Is Photography Your Passion?

 

 

PrintingPassion

Okay — this blog is going to be short and sweet, but it could be important to you and to us if you make your living with photography.

We were hit by a perfect storm back when the “Great Recession” occurred. We lost a lot of business because of the recession itself, but concurrently, we lost pro photography business because of the huge technological shift from analog photography to digital photography. Many of the pro photographers we served quit using many of our processes because everything they needed to do could be done over the internet or by using digital media. Other photographers couldn’t adapt to all the changes, and sadly, several passed on.

When we moved to St. Nicholas in 2013 we thought that we might become more of a retail business, but we are finding that we are better suited to work with professionals, whether they are fine artists, graphic artists or photographers. We realize we have fallen out of touch with many who we consider to be our core market, and  we need to get in touch soon, especially since we have by default become the go to source for photography information by the general public.

We may serve many of you with our online ordering services, but others may not know us at all. We would like to get to know you, and know your specialties. We are compiling a list, sort of a black book of local photographers. Please respond to this blog, or touch base with us through Facebook, Linked In or email us at info@fototechnika.com. If we aren’t familiar with your work, we would love to see your portfolio. If you are a member of a photography group, and would like us to hold a workshop, or make a presentation at your regular meetings, please contact us. Maybe we can refer some business your way.

Hope to hear from you soon!

John Howard

 

 

Social Media Quest

JohnYelpBlogRecently I sat through a 45 minute webinar with a company that manages businesses’ social media concerns. Over the course of the demonstration, the presenter made some observations regarding our Yelp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google profiles – none of which took me by surprise. But as she explained her company’s program (and the fees they charge) I started questioning whether social media can translate into revenue for the FotoTechnika Group. Sure I know it can generate good will, but will the people who frequent social media sites actually bring us business? I know that all the engagement in the world on social media isn’t going to drive me to purchase products, but then again, Saundra and I live a very utilitarian – yea spartan – existence. So this blog is different from my normal posts where I aim to share our knowledge and experience. This time I am on a quest for knowledge.

Currently we are most active on Facebook and with our weekly email blasts, but we are also on Linked In, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest and we even have posted some YouTubes. Part of what the social media management company offered was the service of having their expert staff respond to inquiries, and reviews, positive or negative, and generate engaging posts, but that really rubbed me the wrong way. I believe for social media to benefit us, it has to be our personal response, not some third party IT guy who has little or no knowledge of our services.

I am looking for constructive opinions and ideas – and most of all, let us know what kind of social media content would actually encourage and inspire folks to seek FotoTechnika’s assistance for their photo printing and scanning needs?

Looking forward to your ideas,

John Howard

Instagram

Pinterest

Flickr

Twitter

Linked In

Facebook

FotoTechnika Flyer sign-up

YouTube

Yelp

If You Like Something, Speak Up!

cockpitYou have probably heard the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword;” today it’s the keyboard. And don’t believe the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” The fact is, the written word is very powerful. These days the internet can make or break a small business or small non-profit, but maintaining a website and keeping up with social media is a time-consuming endeavor. One of the problems with social media is that there are no “etiquette filters” that society needs to maintain harmony. Some people might type or text something in a moment of passion that they would never, ever, say to someone’s face. Or if a business doesn’t respond to a message or email quickly enough, they might receive a damaging review. Once words are set adrift in cyberspace, there’s no erasing them. Even if they’re edited — or eventually deleted — once they have been seen, they can’t be unseen.

A couple of months back we had to deal with a negative Facebook review. It amounted to a misunderstanding on the customer’s part, not knowing what our standard practices are. They had sent an email outlining a complaint when we were having some network issues. The long and short of it is, when we didn’t respond to the email quickly enough, we had to answer a bad review on social media. Once we explained to the customer why we do things the way we do them, we received a huge apology, but the damage was already done. Taking back a bad review is almost impossible – all you can do is respond to it in a very measured, positive way.

penskeRecently, I had a debacle of my own making. I rented a Penske truck to pick up a piece of equipment, only it was the wrong truck for the job. Ultimately, I ended up renting a second truck to go back weeks later to finish the job. After turning in the first truck, the manager gave me a generous discount, and upon returning the second truck he gave me another discount. I didn’t ask for the discount, but I did relate to him how stupid I had been, and it gave him the opportunity to be generous. Hours after taking the second truck back I found their Yelp and Facebook pages and wrote some glowing reviews.

I have been told that positive reviews on sites like Yelp, Google and social media platforms like Facebook make a website more attractive to search engines like Google and Yahoo. One of the first things SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services do is to seek out a business’ loyal customers to ask for favorable reviews, and they charge big bucks to do it.

So here’s the point of my blog: If you value the products and services of a particular business, or you admire the work of a non-profit, please give them a positive review. Go to their Facebook or Yelp page, or go directly to the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. There are plenty of other sites that also offer review opportunities. By the same token, if you have a complaint, talk to a manager or owner in person, or on the phone. Don’t write a scathing review first – establish a dialogue with a person, or company, or organization first. If they are a horse’s butt, then write a negative review, but my guess is most owners and managers will go out of their way to do the right thing.

