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Profile: Harshlight Solutions

August 5, 2010: According to Michael Marlborough, managing director, Harshlight Solutions, if specialty photo retailers haven’t got a wide format printer they are missing out on significant, possibly business-saving, profits from new customers.

And if they have already invested in a wide format printer, he has the users’ manual and toolkit for them to extract greater profit from their investment.

Marlborough (pictured right) has worked in the photo and graphics industries for over 20 year in retail, labs and on the supply side, for companies such as Borge Imaging, Ilford, Kodak Polychrome and Oce.

Over the years he has developed an expertise in getting the most from wide-format inkjet printers both technically and from a marketing point of view, and he has focussed that expertise on his own business, Harshlight Solutions, which is just celebrating its first birthday.

Why Harshlight? ‘Well,’ he explains, ‘Independent photo retailers are trying to do everything, but in the harsh light of day, they haven’t got enough time.’

The core of Harshlight’s ‘offer’ is easy-to-customise POS artwork to use in-store and beyond.

Michael Marlborough said that the Harshlight model not only gets the wide format printer working harder, but also adds some margin to work coming out of the minilab:

‘Why would you compete with prints at 15 cents when you can offer, say, two A2 posters and a set of 25 6×4 prints at $150 – 165, for a $35 cost.’ (Pricing the 6x4s at a sweet $1 per print!)

Harshlight also offers a range of services not specifically related to wide-format printing, such as website development and handling bulk email on his clients’ behalf. He even has an iPhone app to encourage printing from the ubiquitous devices!

Initially, Harshlight assists customers get their wide-format printer ‘up to speed’ in terms of quality and efficient workflow, tweaking the print driver for optimal operation and providing training, support manuals and telephone support.

Once the printer is on song Harshlight provides POS poster artwork for use in the photo store and, more lucratively, for seasonal campaigns to market to other local retailers.

He said that once photo retailers attuned themselves to what was going on in the local retail precinct, opportunities abounded. A typical example is a local shoe shop with a 30 percent off sale being promoted with a few A4 sheets, while the rest of the valuable display window area is vacant.

‘We are the imaging professionals, and we should go in and offer a better tool.’

One of the attractions of working within the local retail community is that it’s more than likely the photo store owner is known by potential clients – no ‘cold calling’!

First step is to build up a database of new clients. One technique which Marlborough recommends is to offer a free poster featuring a store’s opening hours in exchange for their email address.

He said that one Harshlight customer, Ian Henderson, Brisbane, had generated $20,000 in new business ‘from one poster’ using this technique.

Once the retailer builds up a database of new B2B customers, there are five obvious seasonal campaigns to offer via email blasts: Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Mothers Day and Fathers Day.

‘ – And it’s not a lot of work,’ he said.

He said it was a good idea not to swamp potential clients with everything you’ve got, but to ‘walk in with a product which is for them’.

It’s also critical to avoid print-savvy jargon. Don’t assume the local pet shop owner knows what an A2 poster is.

‘This is not about wide-format printing. It’s about getting in contact with more customers and advocating your services.’

The artwork is extremely customisable, so the Harshlight customer can easily drop or add images and change text to their own client’s requirements.

Harshlight has templates for sizes from business card through to giant A0 posters.

This week he is launching a new Friday 13th range, with artwork available for: photo retail; beauticians; cocktail bars; hair salons; lingerie stores; restaurants; pet stores; shoe stores; as well as a generic design.

‘Time poor’ solution

The ‘not enough time’ sentiment embedded in the Harshlight ‘brand’ was echoed by a couple of Harshlight customers we spoke to, Chris Bennett (Just Photos, Mortdale, NSW) and Jann Gallen (Digital Prints & Images, Bathurst) NSW, who both said that the affordable availability of ready-to-go artwork was a real boon, overcoming the main obstacle to doing more with their wide format machines.

‘I probably spend too much time and energy promoting low margin products. I’ve often had ideas, but just can’t find the time to do the graphics,’ said Chris Bennett.

He said that even with minimal graphic design experience ‘it’s pretty basic for me to delete some images, add some text – whatever.’

He said that while turnover has stayed fairly steady, his overall margins have picked up somewhat – – though this would not be apparent to Fujifilm as the extra turnover was via the Epson 7600.

‘It’s such a relief when there is a few hundred dollars in the till in high margin sales,’ said Chris Bennett.

‘It’s really opened my eyes to how much more I could be doing. Once work starts coming in on a regular basis it really does make a difference.

‘It’s like getting franchise support while keeping my individuality’.

Digital Prints & Images is one of three or four Australian retailers who have been using POS design templates available from the premium PMA+ program for PMA members, but is finding the Harshlight artwork more suitable, and very easy to adapt.

Jann Gallen noted that there was a lot of unsuitable material in the PMA+ program, such as July 4 and Thanksgiving promotions, as it was basically tailored to the North American market. She also thought it was slightly over-sophisticated for retail POS applications.

‘[Harshlight] is the best of both worlds,’ she said. ‘It’s affordable, modern and Australian.

‘The designs are crisp and clean.’

– The ‘crisp and clean approach’ is not only high impact but has another financial advantage – it doesn’t use as much inkjet ink – one of the most expensive liquids in the world! Marlborough said that to completely cover a square metre of paper with ink would cost around $15.

Harshlight Solutions services are surprisingly affordable, with a comprehensive package (far more than we have referred to in this feature, including on-site visits) available for a few dollars a day.

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