted them for us. We discovered Grant during a conversation with a former (and favorite) server at the Fox Restaurant. He did a great job, don’t you think?

Signs collage

Next, let me update you regarding previous posts:

Rack Card DisplayBack in June I blogged about our newest marketing tools – rack cards that highlight all of our services. We finished our rack card display and are adding new cards as we continue to expand our services, so drop by to browse through them.

In June I also created a post about Saundra’s and my involvement in choral music. Our series of summer choral concerts went extremely well. The River City Men’s and Women’s Choruses raised over $10,000 for the Dreams Come True organization. We are also well into our fall season with the Don Thompson Chorale, and several friends we made this summer have joined us. This spring the Don Thompson Chorale will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Sometimes it seems like yesterday when Saundra and I helped form the group, but when I think about how many risers I have lugged around and how much artwork Saundra has designed, sometimes it feels like our 50th. As our avocation and our passion, choral music provides the balance we need to do what we do at FotoTechnika. We both hope you will have opportunity to attend a concert this season.

Choral Collage

Now for more recent happenings:

Saundra and I have taken on another responsibility; we have moved in with my 85-year-old mother because she needs someone in her house overnight. That’s right, we have moved our residence again, and let me tell you, we are reminded daily of our age. Now do you understand why I haven’t had much time to create new blogs?

The Howard Family Mini Warehouse

The Howard Family Mini Warehouse

To facilitate our move, we have turned my mom’s garage into a storage unit by building four floor-to-ceiling, 12-foot long shelves to hold all our stuff.

We decided that we needed a satellite Photoshop workstation that will allow us to spend more time with my mom and still stay on target with customer retouching and graphic art deadlines. So for Saundra’s 60th birthday, the family went all out and set her up with a fabulous Mac workstation. Since our daily trek takes us practically to Orange Park and we spend a fair amount of time in transit, we also opted for a beefed-up MacBook Pro so we could do work in the car, too.

New Home Workstation

New Home Workstation

Getting back to business:

The holiday season is looming, and we have some exciting new offerings this year. We are always improving our selection of greeting cards – they can be printed on our digital press or our digital minilab. We have ready-made templates if you want to drop by to select one, or you can do it yourself online: just click the Photo Factory tab on our website. Of course, our forte is custom cards, but you will need to get your orders in early.

Xmas Card Collage

8x8 Photo Book

8×8 Photo Book

We also have a wide selection of photo gifts available online, many produced by Fuji. We offer canvas prints, metal prints, puzzles, mugs, blankets, coasters, and much more, but the product that has us most excited is Fuji’s selection of lay-flat photo books printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. We have samples at the shop – the quality is excellent, and prices are very reasonable. The books are available in sizes 8×8, 8×11.25 and 12×12 with a minimum of 18 pages and a maximum of 72. If this sounds interesting, but you’re a little gun shy with regard to putting all the images together, never fear: we will be offering workshops over the next several months to turn you into an expert bookmaker.

And don’t forget our “Think Inside the Box” scanning and printing specials, and if you have some of those fragile family heirlooms that need scanning, please get them in early – these jobs take time.

Think Inside Box

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to work!

John

Redoubling Our Efforts

 frt window comp v3 3x7

I started our blog to communicate our business thoughts, creativity, crazy ideas, humor and even share some of our challenges. Right now our biggest challenge is to figure out what kind of marketing is the most effective for us. Sometimes it seems we meet ourselves coming and going trying to think of new ways to reach people. Recently we have doubled and even tripled our efforts, but even that’s not enough. At best marketing is a percentages game — if you present your message to a sufficiently large pool of people, and if your product is worthy, eventually you should find success. We know a lot of people, but not nearly as many as the collective YOU who read my blog and Facebook posts.

Our move to our new location in St. Nicholas in part was to make use of a more retail-friendly location. Although we have never turned down consumer business, the old house on Lomax Street was zoned for professional services, such as those for commercial shooters who primarily used slide and transparency film for publications. Not only have markets, demographics and buying patterns changed over the years, but technology has changed too, and there’s no going back to the kind of business we were before the 2008 recession. We needed to reinvent ourselves, taking the best of the old FotoTechnika while adding fresh, new services that are attractive to everyday people. We wanted a location that was more accessible, had good visibility with plenty of windows for signage, ample parking and a floor arrangement that is flexible and convenient for both customers and employees — all on one floor, with no stairs. We lucked into our location in the Mudville Grille plaza, which has the potential to be an ideal long-term home. We have a wonderful landlord and great neighbors, but we are about to enter the summer doldrums and we just can’t afford to wait for the holiday season to fill the coffers.