If you like us – first, hit the like buttons anywhere you can find us and if you have time, say something nice about us. Here are some links: Facebook Reviews    Yelp  Google  Locality

John

Being Observant Is Our Business

Recently I read an article about a trend in the printing industry: W2P (web-to-print) – totally autonomous printing from the customer’s digital upload. Many of the companies with television advertisements for DIY business cards, brochures, signs and even T-shirts make use of W2P technology. “What you send is what you get” (with virtually no human intervention) is a great business model for high volume, extreme automation, quick turnaround and low prices. The quality can be very good, but it is entirely dependent on the customer’s attention to detail when placing the order.

Being a small business, we can offer an alternative: human involvement and personal attention to detail on the production side. You might even call it “low tech” (personal attention) in a high tech (automated) world. Since the original FotoTechnika started in the days of analog photography, we had to develop the habit of seeing both the forest and the trees, and that has become even more important as technology has made photographic processes more and more automated over the years. We learned early that the general expectation for what was “commercially acceptable” was not necessarily the best that could be done. A good “for instance” is black & white prints. Nowadays almost all noritsuscancommercially available black & white prints are made using color materials, but it takes very deliberate filtration and color management to achieve a neutral black & white look. It takes observation: paying attention to what the customer wants, seeing details that others miss, knowing what is and isn’t possible, and being able to provide the service that meets the customer’s needs best. Yes, we can print digital files “as is” too, but our reputation has been built on our policy – and our ability – to produce pleasing color.

The fact that we normally review and color-correct prints, might lead one to think that printing photographic images is the only service that receives attention to detail, but in fact, our entire business centers around observation. It starts at the front counter, when we meet customers and find out what they need. Determining the best method to approach any particular job requires knowledge of the processes we have available to us, but more importantly, requires attention to the particular items provided by the customer: everything from vintage film, photos and documents to original artwork, to current digital images.

brianproofing-fbOne example is our fine art giclee printing: it is ALL about minutia. Creating a reproduction that is indistinguishable from the original is the name of the game, and our printmaker, Brian Wanta, has become an expert. (To get an idea how long we have been doing this, check out the Evolution of Solution video we created in 2007.) Our scanning services also get “the treatment.” When we scan film and slides, color-correcting is an integral part of the process unless the customer requests otherwise. restorationUsing Photoshop to digitally restore family heirlooms and historic images requires close attention to detail, as well as layout and design for digital printing that go beyond being observant – making sure we cover the “who, what, when, where, why and how” – and into the realm of being creative. The pursuit of excellence is a way of life for us; it governs the way we do things.creativeservices

A decade ago Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and that single invention really has changed a generation and the general approach to printing (and NOT printing) photographs. Attention to the fine detail of an image kind of goes out the window when one rarely views a picture on anything larger than a smartphone. Thus, a iphonemajority of millennials see little reason to make use of our core photo printing services. Sometimes I feel that successful surgery to separate Siamese twins might be easier than separating a millennial from his or her smartphone, but if we could, maybe, just maybe, we could show them the benefits and joys of printing photographic images, and why it is important to have a trained set of eyes overseeing their work. The truth is, some of the smartphones have exceptionally high quality optics that can render truly beautiful prints. The bigger problem is that there are so many images being created, that how to choose the few that really need to be preserved on paper is overwhelming… but that’s a subject for another blog.

We had an exceedingly busy holiday season that was compressed more than usual because of Hurricane Matthew in October, when the Christmas “rush” would normally begin. We do appreciate all the business, and especially your patience. We apologize to those who may have felt like they had to “take a number” to get in line for attention at the front counter, and we hope the results of your projects made it worth the wait. Fortunately, we do have online ordering available on our website, which bypasses some of the bottlenecks created at the front counter, and our “unique boutique” scrutiny is even available to jobs that come to us over the internet.

In closing, I’m back to asking my perennial question: How do we get the word out to those who appreciate our practice of being observant and paying attention to detail?

We are slowly and deliberately updating our website, adding more web-based services, and optimizing it so it is more easily found by internet searches. But over the years, personal testimonies and word-of-mouth advertising have always been our best method of reaching new customers. We need your help to spread the word, so please do one or more of the following:

Share this blog.

Encourage your friends to visit us on Facebook and Instagram.

Contact me personally on Linked-In and Twitter.

Invite others to subscribe to the FotoTechnika Flyer. Either send a note to email@fototechnika.com and simply put “Add Me” in the subject line or click on this sign-up link.

Visit www.fototechnika.com to check for updates.

And by all means, drop by the shop at 3119 Beach Boulevard in the Mudville Grille/Curry Thomas Hardware plaza, where Beach and Atlantic Boulevards meet.

We look forward to working with you soon!

John

 

A September to Remember

Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow….”

Do you remember that old Tom Jones song from the musical comedy the Fantasticks? As we wait out Hurricane Matthew at our home office we have some time to reflect….

hurricane-office

Well, our September 2016 was memorable, but hardly mellow. We had a particularly stinky summer – maybe it was because of the excessive heat. We wondered if all of our regular customers went up to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee to get away from it, but when schools resumed in August, the floodgates opened – we went from scraping-to-get-by to being overwhelmed. If you follow us on Facebook or through our FotoTechnika Flyer, you might have guessed that things have been hoppin’ over on Beach Blvd. This blog is more like a journal entry (from both Saundra and me) that chronicles all the activity.

