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 up the road 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, including new signage and lighting, and a new floor.
He has also tweaked the Photoland printing equipment portfolio to better meet the needs of a specialist photo print service providor in 2021. This involved parting company with his trusty but near-obsolete Fujifilm Frontier wetlab and acquiring an Epson Surecolor D3000 inkjet minilab.
The store move came about when his previous landlord refused to negotiate on terms for a lease renewal.
‘Our first five-year term ended in July. 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 was generally where the profit comes from.
He said some landlords are reluctant to budge on rents and some would actually rather see long-term vacancies than drop the bottom line on the rental agreement, as the resale value of a property is bound up in the annual rental return.
However, the old landlord’s loss was no loss to Victor, who was able to negotiate a 5 + 5- year lease ’60 metres down the road with a bigger shop in a slightly better location – right on Martin Place. We made an offer and the reaction was “Thank you very much we would love to have you”.’
‘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 end of world – but we will come back.’
Joining a irreversible trend, he switched from the last of a line of Fujifilm Frontier silver halide ‘wetlabs’ to an Epson Surecolor D3000 as his photo printing ‘engine room’.
With modern print volumes way down on what a beast like the Fuji Frontier 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 actually 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 and took time each morning to warm up. Moving and plumbing costs to get it up and running in the new premises would have been significant.
‘So I needed to find an alternative which would future-proof the business. My research brought me to the D3000. It’s flexibility and ability to print high quality photos filled the bill exactly.’
He said he could have stuck with Fujifilm and its own line of inkjet minilabs – which you will find in Harvey Norman outlets around Australia – but opted to go direct to the source.
‘Epson is the leading supplier of inkjet minilabs and (independent photo specialist supplier) IPS impressed me with levels of support they provided.
‘The printheads are manufactured by Epson’ (for both Epson and Fujifilm equipment) ‘and Epson possibly has better software to drive the machine. I was very comforted I was in good hands with IPS – they are knowledgeable and active, and I feel like I’m going into partnership with the supplier.’
There were also added 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 (‘marvelous’) 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.
‘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 spay-painted a custom colour to break the nexus with ‘Hardly Normal’.)
He said that when Covid hit, his staff were uncomfortable with customers sitting in the store, sometimes for hours, loading photos onto the kiosks. He closed the kiosks down and directed customers online.
‘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.
And when Victor notes that ‘margins are good’ – he’s not kidding! When you order online at Photoland, the cost of a 6×4 ranges from 79 cents for a bulk order to $2.50 for 1 to 4 prints. ‘For customers who prefer assistance with their photo printing, by popping into the store or emailing their photos’, cost is $2.50 each for an order of 20 to 49 6x4s. The personalised premium service includes colour correction, contrast correction, brightness correction and cropping.
‘So far it’s been absolutely effortless. The D3000 produces standard prints and also has a high quality mode – which is about 50 percent slower. There’s no question that is has a broad colour gamut and the customers are delighted.’