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Gladstone lab adapts to changing times

Peter Budd (Photo Direct) calls in on Errol Bax, a photo retailer for 50 years, in his busy Quick As A Flash store in the mining and industrial hub Gladstone, Qld:

Errol Bax at the Quick As A Flash sales counter. Prominent on the wall behind him are the store’s two guiding principles: a commitment to delivering service and quality to customers, and a ‘Yes We Can’ attitude. (‘We had that long before Barack, by the way,’ he said.)

Errol Bax has been running Quick As A Flash in Gladstone for over 30 years, having moved from Adelaide where he started his career.

The business runs out of larger-than-normal premises on the Dawson Highway. Like other retailers, Errol has had his share of technology challenges and rent hikes, so when he recently spotted this spacious property on the market Errol decided to grab it and make his fourth move in his three decades in Gladstone.

We hear a lot from politicians and economists about the ‘two-speed economy’, and with its power station, aluminium mining and processing, and now liquid gas at nearby Curtis Island, Gladstone is clearly part of the economy running at the higher speed. However, that hasn’t translated into untold prosperity for retailers in town. Quick As A Flash sales are actually down a little this year compared to 2011.

‘We are getting a lot of people in, but they aren’t spending as they used to,’ said Errol Bax. ‘The main problem is high rents, which are killing everyone.

He said that his next door neighbour pays $750 per week for a two-bedroom unit. Houses are all above $400,000 – or about double the asking price in a ‘normal’ regional town.

‘There’s also a lot of fly-in, fly out workers  Even though they are making big money they are not spending it in town.’

And unfortunately, the kind of big sales one might expect from cashed up locals are going to eBay rather than the local camera store, although Errol Bax says they still sell quite a few Nikon and Canon DSLRs –  for not very much margin. (He noted the application of GST on offshore online sales would be ‘very handy’.)

From the outside the store looks like a typical independent camera and photo processing business, but Errol is quick to point out he needs to do more than sell cameras and 6×4 prints for his diverse and far-fling customer base.

‘I’d say we are one of the most complete labs in Australia,’ said Mr Bax. ‘Apart from sending out, say, crystals and movie film, we do everything else in-house.’

Quick As A Flash in Gladstone was one of the first stores to put in a digital minlab and today runs a venerable, seven year old Konica machine which Errol Bax says is one of the best and most versatile around. ‘Having a reliable lab is so important for us. We have a marketing area that is pretty much the same size as the state of Victoria, so we can’t afford to let our customers down,’ he said.

Fastidious maintenance and a visit two or three times a year from lab technician Kevin Somerville (ex Konica) keeps the equipment humming.

‘We’ve recently launched a Lifepics site to help service our more remote customers and that seems to be working.’

Quick As A Flash is also picking up a fair bit of remote business from its new Facebook site, launched in October.

While the new store is ideally located, it needed to be re-fitted with signage.

DIY? Yes We Can!

Errol avoided a several-thousand-dollar signwriting bill by utilising his team’s creativity and the store’s two HP Designjet 5000 printers to tackle the problem. They used Phototex media to produce all interior and exterior signage.

PhotoTex is a peel and stick, polyester fabric, adhesive material that can be installed on virtually any flat surface (indoor and out) in any weather condition ,and then removed and reused many times over. ‘I’m really happy with the way the store is looking and the signage has played a big part in getting us off to a flying start,’ said Mr Bax with a smile. ‘Not only have I saved a heap of money but I now find we’re making money as well because I can use our signage to help sell sign ideas to our commercial customers.’

In spite of tightening conditions and some aggressive competition in recent years from the likes of Harvey Norman, Kmart and Officeworks, Quick As A Flash has carefully maintained customer loyalty through a strong focus on personal service. ‘A lot of companies talk about service but they don’t really practise it,’ Mr Bax observed.

‘Treat customers how you would like to be treated and know what the opposition is doing, he advised. ‘Then go one step ahead, and then another step.’

Quick As A Flash has responded to the challenge of 8- and 10-cent prints by matching those kinds of prices. Eight cents is the ‘everday low price’ for orders of 200 or more with an overnight wait.

‘You’ve got to look at what you do with the entire roll of paper. You will do so many prints at 10 cents, you’ll do some enlargements, some passports. Overall you might be making 30 to 40 percent.’

When Errol first started there were three other photo specialist stores in the area but they have all closed over the years.

‘To prosper in this industry I’ve always believed you have to make a big promise and be prepared to adapt to the times and take on anything new,’ says Errol Bax. ‘That philosophy has served us well, so we’re very excited about our future prospects in the industry.
– Peter Budd, Photo Direct (with additional material, Keith Shipton)

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