Monday, May 08, 2006

Putting a Fresh Face Forward (The Orange County Register)

[ Ed note: 30 Minute Photos Etc. profile. The company, operated by co-editors of - The Credit Card Interchange Report , is lead plaintiff in the Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant-Discount Antitrust Litigation.]

After 16 years in business, photo retailer 30 Minute Photos Etc. opts for a new look at its Irvine location.

By JAN NORMAN - The Orange County Register

[photo caption: REVAMPING ITSELF OUT OF A RUT: Mitch Goldstone, right, and Carl Berman, owners of 30 Minute Photos Etc. in Irvine, are just about finished with a $100,000 facelift of their processing business, which now sports new photo kiosks.PAUL E. RODRIGUEZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER]

There are two seemingly contradictory truisms in business. Customers like doing business with firms that have been around a while. And customers flock to anything new, fresh and different.

Mitch Goldstone and Carl Berman, owners of 30 Minute Photos Etc. in Irvine, are proud that their photo service has been open for 16 years. That should satisfy any customer's desire for longevity. Now, they have addressed the second truism. They just spent $100,000 to refurbish the store in a strip center at Jamboree Road and Barranca Parkway in Irvine.

30 Minute Photos Etc. illustrates the need for small-business owners to continually reinvent and update their enterprises if they hope to survive. Entrepreneurship is not for the cheap or rigid. People like to be associated with current trends. They like to see new colors fresh flooring and hand rails," says Mike Munz, a retail expert and member of SCORE, a business counseling organization sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Goldstone agrees, pointing out that time takes its toll on every business. "After 16 years in business, it's time for a makeover. So many small businesses get stale."

There's another incentive for change. The photo industry has dramatically changed since 30 Minute Photos Etc. opened as a quick photo developer.

Goldstone and Berman invested in costly technology to remain profitable as consumers moved from film to digital cameras. They added Kodak Picture Maker and Preview & Select photo kiosks as soon as they were available. The owners added software and machinery to develop digital photos in 1999.

30 Minute Photos Etc. embraced the Internet with an e-commerce Web site that has brought customers from around the world.

When the shop opened in 1990, all its customers lived or worked within a couple of miles. Now just 20 percent of its business is that close.

"Years ago, photo labs were opened by hobbyists," Goldstone says. "Now we have to understand the Internet and Bluetooth technology." The store's newest whiz-bang service is a $60,000 document-imaging machine that can scan 750 photos in five minutes, digitize them and put them on a CD.

As much as 30 Minute Photos Etc. has kept on the cutting edge of photo technology, the shop had gotten, well, crowded. The windows were covered with neon signs and promotional posters. The interior was festooned with more posters and promotional offers and past advertisements.

A few months ago, Goldstone made a small effort to freshen the interior by painting one wall buttercup yellow. It didn't have the impact he hoped. "On Saturdays, the store was so packed with people it was confusing and messy," Goldstone says.

At the same time, Goldstone found a new self-service digital photofinishing kiosk by Lucidiom that he thought was much better than Kodak's kiosks. He ordered six for the store, a dramatic departure because Goldstone has been a cheerleader for Kodak.

That's when Goldstone and Berman decided to go whole hog into the makeover, hiring a designer to lay out the plans. They introduced the "new" 30 Minute Photos Etc. last week. The black sofa has been replaced by red leather chairs. The black counter, tile floors and buttercup wall are gone. In their place are a white counter, oak floors and light blue walls. White shelves are stocked with examples of new Lucidiom software that makes scrapbook pages. A flat-screen TV will arrive soon. Free bottled water and chocolate bars are intended to contribute to the shop's "Starbucks-like" comfort.

Goldstone is a tireless marketer for his business, managing over the years to get news coverage in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Orange County Register, magazines and television. So the most difficult part of the store makeover was removal of an entire wall of framed articles in which he and the store are mentioned.

"We can still have all the articles on the Web site 'in the news' section," he says.

So much of 30 Minute Photos Etc. business is online, it could survive without a retail location, Goldstone acknowledges. "But we are active in the community. This (makeover) will change the whole dynamic to bring more business into the store. I hope it will inspire other store owners."

[source: The Orange County Register]