Photo retailers often find themselves, understandably, concentrating on new DSLR or accessories deliveries rather than analyzing their inkjet-cartridge supply or the piled-high reams of paper on their store shelves. But there are many ways to bring in a pretty penny by looking more at your consumables cache, whether it's refocusing your inventory or exploring innovative ways to keep your customers happy.
Selling inks and papers straight from the manufacturers is probably the most obvious way to up your revenue stream. "We sell Epson and Canon inks because those are the brands of printers we sell," explains TONY MIRESSE, president of Art's Cameras Plus, with three locations in southeastern Wisconsin.
It's interesting to see, however, how customers at photo specialty will pick one brand over another. "Even though we sell approximately the same amount of Epson and Canon printers, we sell nearly three times as many Canon ink cartridges as Epson," says Miresse. "I think it's because a customer can get Epson ink at just about any big-box and office-supply store. Also, many of our Canon printers go out with Canon cameras, especially when Canon offers bundle rebates. We tend to create long-term customers with those [people] we sold cameras to, so it only makes sense that they are more loyal to us when it comes to purchases of consumables."
In the paper department, Art's Cameras Plus sells Canon and Promaster papers, with Promaster accounting for nearly 80 percent of the retailer's paper sales. "We love the quality of the Promaster paper, and my staff knows that once we get customers hooked on Promaster, they will continue to purchase it from us, since they can't get it anywhere else," says Miresse. "Anytime we have a quality product that will serve a customer's needs, and that product is also an exclusive, we try very hard to get people turned on to it. It's a great value to the customer, and we love it because it's more profitable."
Burgeoning With Bulk
Bulk-ink systems are another way to save money and satisfy customer demand at the same time. At Rockville Camera in Rockville Centre, NY, an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 printer churns out the store's large-format prints. Company president MARK LERNER says that they started out using the proprietary bulk-ink system provided by Epson after buying the printer about a year ago. While they were satisfied with the quality, the effect on the wallet was what made them rethink their choice.
"We're very busy, thank goodness!" says Lerner. "However, we were calling almost every week to get another set of inks, at $1,000 a set. It became very cost-prohibitive."
Rockville Camera had been doing business with MediaStreet, so when ALAN KESSLER, MediaStreet's director of sales and marketing, asked if the retailer wanted to give a beta bulk-ink system a try, Lerner jumped at the chance.
Of course, before Lerner could sign off on this system change, he had to check on one critical aspect: whether using this third-party bulk-ink system would void the warranty on his Epson printer. "Before we started, I asked about the ink specs," says Lerner. "MediaStreet told me that the ink was on par to or superior to Epson's. When I spoke to the Epson rep, the rep wasn't necessarily happy about it but said it wouldn't void the warranty."
They switched over to MediaStreet's Generations system with a card reloader, featuring color ink that will print either color or in black-and-white. "That $1,000 a week turned into pennies to reload," says Lerner. "It was so convenient for us that we stuck with it."
One of Lerner's main concerns was making sure the bulk-ink system continued to satisfy his demanding clientele. "We have a certain standard in the store, whether we're printing on our Noritsu, the Epson 1290, or the Epson 9800," he says. "We color-correct, we density-correct--we don't put out CVS-type products. We really pride ourselves on the quality of prints we put out. So I did have a little concern out of the box, but I've been very happy since we started using the system."
Customers have also seemed pleased. "People weren't questioning the paper or ink I was using so much--they just wanted to see the quality of work I put out, and I really think it speaks for itself," Lerner says. "We have samples up on the wall that they can feel and see exactly what they're going to get."
Part of this quality comes from also using the MediaStreet Generations paper, according to Lerner. "We really use a lot of the glossy paper from them--it's a nice weight paper, pretty close to the Epson paper as far as weight is concerned," he says. "We've used their fine-art paper as well, and the quality is really beautiful. We've done some reprinting of people's artwork on the fine-art paper, and they couldn't get over it."
MediaStreet proved to be an invaluable resource right from the start. "We're also buying the papers from them, and they'll profile all the papers for you," says Lerner. "We gave them a list of paper we needed, they made the targets for us, and it was as easy as that. It's very convenient."
Since both companies are just a few expressway exits away from each other on Long Island, NY, MediaStreet is also able to offer personalized service that's rare to find these days. "In a pinch, if we need something very quickly, we can get someone over there right away to pick up what we need," says Lerner.
While they haven't sold the bulk-ink system directly to customers yet, Rockville Camera is ready and willing to get word about the system out there. "I could very easily sell it if we wanted to," says Lerner. "They've already asked me if I knew of other companies who were interested in purchasing the system. I am pushing it."
Hurray for Refills: A Win-Win for All
Incorporating an inkjet-cartridge refilling system such as TonerHead's Ink-O-Dem into your store's workflow is another option to consider. "First, the margins are very good, and it has a very good R.O.I.," says FRED KNECHT, director of marketing for TonerHead, located in McHenry, IL. "It adds value to the shopping experience to the people who go to that store--they can do one more thing they couldn't do before. They shop while they wait, and that's extremely good for the retailers, because now the retailers have yet another reason to bring someone into their store. It increases the foot traffic."
With a small footprint to maximize store space, the Ink-O-Dem system is also short on time. "It takes about seven minutes to fill one cartridge," says Knecht. "The system is designed to do one cartridge at a time--it's not a high-production-type of system that does one type of cartridge but many at a time."
A store employee can be trained in less than an hour how to use the machine. "It doesn't take long at all," says Knecht. "The machine has a lot of instructional help with a computer on-board. It walks you through every step of the process; you just follow along with the steps on the screen. It's got pictures and video showing another person doing what you're supposed to be doing, which is very helpful." Knecht adds that staff should expect a service call on the Ink-O-Dem about six times a year to keep things running smoothly.
Reaction among store employees is usually quite favorable. "For the most part, store managers love it, because it means more money for their store," says Knecht. "Then you have the people actually running the machine, and they all like doing it because it's something different to do during the day."
In the end, an inkjet-cartridge-refilling system proves to be a feel-good proposition for both customer and proprietor. "People who are using it feel good because they're saving money and the environment," says Knecht. "People providing the service feel good because they're saving their customers money, they're making money, and they're helping the environment. It's a win-win situation."