By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Ritz Camera Centers said it would add Fujifilm's new dry minilab to its stable of in-store printers.
The initial installment of the Frontier Dry Minilab 400 was completed last week and the roll-out will continue for the next 18 months, said Rich Tranchida, executive VP, Ritz. The company is replacing older, chemical-based Fujifilm minilabs and intends to add the new system in a "significant" number of its 1,000 stores, Tranchida said.
Unlike its wet predecessor, the Minilab 400 uses inkjet technology to produce photo prints. A four-cartridge dye ink system can produce up to 650 4-inch by 6-inch prints per hour, or up to 250 8- by 10-inch prints per hour. Output speeds can be increased by stacking additional printers one on top of the other, which maintains the original footprint of the Minilab 400.
Other options include a print sorter to separate customer orders and a back printer. The minilab can also be integrated with Fujifilm's kiosks.
A wave of inkjet-based dry labs from firms like Kodak and Noritsu, made their debut at the PMA show this year. The Minilab 400 is based on both Noritsu and Fujifilm technology.
"It seems to be the latest and greatest technology," Tranchida said. "There's no silver reclamation and the start-up times are quicker," he said.
The "jury is still out" on whether the life-cycle costs of a dry lab will compare favorably to a chemical system, Tranchida said. On the one hand, there is no chemistry to buy, but inkjet media is more expensive than silver halide paper, he said.
With a chain of 1,000 stores, Ritz has positioned itself to capitalize on the return of consumers to retail for their prints, Tranchida said.
According to PMA, retail photo printing eclipsed home printing in 2007, but digital print volumes have not compensated for the decline in film processing.
In addition to standard print sizes, the retailer has equipped itself to make photo merchandise — such as calendars and photo books — in-store. The company is banking on creative output to off-set the losses in the traditional 4 by 6 business, Tranchida said.
"The customer awareness is not there, and that's our job, we need to expose them to all that we can do. People don't think you can make a book in store, but when they see them, they love them," he said.
Ritz has enjoyed significant growth in its online print ordering business as well, where consumers upload their images at home and pick up their prints in store.
"We've had high double-digit growth [in this category] for the last 18 months, and it still continues," Tranchida said. Part of what is driving this online-to-store growth, he added, is that the company can fulfill a wider array of orders in-store.
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