First of all, we took advantage of the summer doldrums in July to instigate some new marketing initiatives, most obviously, the weekly email blast we call the FotoTechnika Flyer.

fototechnikaflyer-logo

In August we received word from a fellow member of IPI (Independent Photo Imagers) up in Aiken, South Carolina, that he was retiring and selling the majority of his equipment and inventory. His last day open was going to be September 3, the Saturday before Labor Day. So Saundra and I got up early that Saturday and made the 4-1/2 hour drive to Aiken less than 24 hours after Tropical Storm Hermine dumped some serious rain all along our route.

chris-lydle

We loaded up an HP photo book printer, a kiosk, some film and some rolls of paper. The printer was most intriguing to us because, not only is it designed for photo books and cards, it can also print on envelopes, and could serve as backup for our other printers. We brought it back to Jacksonville to try it out for 90 days to see if it works for us… if not, we don’t have to keep it (or pay for it).

film-hp

While visiting, we also took advantage of close-out prices on several rolls of inkjet paper, Printfile pages and film. We haven’t decided whether or not to stock film again on a regular basis, but if the film we purchased moves well, that could definitely influence our decision.

We also opted to bring back a photo kiosk to try out as a DIY option for our customers. Once we had a chance to examine it, we realized we would need to modify it to make it work efficiently. It had an older XP computer that isn’t safe to connect to the internet, so we installed one of our Windows 10 computers that fit in the cavity where the XP was. We decided to load the kiosk version of our online photo solution software, allowing customers to work from their camera cards, USB drives, phones, and directly from Facebook and Instagram. The touch screen is an older model, so it does require some side-to-side scrolling, but the system works very well. If there is enough interest in using it, we will purchase a newer wide-format touchscreen monitor. There isn’t a printer attached to it for self-service printing, but we have decided to keep our minilab on standby and interrupt regular orders as needed to print any immediate photo orders in sizes up to 8×16. So please come in and take it for a spin.

kiosk-and-samples

Another really huge decision we made was to buy into the Marketing Solutions Program (MSP) of the IPI organization I mentioned previous. IPI is a network of photo labs, photographers and camera stores of which we have been a member since 2008. The MSP program makes thousands more templates for cards, posters, calendars, photobooks and gifts available to us. Last month I downloaded close to 2000 card templates to the Fotobilia section of our website and that’s just the start. In fact, the downloads are so voluminous, we purchased a 1TB portable hard drive to store them. And the neat thing is, any templates I load onto our website also become available on the aforementioned kiosk. So I repeat, maybe it’s time to give our kiosk a try.

fotobilia-banner-2x6

 

Last February Saundra and I took a day trip down to the Graphic of the Americas trade show in Miami Beach. We had one goal in mind: pick up a FastBind Express Pro binding station that will allow us to bind photo books we create on our various printers. We had called in advance, so the FastBind guys had one ready for us to pick up at the show.

binding-station

We received some instruction on the spot, and as we were completing our transaction, the salesman asked if we knew that Graph Expo 2016 was going to be in Orlando this September; the answer was “no.” Graph Expo is the largest printing and graphic arts show in North America. It usually runs in the three years between the big international show, DRUPA, which runs every four years and was held this summer. I had never heard of Graph Expo running anywhere other than the McCormick Center in Chicago, but I guess that since this year was the DRUPA show, they decided to hold a scaled down version in Orlando.

graph-expo-comp

We both wanted to get more information on the materials for our FastBind system. We have an online catalog, but we needed some face-to-face conversation to clarify the somewhat cryptic descriptions. So we decided to take yet another day trip, but this time only to Orlando. It is amazing how much more you can absorb when you can see demonstrations using the actual products. With our new-found knowledge, we decided to download templates for a variety of photo books on our website along with cards and such. We are still working on pricing, so if you see $99.99 listed as a price, that means “give us a call for a quote,” until we can upload all the proper prices. We will be offering a variety of Fotobooks — layflat, traditional with printable hard covers, flip books, and books with leatherette covers. Eventually we will also offer some soft cover varieties, but we have a little more experimentation to do, and want to get the hard-back versions down pat first.

booths

Another vendor we visited was Impress. They make a digital foil stamping system that can foil stamp on cards, books, stationery, and much more. For now, this is on our wish list – hopefully we can make this happen sometime in 2017.

We also spent time with materials vendors such as Mohawk, New Page and carriers of the Museo cards we offered back in the early 2000s.

While looking at some of the MSP materials, we revisited the idea of taking in film transfer and video duplication offers. One of the new features of the MSP program is a “Gather Box” – a box and checklist to help people organize their photos, film and video for digitizing. You will see more about this in upcoming blogs and FotoTechnika Flyers, but if you want to get a jump on the Christmas rush, feel free to bring in your work.

gather-box

And finally, September was a month to start the painful process of bringing all of our printers up to specs, making sure everything is ready for the Christmas rush. We are in the process of overhauling our Konica Minolta printer, and had hoped to do it in September, but scheduling the maintenance when it wouldn’t interfere with production kind of pushed that, and then but Hurricane Matthew had other ideas. Maintenance on our Noritsu dry minilab is an ongoing project, but our Noritsu traditional photo printer and wide-format Canon printers are crankin’ – SO BRING IT ON!

