Taking our lab services on line

At the PMA Fall Imaging Conference in Atlanta,  Brian Noble (Noble's Camera in Hingham, MA) told us why he offers online photofinishing. He surveyed his loyal customers - the ones who were continuing to see him day after day - and found that about 70% of them had already tried online photofinishing from somebody.  

The survey convinced him that he'd better get a share of that online work for himself. What's good enough for Brian is good enough for me!

My digital minilab had been in the store, up and running, for more than 3 months. Our personnel had learned most of its idiosyncrasies. We were ready to try something new.

Step One - Evaluating the systems

From time to time I'd had customers send me photos by e-mail. That's strictly a stop-gap measure. It's slow and inexact and labor-intensive. There are those who can write software. I'm not one of them, and I'm not a big believer in reinventing the wheel. There are already several highly developed programs which provide for online photofinishing solutions.

Some solutions provide for on-line albums and the storage of customer digital photos. That business model didn't make sense to me, and I don't want the responsibility of storing other people's photos. In recent years a lot of web sites which offered free long-term storage of customer photos have gone out of business, and some customers had been foolish enough not to keep their image files on their own computers. Such a project requires huge servers and 24-7 online connections. Not for me.

Requirements:

Here's what I did want:

  • A tested system, with a large user base
  • Intuitive interface for my customers
  • Something that could be customized so that my brand name is the one consumers see
  • Modest hardware requirements
  • Strong technical support
  • Speedy transfer of orders from customers to my lab
  • Compatibility with my existing equipment
  • Ease of operation for my staff and for me
  • Reasonable up-front costs and low ongoing costs

I queried my fellow dealers who are members of Independent Photo Imagers to see what they were using. Most were using either Photogize or Fotowire (now called Silverwire). IPI had established favored vendor programs with both. After working my way through a couple of sample orders using each system, and based on my projection of costs over the first several years, I chose Fotowire. (and yes, you will see inconsistencies in my use of the two names "Silverwire" and "Fotowire" throughout this series)

Fotowire's software enables any lab with digital printing capabilities (printing from digital files onto photographic paper) to accept files over the internet to your lab with ease. It handles ordering, sizes, resolutions, pricing, invoicing, credit cards, payment, etc, all in an automatic or semi-automatic manner depending on which lab equipment you use. This is perfectly suited for prints for digital camera users. Fotowire does not own or use any processing facilities of its own. They only act as a conduit to feed digital orders to their member labs and collect a royalty for the service.

The customer can "find" your lab from either the Fotowire site itself, from your own website or from software on a floppy or CD that you can distribute to your own customers. 

Next chapter

Our story so far: