Covid 19 has been the catalyst for Victor Jacobs to ‘re-invent’ Photoland, his 30-year-old retail business, in the heart of the Sydney CBD.
The change involved moving to new premises closer to Martin Place, which (when it isn’t in lockdown) is teeming with foot traffic. He is taking advantage of Covid-19 restrictions by embarking on a complete new fit-out of the premises.
He has also tweaked the Photoland printing equipment combination to better meet the needs of a specialist photo print service provider in 2021. This included acquiring an Epson Surelab D3000 inkjet minilab from specialist supplier, Independent Photo (iPhoto) in Sydney.
The store move came about in order to ‘future-proof’ the business, according to Victor.
‘Conditions in the city have changed – probably forever,’ Victor explained. ‘Revenue is down in most businesses around 20 to 25 percent, and rents need to reflect that.’
This is particularly the case for specialist retailers, because that last 20 percent of revenue is generally where the profitability of the business comes from.
Victor was able to negotiate a new 5 + 5- year lease 60 metres down the road with a bigger shop in a slightly better location – very close to Martin Place; and at a dramatically more competitive rent.
‘So I have a new 5+5 lease, I’m healthy and I’m excited about the future,’ he said. Warming to the theme he continued: ‘I’m confident things will get better. Right now it feels like the end of the world – but we will come back.’
Joining an irreversible trend, he switched from the last of a line of Fujifilm Frontier silver halide ‘wetlabs’ to an Epson Surelab D3000 as his photo printing ‘engine room’.
With modern print volumes way down on what a beast like the Fuji Frontier range was built for, ‘chemistry was going off because throughput was down from millions, to tens of thousands, of prints,’ he explained, adding that he wasn’t unhappy with that, as his margins were good.
As well as the difficulty in keeping chemistry fresh with lower throughput, the Frontier was also a hungry beast when it came to power consumption, using up to 80 percent more power and taking time each morning to warm up.
‘So I needed to find an alternative which would future-proof the business. My research brought me to the Epson Surelab D3000 from Independent Photo (IPS). It’s flexibility and ability to print high quality photos filled the bill exactly.’
While Fujifilm does offer a (re-badged Epson) drylab of its own, ‘Epson is the leading supplier of inkjet minilabs and (independent photo specialist supplier) Independent Photo (IPS) impressed me with levels of photo specialty knowledge, quality control and technical support they provided,’ explained Victor.
‘I was very comfortable with the guys from IPS & I felt I was in good hands – they are knowledgeable and very supportive. This is really important to me as my business philosophy is that my supplier is my partner.’ As a 30-year veteran of the industry, Victor knew many of the IPS people from previous “lives in the photo industry” when they worked for the likes of Hanimex, Fujifilm and Kodak back in the day.
There were also added branding synergies – Photoland is now an all-Epson printer business. Victor already ran an Epson Surelab D700 (little brother to the D3000) for handling passport photos (‘marvellous’) and a venerable Epson 7800 48-inch wide format printer. (‘I’ve had it for 12 years and it still runs beautifully.’)
He has kept his Fujifim SP300 film scanner and an FP150 single channel film processor.
He hasn’t, however, kept any kiosks, and he’s more than happy to see the back of them, rather favouring personalised customer service at the front counter, supported by his Dakis Online eCommerce print orders system, also sold and supported by IPS.
‘I’ve felt strongly for many years that kiosks were killing photo stores. They all look the same so customers expect the same prices as in Harvey Norman.’
He said kiosks had forced the price of photo prints down to self-services levels ‘but its not really self-service because of the amount of time taken assisting customers.’
(Pre-Covid, he had his old kiosks spray-painted a custom colour to break the nexus with ‘Hardly Normal’.)
‘When we finally moved away from kiosks I was delighted because we had a much clearer, premium offer to the customer,’ Victor explained. The new Epson Surelab complements that premium offer, along with the convenience of the Dakis Online Photo Ordering software system.
‘With Dakis eCommerce online photo ordering your smartphone or Tablet is your kiosk,’ said Stuart Holmes, managing director of Independent Photographic Supplies (IPS). ‘So there is really no need for the traditional instore photo kiosk. As Victor points out, kiosks take away from the personalised instore service model that successful operators like Photoland offer their customers.
‘Online also gives the benefit of an anywhere/anytime “ubiquitous” online ordering system.’
Victor said the in-store personalised premium service includes colour correction, contrast correction, brightness correction and cropping. A look at Photoland’s price list reflects confidence in his customers’ willingness to ‘pay for what they are getting’, to twist the old cliché.
‘So far it’s been absolutely effortless. The D3000 produces excellent quality prints in standard mode and also has a HD high quality mode (which is about 50 percent slower) for very large enlargement files and for poster enlargement up to 48in wide. There’s no question that is has a broader colour gamut and the customers are delighted.’
As Stuart Holmes (IPS) also noted, the other real benefits of high quality inkjet printing for retail based photo specialty lab owners are OH & S-based, with no more DG (Dangerous Goods) chemistry needed, no more trade waste agreements with councils and no more messy and expensive silver recovery services required, making Photo a cleaner, greener and more sustainable business going forward.