How Can We Earn Your Business?

01 Funkywindow comp 4x6

Ye have not, because ye ask not…”

My good friend and confidant, Ron Harris, is a successful businessman, and savvy in the ways of Dale Carnegie. He often responds to me when I ask, “How can we get more business?” by quoting part of a New Testament scripture “ye have not, because ye ask not.” Of course it’s slightly out of context, but the truth in it still applies: there are probably loads of customers and potential customers to whom we have not asked the right question. Another friend and fellow business owner suggested that we use our FotoTechnika Flyers to ask, “How can we earn your business?” So we decided to fire all our social media guns at once (email, website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn) to find out how can we earn your business?

Sorry to be whiny, but it has been a difficult summer for us. We wonder if everyone went up to the Appalachians to escape the heat, or maybe it was because Saundra had a rough bout with strep throat – whatever the reason, we need your business, and we need it now. We’re looking forward to the usual strong fourth quarter, when we expect to see many of your lovely faces, but unlike some traditional retail businesses, we can’t depend on the holidays to carry us through the majority of the year. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “and that’s all I have to say about that.”

So, if we haven’t adequately communicated all of the wonderful core services and products we offer that may benefit you year ’round. Or in the event you have only known us for one or two services, here is a brief pictorial overview:

Did You Know?

02 Film DevFotoTechnika is the only lab in Northeast Florida that still offers color and B&W negative film processing on site.

Did You Know?

03 Disposable camerasFotoTechnika develops and recycles disposable cameras, even the underwater kind, all in-house. We can provide the images back to you as prints or scans on a CD, or both, and YOU GET YOUR NEGATIVES BACK!

Did You Know?

04 Minilab & printsFotoTechnika still offers traditional (chemically processed) prints from wallet-size through 8”x 16” from digital files, 35mm or medium format film.

Did You Know?

05 Order OnlineFotoTechnika offers online ordering for prints from wallet-size to wall-size and photo gifts, from your home computer or smartphone.

Did You Know?

5a FotobiliaFotoTechnika’s online Fotobilia option offers do-it-yourself photo gifts. Fotobilia includes numerous printed gifts like greeting cards, calendars and photobooks which we produce in-house, and items like mugs, cups, playing cards and ornaments that we outsource through Fujifilm.

Did You Know?

06 Windows Banner TriptychFotoTechnika offers wide format inkjet printing on a variety of materials up to 60” wide. That includes photographs, posters, banners, window graphics and fine art giclées.

Did You Know?

07 Fine Art GicléeFotoTechnika has been producing fine art giclées for artists and galleries since 1997.

Did You Know?

08 BATsFotoTechnika stores printed samples (BATs) and digital files of the fine art prints we produce so that reprints can be printed on demand and purchased for significant savings.

Did You Know?

09 Negative ScanFotoTechnika can scan (digitize) almost any kind of film from 110 through sheet film. We offer quantity pricing for select formats.

Did You Know?

10 2x2s slidesFotoTechnika scans (digitizes) all manner of 2″ x 2″ slides, including 110, 126, 35mm, 848, and 127. We also offer quantity pricing for some of these formats as well.

Did You Know?

11 Print ScanFotoTechnika scans prints of every description from precious heirlooms, to family letters to everyday snap shots. We offer quantity pricing for large orders of letters and snap shots.

Did You Know?

12 BetterLightFotoTechnika can scan over-sized prints and large pieces of artwork.

Did You Know?

13 Print RestorationFotoTechnika can scan, digitally restore, and make prints of your antique or damaged family heirloom images.

Did You Know?

14 Graphic DesignFotoTechnika can help with your graphics needs, such as poster or comp card design and photo book layout.

Did You Know?

15 Digital PressFotoTechnika has a digital press that can produce newsletters, programs, posters and booklets.

Did You Know?

16 Menu productionFotoTechnika can design, print and laminate menus, table tents and other restaurant cards in-house.

Did You Know?

17 Greeting CardsFotoTechnika specializes in greeting and holiday cards with envelopes, from design to finish. You can customize cards yourself online by selecting the Fotobilia tab on the upper bar of our website.

Did You Know?

18 Comp CardsFotoTechnika can produce one- and two-sided comp cards on our digital press or on our duplexing inkjet minilab.

Did You Know?

19 PhotobookFotoTechnika can produce lovely photobooks on select materials using several binding options. You can customize photobooks yourself online by selecting the Fotobilia tab on the upper bar of our website.

Did You Know?

20 Historic PrintsFotoTechnika digitally archives thousands of images for the Jacksonville Historical Society that can be printed on demand. They can be bought online by selecting  Lomax Editions on our website.

Did You Know?

21 John & SaundraThe folks at FotoTechnika will be celebrating 30 years of pursuing excellence and serving Jacksonville in 2017.

So, have you had an “Ah-Ha!” moment yet? We really need and appreciate your business! (And now would be an excellent time to bring it to us.)

