“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….
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!