With the proliferation of social media and smart phones, folks aren’t using our signature service – photo printing – nearly as much as they once did. So we’ve broadened our services in order to be relevent to more people. We expect that you, your friends, colleagues, or your own business can use one or more of our services. Just take a look at the list; maybe there’s something you didn’t realize we do:

List of Services Rack Card

The counter card above is one of the many individualized cards we have created (and an example of our in-house graphic design), targeting specific products we can provide.

There are still so many who have never heard of us who could use our services, and we need to know where to find them. Here’s where you come in: we need your help with good ol’ word-of-mouth advertising. There aren’t many things that can bring a smile to our faces quicker than a customer bringing in a friend for introductions, but we also need business contacts. Saundra and I will be glad to present ourselves and our services to various groups and organizations, either at their location or ours. But the two of us are still very much involved in day-today production, so we need to make every visit count — specific contacts are what we need. So please continue to talk us up to your friends, but also think of contacts with businesses and organizations whom we can help with their more commercial needs. See our list of potential customer types – perhaps you can think of others.

• small businesses and retailers
• manufacturers
• hospitals and clinics
• banks and lending institutions
• galleries
• retirement communities and assisted living facilities
• interior designers
• schools and colleges (especially art and photo departments)
• churches
• non-profit organizations (especially music and art)
• restaurants
• attorney’s, accountant’s and doctor’s offices
• architects
• funeral directors (especially for memorial portraits for display)
• genealogists
• historians and historical societies
• entertainment venues and attractions
• big box and chain stores (especially those that are eliminating photo services)
• dealerships of all sorts
• realtors and developers
• sports organizations
• corporate offices and regional headquarters

The rack cards that explain all of our services aren’t the only thing we are creating; we are installing window signage as quickly as we can come up with clever ideas. The internet is great as long as someone knows our name or does a Google search, but in some ways it hampers us because, no matter how hard we’ve tried, the old location info is still “out there.” In addition to finding new customers, we need to get the word out to customers who only use us occasionally that the empty house on Lomax Street does not mean we’ve gone out of business.

As the last independent lab in our area, we are unique. We have some great ideas for expanding our services, but we need to increase our volume substantially before we can purchase more equipment or inventory. Please continue to support us with your patronage, and help us expand our customer base. As you chat us up, don’t forget some of our new signature specials:

Think Inside the Box Rack Card

(Click here to read our Think Inside the Box blog)

Photo Gifts Rack Card

(Click here to read our Introducing… FotoTechnika’s Photo Factory blog)

We want to be slammed all summer. If that happens, we have a couple wonderfully talented folks who would love to become the next generation of our production team, and we would be thrilled to hire them. In order to do that, we must have enough business to support them. So start sharing the word that FotoTechnika is alive and ready for new creative projects and please share your contacts with us so we can reach out to them this summer.

We look forward to seeing or hearing from you soon.

John

No Stranger to Change

FotoTechnika's Big Changes

FotoTechnika’s Big Changes

 

Just because FotoTechnika is no stranger to change doesn’t mean that change comes easily.

Since 1981, when we first incorporated, there have been countless changes in the photo industry. This post is dedicated to our most recent changes. Changes that happened at FotoTechnika in past decades would come under the heading of “evolution,” but I can honestly say that changes since early 2013 are more accurately characterized as “revolution.”

One change is this new blog format, not revolutionary, but since we are now using WordPress, you will have the opportunity to respond and share, whereas before, it was merely a read-only journal.

The biggest change by far was moving from our original location, the venerable old house on Lomax Street near Five Points, to the last remaining Art Nouveau retail shopping center in Jacksonville.

Moving from a location that had been our home since FotoTechnika first incorporated back in 1981 was one helluva change, and almost daily someone asks, “So why did you guys move?” To put it simply, the old house just got to be too much. For years we wanted to upgrade technology, but more often than not, we had to forgo new machinery and software in favor of repairing an aging building that wasn’t well-suited for the type of equipment we use or need. Many customers thought it was “charming” to wind up the stairs to visit Brian in our fine art printing department – to us it was a little different. Since the majority of our staff is AARP-eligible, hauling supplies and equipment up and down stairs took its toll on us. We finally reached critical mass in early 2013 – one system after another started failing. Changes could wait no longer, but we realized it was unrealistic to upgrade in our present location, and it was better to move sooner rather than later.