Taking Care of Business: Lesson 2

Film Processing Should Be Profitable

Light makes photography. Embrace light. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography” – George Eastman

We recently started a series of blogs entitled “Taking Care Of Business” to familiarize our customers with the business side of the photo lab, and to share our vision for the future of FotoTechnika. This particular blog deals with our oldest and only remaining analog service: film processing. We are of the firm belief that you just can’t be a good photographer without understanding light, and the best way to unlock the mysteries of light is by shooting film.Film

When the NY Times published an article about the last processing run of Kodachrome in 2010, it left the impression that all film is a relic of the past. Au contraire! Just because Kodachrome is no longer available does not mean film is dead. Today people are finding antique heirloom cameras, as well as old 35mm and medium format cameras, many of which are still operational. A lot of these discoveries come about as aging baby boomers sort out family estates or downsize for retirement. And there are a surprising number of Millenials who have discovered film, some even taking photography courses in high school or college for “alternative processes” – in other words, film. Some vintage film sizes like 110 and 127 have come back into vogue, and from some of the strangest vendors. (Urban Outfitters – really?) Even though the Great Yellow Father (Kodak) was broken apart and sold in pieces since its bankruptcy, Kodak formula films are still being produced. Fujifilm is still going strong, Agfa film is still out there and there are a host of small Eastern European and Asian film manufacturers that offer loads of product variety, although – at least in our region – it may be necessary to go to the internet to find it.

Since the “great recession” began there has been a great winnowing in the photofinishing industry. The independent labs that have survived are the ones that have been able to branch out with new technologies. By 2008 many of our analog processes (those that were dependent on chemicals at one stage or another) had been phased out. We had just closed our B&W printing department, so that only film processing remained. Concurrently, many of the independent labs were forced to stop processing film altogether because their machines were geared for large quantities of film, and chemicals would go bad if they were not replenished and activated regularly. Luckily, since we had low-volume/high-quality processors, none of our film departments suffered that fate, at least for a while.E6 room 2003

The week that we opened our doors in 1987, we installed a small-volume Richcolor E6 machine, for processing slide and transparency film. That machine ran faithfully for 25 years, but we had to deactivate it in 2012 because it came to the point that there were many weeks when we didn’t even have two rolls to develop. Without regular replenishment, the chemicals could not be kept fresh, and mixing and replacing chemicals just to run a roll or so of film made E6 processing cost-prohibitive. And so, another analog department went by the wayside.

 c1995 0048In the past we also maintained a high-volume dip’n’dunk machine for C41 processing for color negative film. We saw the handwriting on the wall when most of our processes started going digital, so we decided to purchase several used Richcolor C41 processors (which had not been manufactured in over a decade) since they handled less rolls of film and had given us such excellent service with E6. (The Richcolors could stay in balance by processing as few as 10 rolls a week.) B&W film processingWe have always processed B&W film the really old-fashioned way – by hand. We started out by processing in small tanks, but moved to a sinkline in 1990 when we needed to process more rolls at a time, and Kodak invented T-Max RS film chemistry.

Just a little over a year ago the chain drug stores and big box stores gave us a gift that keeps on giving. They shut down all of their “wet” (chemical) processes and started sending their film out of town to be developed. That may not have been so bad for most of their customers except that they decided, in order to save money, they would have the out-of-town lab process and scan the film, then send the digital files back over the internet and once done, throw the film away. And most of the time, the files transmitted back to the drug stores are only usable for a snapshot size. This enraged many a film photographer. “Why shoot film if you don’t want the negatives back?” we’ve heard on more than one occasion. As a consequence, we are running as much or more color negative film than we ever have, because we develop it on-site, and we do give the customer’s negatives back to them. That is especially handy if they decide they want an enlargement, because the negative can be scanned at a higher resolution to fit the need. 

Now for the “Profitable” part of this blog: we have always been a Fuji lab with respect to all of our color photographic products, and although we do get excellent service and prices on our Fuji printing materials, all of their chemical prices have risen over the last decade – at first incrementally, but lately geometrically. We can still get T-Max RS developer for our B&W film. It is great because it has a ph05 Film Development Rack Card 0816enomenal shelf life and replenishing is incredibly simple, but we had sticker shock when we had to order it recently. In just over a year the price had risen over 27%. This caused us to reexamine our film processing prices. Much to our chagrin we found that we haven’t been pricing our processing profitably for – well – forever. In the past we considered film a gateway service. Most of our customers would order prints, and that made up the difference, but these days folks are either asking only for the initial film development, and maybe scans saved on a CD. Our scanning prices are very reasonable – in fact, so “reasonable” that they couldn’t cover the losses we incurred on film processing. A few customers go on and on about how cheap it used to be at the chain drug stores in the past. We usually remind them that many of their photo services were “loss leader” — a service sold below cost to get them into the store so they would in turn purchase diapers or cosmetics (which have incredible profit margins) while they waited for the one-hour processing service.

So, we have adjusted our pricing as shown on our rack card. The one consolation prize is that, if prints are ordered with the film processing, we only add the basic $5 charge to save all the images on a CD rather than charging for each individual scan, and one CD will usually cover all the scanned film in an order, unless there are more than 20 rolls.

We hope that these adjustments will be all the “Taking Care of Business” needed for film processing for some time. This is a service we plan to offer as long as the chemicals are available and our vintage processors are operational.

