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Photo printing steady, photo gifting up in 2010

February 11, 2010: Is photo printing going to hell in a handbasket? Have photo gifting products started to click with consumers? Photo Counter asks photo specialists how the printing side of their business fared through 2010:

Tim Jones (Perfect Prints, Hobart) categorised his printing business last year as ‘steady – probably growing.’

He said the 6×4 print business was steady enough, but impacted by the regular stream of 9- and 10-cent print offers from Big W, Harvey Norman, and others on occasion.

‘They knock us around a bit,’ he observed.

He confirmed a big spike in the gifting business in December, as stores offering off-site fulfilment were no longer able to supply consumers in time for Christmas. This increase in business carried on into January.

Big sellers were photo books, calendars and canvas prints.

Alan Small (Taree Camera House) said that 2010 was a difficult year for everyone in ‘middle-of-the-road’ (ie, neither discount or prestige) retailing.

‘ Most who have had success have discovered and developed areas of specialisation – enlargements or restoration and the like.’

He said that in the case of Taree Camera House, business associated with funerals had ‘multiplied enormously, all through word of mouth’.

‘You can’t get that sort of thing done at mass outlets.’

Printing odd sizes – he gave 11×17.5-inch enlargements as an example – was also a service not offered by larger competitors which specialist photo printers could leverage.

‘The 6×4-inch business is relativity steady,’ said Mr Small, adding this was ‘almost like an increase after going downhill for the previous two years.’

He noted that consumers were becoming more discerning when looking at the quality/price equation, and there was a resulting ‘drift to quality’.

‘All specialists would feel more valued in 2010 than in previous years. There’s been less hostility from consumers, fewer challenges to match the discounters‘ price.

He said he thought that wholesalers also were coming back to a belief that there’s a place for specialty in modern photo retailing ‘after fairly shabby treatment by some in recent times’.

He said that the Taree Camera House photo gift business hadn’t experienced any spectacular growth, but (along with Perfect Prints in Hobart) had experienced a spike over the Christmas period.

He added that unless other services which were not offered by mass merchants were included, such as restoration and slide scanning, the photo gifting area had possibly even regressed through the year.

Jason Robertson (Ted’s Cameras) said that store-for-store, 2010 had been a better year for Ted’s printing business than 2009, and that he was very happy with results for December.

Ted’s switched over to HP as printing systems supplier last year, offering a full range of printing and photo gifting services in-house from its new ‘Ted’s Photo Lounges’.

‘The lead up to November was a bit off,’ he said. ‘The concern was that because December is such an important month, if that had carried through it would have had a big impact.

Instead, he said, December was ‘probably the best we’ve ever had’, adding that January had turned very quiet.

Mr Robertson said there was a lot of activity in-store through December, with HP demonstrators driving customer engagement in the new in-house options via kiosks.

He also felt that Ted’s unprecedented decision to fight back against the discount prints from Harvey Norman and BigW at the end of November with its own 8-cent print offer ‘definitely had some effect’, although he said it was difficult to measure.

‘I think that it bought some exposure back to us at the start of the critical summer period.’

In the 6×4-inch category through 2010, ‘volume was up but profits were down’, and volumes were up largely due to the 8-cent print promotion.

Gifting – notably canvas prints, enlargements, photo books and calendars – performed well through December in particular, with the overall category ‘meeting or exceeding our budgets and forecasts when we put the business case together.’

Phil Gresham, (FotoFast, Brisbane) said 6×4-inch prints were steady in 2010, comparable to 2009 even in the face of savage price competition from large competitors.

He emphasised that FotoFast ‘never promoted on price’ but rather relied on service, quality and dependability to attract customers.

He was pleased with his photo gifting business – a particular focus at FotoFast over the past few years.

‘It’s still rocking and rolling,’ he said, adding that it was common to see nothing for a day or so and then suddenly have 20 jobs come in on the same day.

He said canvas printing was going really well, and business-to-business wide format printing (producing posters and other marketing material for other businesses) was growing month on month, year on year.

Acquisition of a latex-ink based wide format printer through the year had been a real boon to this commercial printing business, not least because it reduced costs by 60 – 70 percent.

‘That’s given us quite an edge,’ he said.

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