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DIMA 2008 session looks at fulfilling pro print orders online.

With consumer work shrinking for many lab owners, serving the pro market may provide new sales opportunities. At aDIMA 2008 session in late January, three speakers presented their thoughts on handling pro orders.

Shaun Austin, owner of InLiqht Photographicx, Fullerton, Calif., was a professional wedding photographer before buying a lab 3 years ago, and he still shoots professionally on occasion. His experience on both sides of the equation gives him a unique perspective on how labs can meet the needs of professional photographers.

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He started his lab with the intention of serving the consumer market, but quickly discovered too few consumers are printing their images. Locked into big monthly equipment payments, Austin looked at other labs to see how they were succeeding--and discovered pros were the answer. He purchased a 30-inch printer, began offering KISS Wedding Books and started serving pros through LifePics, which he had used himself as a photographer.

LifePics allows Austin to reduce his workflow--and his clients' workflows--through automation. "Photographers want to work on their businesses, not be the ones taking and fulfilling the orders. Many of them want to outsource everything; they are even hiring other photographers to shoot for them," Austin says. "They just want to make money."

The InLight Photographics LifePics solution allows professional clients to do that. The photographers' customers are able to view their pictures online and order whatever they want.

"We are offering a solution professional photographers can customize," Austin says. "Once they upload, they walk away; and I send them a check once a month. They don't even have to look and see what they sold."

This system also provides Austin the freedom to get out from behind his Frontier and spend time on other things. "I built a business full of automation," he says. "It gives me time to work on my business, not for my business. It allows me the freedom to do what I love to do."

With a similar story--but a different approach--is Brooks Clayton, president of Mid-South Color Labs Inc., Jackson, Tenn. After finding retail work too difficult, Clayton's shop abandoned consumers to focus on professional portrait photographers and industry clients, using ZBE WorkStream DS for online orders and a ZBE Chromira 30-inch ProLab printer for fulfillment.

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Mid-South Color offers two ways of ordering online: one for professional photographers, and one for customers of professional photographers. "The images can just come to us from the client, and we produce them and ship them back directly," Clayton says. "We also have a system where clients can view the images, but not order online. The pros sometimes don't want clients to order themselves, because the pros are missing a sales opportunity. They like their clients to be able to view the proofs online, but want people to order through them."

An average order is more than $100, but a typical order from the top pros is more than $300. "Our largest pro accounts are the lowest maintenance. They know how to correct their images and what to expect," Clayton says, adding that photographers just getting started in the business require the most work.

Professional photographers are again looking for a relationship with their labs, as they did in the days of film, Clayton notes.

"They want a flexible lab partner, not a cookie cutter approach. They want their needs met, but are willing to use the system you provide," he states. "They want a higher level of consistent quality and fast turnaround. They're looking for something that will differentiate them from their competitors."

Although Dan Burrell of ExpressDigital, Englewood, Colo., has never been a professional photographer he claims expertise in their needs having worked with 14,000 of them.

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"Pro photographers need to be handheld and looked after, but they are worth a lot of money," he says. "You need to nurture them. As their businesses grow, your business grows--and they will stick with you."

For retailers seeking the right solution to serve the pro market, Burrell offers several recommendations. First, the software must have a sales presentation feature. It should offer an associated website controlled by the photographer, allowing them to do their own selling. Retailers should also look for software that provides quick retouching tools, borders, invoicing, reporting, and tethered shooting to create fast orders.

"It should offer direct printing. This may sound stupid, because you want to do the printing," Burrell says. "But today, they can print on their own--and it is less expensive to buy their own printers. They are going to do some of their own printing; so you should provide them with the software, with your name on it, so you can get the work they are not doing. This will show them they can make more money by shooting rather than spending time printing for themselves."

Networking capability is also important. "Many studios are not just one person shooting weddings. Some might have 10 shooting rooms. To handle large companies, you have to be able to network these programs together, with tethered shooting in one room, projecting in another, and retouching in another," he notes.

On the lab end, the solution should allow easy tracking and recalling of orders, and provide a nondestructive method of making changes to the photographer's work, ensuring a perfect print.

"To serve the pro, you have to have the services they need. Make sure your price is in the right range. Make sure you hold their hands and give customer service. That's the only thing that makes a difference in the digital world," he says.

For labs wiling to make that effort, Burrell concludes, "The pro market is one retailers should be going into."
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Publication:Digital Imaging Digest
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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