Oh, and don’t forget that we have a dropbox for film (and other orders) in front of the shop for your convenience.

Drop Box

Taking Care of Business: Lesson 1

MAKING CHANGE: YOURS, MINE, AND HOURS

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)

FotoClock_Polarized_4x4As we reproduce photos for long-time customers who are our age, and who are celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries along with us, we realize that yes, we — and the business, too — ARE getting older. …and if we need to make any changes to improve the business, now is the time.

Time is the whole point… There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done. We’re a small operation with all production personnel. Non-revenue producing activities have to be divided among us, and things like paying bills, updating the website, and writing blogs can’t be done effectively while we’re answering the phone, helping customers at the counter, making prints and working Photoshop magic.

So, our first step in Taking Care of Business is to adjust our official open hours. That doesn’t mean we don’t love to talk to our customers any and every hour of the day, but the free time between 2 AM and 3 AM just isn’t adequate for the administrative stuff, not to mention that it interrupts our naptime. SO, without further ado, we announce a change in our official open hours:

Starting AFTER the Independence Day holiday on Monday, July 4, 2016:

TFG frt door sign• Our customer counter and telephone lines will be open for business from 10 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday.

• At the other-than-official hours, messages may be left on the phone for a return call, and orders may be left in the drop box just outside our front door.

• Appointments may be made in advance for early morning visits to the counter, between 9 AM and 10 AM, for those times when a drop-off, pick-up or personal visit with John or Saundra is absolutely necessary.

• Other times will continue to be available by advance appointment.

Each day we plan to use the “extra” hour between 9 AM and 10 AM, when the counter is not open, to pay attention to things like learning curves in new product development, and how to market the great new things we learn to produce… among the regular administrative things. Even though it only amounts to five hours a week, it’s amazing how much more can be accomplished when there are no interruptions.

This may seem like an insignificant adjustment, but no change is insignificant… everything has a domino effect. For one thing, there will probably be complaints from those who haven’t read this notice or noticed the different hours on our website or Facebook page or the front door sign. But the payoff should be a win-win: much more effective (and less stressful) use of all our time, resulting in more efficient service for you, our customers.

Please join us in welcoming this new schedule to The FotoTechnika Group Business Plan!

What Makes an Image Archival?

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The following are excerpts from a photo industry post by Allen Showalter, owner of King Photo, Harrisonburg, VA. I plan to print it in our next newsletter, but until then, the information is too relevant to ignore.

The simple fact is that digital is not archival, well at least as far as archival relates to permanence. The history of technology makes it pretty clear that nothing that relies on current technology to be read or retrieved will be readable in the future. Ten or more years ago the list of possible storage solutions beside floppy and magnetic would have included: IDE drives, SCSI devices, removable hard disks, laser discs, 8 track tapes, PCMCIA cards, smart media cards, AOL’s You’ve Got Pictures etc. Today’s cloud storage, SSDs and DVDs are tomorrow’s VHS tapes. No matter how good they seem at the time something new will be better, cheaper, faster and the something new will swallow up the current thing. As far as cloud storage goes there was once a time when the AOL Welcome Screen was the most seen image in American culture with over 80 million views a week. It was more popular than any television show, magazine or website. Unlike floppy disks though the cloud will not go out of date for technology reasons but business reasons. AOL’s You’ve Got Pictures and MySpace had their day in the sun but are all but gone now. Is there anyone more than 25 years old who hasn’t lost photos or other data to a hard drive crash, broken cell phone or scratched game or music disc? What about information gone due to a change in email address, a new email program, forgotten password or expired credit card? Digital is fragile. Yes digital is transferable but there is a catch. Two catches really:

First there will be an overlapping period where there is a window of opportunity to transfer the old technology to the new. (Think 8mm movie film transfer, audio cassette to CD and VHS to DVD.) the window could be very small like a web gallery saying “move your photos in 30 days or lose them” or it could be very long like we are seeing with 8mm movies and LP’s (I remind you here that those are analog technologies) but eventually that window will close and it will not be cost effective to transfer.

The second catch with digital I think is the bigger one: someone has to care enough in every generation to make the transfer happen and to pay for it. It only takes a one generation lapse and the chain is broken forever. For example, if the current generation doesn’t get the family VHS tapes transferred soon the window will close and all the moving images of the family from 1980 to 1995 will be lost forever. In the photo industry we are doing our customers and our industry a disservice when we convey the notion of permanence with regard to any digital or cloud products. Those solutions are a temporary (5-15 year) storage repository. Only prints will make it through to 2050 and beyond and still be as readable then as they are today. Print to Preserve.

When the question “How many of you have photos of your grandparents?” comes up an any photo class or seminar, nearly every have goes up. When “How many of you have the negatives those were made from?” is asked, hardly any hands go up. Why? Because to any layman negatives were unreadable without technology and so they were discarded while the prints were treasured. Those negatives of yesterday are the digital images of today when the images are locked on to a DVD or SSD or other storage that needs an out-of-date reader to enjoy them.