Last March, as we were on our way to the Mudville Grille for dinner and to discuss changes in menu design with owner Louis Joseph, we noticed that there were two adjacent spaces in the plaza that were empty. When we inquired, Louis told us that they were indeed available and that we needed to speak to his dad, the property’s owner, Joe Joseph. Scarcely a week later, we were shaking hands with our new landlord, becoming the newest arrival to the St. Nicholas landmark.

In April, we spent evenings and weekends painting the first half of our space at 3119 Beach Boulevard. Early May marked the first big move of equipment and file cabinets, and in the middle of the month, we had Konica Minolta move and re-install our C6000 digital press. In June, Joe and various contractors gutted and completely remodeled the space at 3115 Beach, modifying his plans along the way to suit our needs. In August, I opened the new store daily from 11:00 till 2:00, but the really big moves took place in September, so that on October 1st we officially moved front counter operations. By the end of the month, all of the equipment was out of Lomax. The move certainly helped me tone up, but being in my late fifties, I bruise a lot easier than I used to, and pulled muscles take just a bit longer to heal – one might think I was auditioning for Fight Club 2.

Another change was the equipment we didn’t bring with us. In Spring 2013, one of our most reliable workhorses, my Noritsu 3011 minilab, suffered a laser burn-out. We determined that we would be better served acquiring another minilab than to spend upwards of $7000 for a laser on a machine that might fetch $1000 on the used equipment market and for which the manufacturer no longer offers service. After quite a bit of weighing the pros and cons, we also decided not to move our 30” ZBE Chromira silver halide printer. Plumbing, space, and pressurized air requirements made it unfeasible in our new location, so we used the machine until the last possible minute at the Lomax location. We also decided to retire our 26-year-old E6 processor in favor of sending the film to a sister lab in Gainesville that still has enough volume to keep chemistry in balance.

In early November, the equipment upgrades started when we took delivery of a Noritsu 3300 minilab. In essence, it is the grandbaby of our 3011. It produces prints from wallet size to 8”x16.5” on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and it has one feature that our old minilab lacked – the ability to scan and print mounted 35mm slides. On the 22nd of November, our first Canon printer, a 60” wide iPF9400 was delivered. With the help of Allison Spooner, a color management goddess who trained us on our Konica Minolta digital press, we got the Canon set up in record time. Good thing: we had some massive jobs that had stacked up in the three-plus weeks we were without a printer. Toward the end of December, our ailing Roland printer finally died, so Brian inherited the Canon 9400, and we purchased a 44” Canon, which arrived on January 3rd. Talk about learning curves….

But we haven’t just changed equipment: in many ways we are changing or at least augmenting the way we do business. We’ve had a web presence for a decade, but until 2009 our website was of the “read-only” variety. Some folks loved it because it offered so much information, but some said it was an everything-you-never-really-wanted-to-know waste of cyberspace. In 2009, we added a second website specifically to allow customers to upload their jpeg image files over the internet for printing; since then, it has grown in popularity every year. With all the physical changes to our operation, we decided it was high time to consolidate our website into a more functional, up-to-date reflection of who we are. We asked the folks at Dakis (who created our second website) to help us, since the bulk of their business is creating sites for independent photofinishers and camera stores all over the world. They allow us to take creative control of our website by furnishing us with numerous template options, so Saundra, Sarah, and I can come up with design, content, and photos. We lay it all out in Photoshop, then send files to them so they can wave their magic wands and miraculously make our designs a website. The big changes on the updated website are several DIY features, which allow customers to create their own art and photographic gifts. Visit our Photo Factory to get started.

Over the years, our most successful marketing has always been by word-of-mouth – no need to change that, but isn’t word-of-mouth what social media is all about? So I’ll wrap up this post by asking you to share this blog and our website with your friends, family, and colleagues. We have products and services to offer just about everyone. If you are in the St. Nicholas area, by all means, drop by and see the changes for yourself.

John

John and Saundra Howard founded FotoTechnika in 1981. To find out more about their history, see “About Us.”

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