Call it old school, tell me I’ve got developer in my blood, whatever. A family that takes time now to print their photos will be able to sit and look at them with their great-grand children someday. The family that relies on technology may be holding up a DVD and wondering “What are we supposed to do with this?”EverythingGoesphoto

Last Lab Standing

YIKES! It has been over a year since I blogged – this is my seventh or eighth attempt. Every time I think I’m ready to post, some significant change in personnel, equipment or products makes it necessary for me to go back once again and revise. Someday maybe I’ll get around to finishing all the other missives I started, but for now, here is my Blog of the Year, before it turns into the Blog of the Century.

Here’s a memory exercise … see if you remember some of these names: McDaniel’s, Qualex, ColorCraft, Rothor, Fine Print, Lightsource, Black Dog, Berisford’s, Jax Color Lab, Apex Color Lab, Paul’s One Hour, Express Photo, Beaches One Hour, CPS (Creative Photographic Services), Quality Photo, CVS (Commercial Video Services), Fotographic.Net, Brad’s Fast Photo, Gaston’s, Wolf Camera, Ritz Camera, Chelsea, Brandon’s, A-1 Photo, Riverside Camera, Living Image, Desktop Darkroom … not to mention all the local photographers who had their in-house labs. All of these photo labs were either in business when we opened or have come and gone since then; some are still in business, but not offering lab services to the public.

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When I started working in a local color lab in 1979, there were maybe two or three other commercial labs in town, a couple of giant wholesale labs in the region, and probably a half dozen or so labs owned by professional photographers. My time working for the lab was brief and not very positive; even so it fueled my passion for photofinishing. I saw so many possibilities, but I also saw what not to do if I ever owned my own lab, especially with regard to fair treatment of employees and customers.

By the early 1980s Saundra and I both had jobs related to the graphic arts industry, but we moonlighted doing photo projects out of our home Darkroom 1982darkroom. We incorporated FotoTechnika in 1981 with the notion of creating a hybrid lab that could bridge the photo and various graphic arts industries, but in those days combining the industries was like mixing oil and water, and we didn’t quite have the spark necessary to motivate us to open full-time. Then in 1985 Saundra and I watched a PBS documentary called “In Search of Excellence” which chronicled eight successful American companies and some of their creative approaches and philosophies. In particular we became fascinated with Disney and Apple Computers. We knew we wanted to launch FotoTechnika as a full-time venture, and the documentary inspired us to consider operating differently from all the labs we had encountered. We started putting all the pieces in place, and finally opened our doors to the public in March 1987.

Not long after opening, several of the aforementioned (now defunct) labs proclaimed that we would soon be history. They could probably tell that we were woefully ignorant of the processes and had limited knowledge of the equipment necessary to run a photo lab. But even though we were naive about the business world and the photo lab industry in particular, we had confidence in our potential. I had an innate sense for color and Saundra had a gift for design (and the patience of Job). We both instinctively recognized high quality work and had a knack for figuring out ways to achieve said high quality, even if they weren’t orthodox – it was not unusual for us to employ reverse engineering to figure something out. We have always been ideally suited to work together as a team and this gave us an edge when we needed to adapt to new systems and technologies. In 1987 independent one-hour labs were already established, but we weren’t at all that impressed with the quality coming out of most of those shops — we suspected the fault was in the operators, not the machines. We figured that our niche would be to offer services the other labs couldn’t or wouldn’t. The only problem was that there were at least four established commercial labs in town offering similar services and we were rookies, so we offered two services the rest didn’t. One: we produced R-prints (direct “reversal” prints from slides and transparencies, the opposite of printing directly from negatives), and two: we offered personalized service itself. Not only that, we operated out of an early 1900s-vintage two-story house in an historic district, not in an industrial park or shopping strip. It didn’t take long to acquire our “unique boutique mystique.”

Back in the sixties and seventies almost all snapshooters dropped their film off at grocery, drug or discount stores when they came to shop and picked up their prints on the next visit to the store. In the mid-1980s one-hour labs were starting to cut in on the photofinishing business that those stores had dominated for decades. We figured it would only be a matter of time before the stores responded, and we were right. They did so by installing their own one-hour labs, then proceeded to price much of their photo work as loss leader, banking on purchases of high mark-up items like diapers and candy bars while customers waited for their film to be processed and printed. No more coming back days or weeks later – most work was done in-store, in the space of one shopping trip. This eventually put most of the independent one-hour labs and even the big wholesale labs out of business. In the meantime, we continued to concentrate on services the chain stores couldn’t offer on-site. Sure we processed color negative film, but our specialty was E6 and B&W. We offered automated proof prints too, but we also offered custom color and black & white enlargements in addition to our R-prints.

By 1997 the market had already thinned out quite a bit. The move to digital cameras and digital printing had already begun when we assumed a lease on a wide format inkjet printer from a fellow lab owner who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This started our evolution from an analog lab to a digital lab, but it certainly wasn’t a painless transition. With our building constraints we knew that high volume wide format commercial inkjet printing was not an option – we just didn’t have enough space. But with our talent for color rendering and high quality, we thought fine art printing might be a possibility. Fine art printing is a specialty that requires a lot of one-on-one personal service, and that seemed to be right in our wheelhouse. Around the same time it was our good fortune to find that another staff member, Brian Wanta had exactly the talent and temperament necessary to work with artists to create reproductions that are faithful to the original art. Becoming fine art printmakers gave us a service the other labs didn’t have, but at the same time it put us in a head-to-head competition with an offset printer that had specialized in fine art printing for decades. Inkjet technology was as new to them as it was to us, but their real problem was that they were lithographers, so they were used to printing 200-line screens on offset presses. Our advantage was that we were used to producing photographic resolution, aka continuous tone prints. We did loads of research on print longevity and made sure our inks, media and UV coatings were matched to be archival, while the print shop used cheap inks on inexpensive paper with no UV coating. Their “good enough” quality meant that within a year, many of their prints started fading, and their lack of individualized customer service, especially with artists, made their foray into fine art giclée printing short-lived.

In 2002 we purchased our first digital minilab, a Noritsu 3001. One year later we purchased a 30” wide ZBE Chromira – an LED printer that output on traditional, chemically-processed photographic (silver halide) color papers. At the same time, several of us started learning Photoshop, and it didn’t take long for Saundra to transfer her art training to image manipulation. Our transition to digital was complete. We still offered a variety of analog services, but requests for those services were diminishing at an alarming rate.

As we were investigating even newer digital technology at a trade show in Orlando in 2005, the owner of the shop where I had worked in 1979 bumped into us at the Noritsu booth. He started quizzing us on everything digital. When he asked how much some of our equipment cost, my answer drained most of the color from his face. Back then the less expensive, used digital equipment market was practically nonexistent – everything digital was too new. Within a couple of years, my old boss had shut his lab down, but at the same time several other purely digital shops opened. For years we grew at a steady pace, enough so that in 2006 we expanded our services with major equipment purchases and software upgrades. For one year we experienced unprecedented growth, but then in late 2007 our growth sputtered. At the time we didn’t realize that we were experiencing early stages of the housing collapse. We later deduced that if new houses weren’t being built, folks wouldn’t be purchasing fine art reproductions to hang on the walls.

The common belief was this was just your garden-variety recession, and the expression “hang in ’til twenty-ten (2010)” was the mantra. Only things didn’t get any better in 2010, so we ended up cutting staff in order to survive. We went through some very lean times, all the while the photofinishing industry was shrinking because digital images, especially on smart phones, didn’t require hard copies. Digital capture had officially overtaken film, which meant the photofinishing industry would soon be a mere shadow of what it had been when we started.

In 2008, in a search for more affordable ways to stay in business, we discovered IPI (Independent Photo Imagers). We joined the organization and have since become friends with our lab owner-colleagues all over the country, sharing knowledge to better cope with an industry that is still in flux. We have gotten to know lab owners in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Charleston and Atlanta with whom we frequently share our philosophies and common interests. In the photo lab business, there is nothing to fear from our fellow lab owners, and we have come to the conclusion that anyone trying to enter this industry needs to have their head examined. Running any small business is not for the faint of heart, but this industry has experienced more than its share of challenges just in the 30-plus years we’ve been involved in it. And what we have found, more than once, is that we have to expand into other related services that can supplement what we offer currently in order to survive.

By 2012, pretty much all of our local competition was gone. We were officially the last lab standing, but we were teetering on the brink. We decided that in order to branch off in another direction we would need to return to our graphic arts roots. We started by leasing a Konica Minolta C6000 digital press, which opened the door to more commercial applications for our photography customers, but using toner technology. As with all the equipment we’ve used over the years, we pushed the image quality to a level higher than the manufacturer thought possible. With the press we finally had the makings of the hybrid company we had originally envisioned, but the fact that we had it, didn’t mean people were beating down the doors to bring us printing jobs. Eventually we decided that our best course of action was to move the business to a more “retail/business friendly” environment.

In late 2013 we sold the old house on Lomax and moved to the Mudville Grille Plaza at 3119 Beach Blvd in St. Nicholas. We now have huge windows where we can showcase what we do to pedestrian traffic, and we actually have plenty of customer parking — most of the time (except when Mudville is particularly busy). We also took opportunity to update some pretty antiquated equipment including a newer Noritsu minilab and two new CanEquipment compon wide format inkjet printers. Our most recent upgrade is a Noritsu D502 Duplex Photo Inkjet Printer. As opposed to our Konica Minolta C6000 that uses toner technology, this printer outputs photographic quality with the option of more archival materials and, unlike most other inkjet printers, can print on both sides of specially treated papers.

To our knowledge we are now the only photo lab offering any of the “vintage” services in Northeast Florida; particularly, developing film in-house. Grocery stores gave up traditional photofinishing long ago; now the drug stores and discount stores are producing prints through mostly lackluster do-it-yourself inkjet systems. Others may offer to outsource film to an out-of-town lab, but do not return the customer’s developed negatives, only providing a proof-size jpeg file on a disc.

Since traditional lab services are no longer the mainstay of the photo industry, our business included, saying that we are the “last lab standing” these days is not a great claim to fame. But as technology marches forward we continue to evolve with it; when old processes decline and opportunities arise, we offer new products, and pay more attention to interactions with our customers over the internet.

Being the last lab isn’t enough… we would like very much to remain standing. And as long as our commitment stays true to our original vision – to provide innovative, imaging services of high quality, with personalized attention to our customers’ needs – we believe our future looks very bright.

John Howard