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Opening photolab as a business


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My husband and I would like to open up our own photo lab business and wondered how easy it is to open up this type of business. I used to work in a photolab in a Boots the Chemist and really enjoyed it. I worked there for 6 yrs and only left because I met my husband and moved away. It has been 3 yrs since I worked in one.

We would rathe have our own business and be our own boss.

How easy do you think it would be to start up this kind of business? We want to try offer services that no other lab can off in our town, such as B&W and slide processing and printing along with colour printing and digital printing.

We also thought that we could perhaps sell frames, albums and prints and even books on photography. And have a lounge area with sofas where our customers can relax and we could sell hot and cold beverages and cakes etc. So while our customers wait for their prints, they can sit and relax and eat and drink in a nice cosy atmosphere. Just an idea we have. I wanted to run this buy you all since you all seem like keen photographers and wondered what you thought of this idea...

Any advice would be great! :)

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There is a misconception in our industry that you have to be gearred up to the techies out there. The guy with the latest digi SLR or the old fart with a leica camera.

Not wishing to sound too sexiest but fellas are normally a waist of time when it comes to photos or photo products. They normaly only spent any money when the other half has moaned them into the ground. Mary Portas new series has just shown a very good programme about mobile phone shops, you could take that situation and apply it to our industry and I think it would work. However starting a new business in the toughest climate for decades is another thing

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Here are some of my recommendations.  I am happy to provide you more info if you want to PM me.

1.  Don't acquire a large space unless your rent is extremely cheap.  Having the cozy area for customer to wait and enjoy themselves does require a space that you may not able to generate enough revenue to pay, IMHO.

2.  Structure your business as a high-end professional lab and make sure to charge properly.  You will never able to compete on price with big box store.  They don't need to make money on prints to survive.  You will compete on quality, service and knowledge.

3.  Do provide photo gifts, enlargement fine art prints, frames, photo restoration, digital album design, and art reproduction.  Some of these are specialty services and do require you have computer and very skillful Photoshop knowledge to separate yourself from others.  However the profit margin is much higher than just standard prints, 4x6, 5x7 and etc.

4.  Make sure you have an online photo ecommerce service to your professional clients.  In the digital age, efficient workflow for your clients is a must.

5.  There is a non professional population who are interested in high-end service.  You need to advertise to get your name out in your community.

I believe to make it in the photo lab business nowadays, you need to acquire much more knowledge than just high quality prints.  Your customers may not be good with computer and want a business to help them.  Being local and knowledgeable can be a great advantage to acquire royal customers.  Hope this helps.

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First you have to decide the whether you are going to buy used or new minilab for your business..Also if it is gonna be a dry or a wet lab.

Sure the above decision will be purely depending on the capital that you plan to invest..

In the mean time I suggest you take a trip around the place where you plan to set up the business and collect ideas from other photolabs situated there.

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Thanks everyone. Lots to think about. i can see your point about just getting a smal space as we dont really have alot of money to invest. There is only one other photolab in our town and it is inside a large ASDA store. There was a Klick, minilab but it closed down.  TThere is another lab in the next town but they only do digital.

What do u mean by wet or dry lab... sorry I dont know the difference. I feel kinda stupid now!
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I think the most important factor in the pussible success of your venture will be your enthusiasm and passion.

The photo printing industry has experiences about 5 years of contraction, technology has replaced much of the traditional skill, and the product is now a commodity sold very much on price, if your competition is Asda then price must not be your carrot, or you loose!

I agree with the above comments about targeting female shoppers, and disagree about professionals!

If you set up in a prosperous small market town, have great technical skills, can offer pro photography services through an in house studio plus weddings etc, and you run as a husband and wife team, have lots of local connections: school, church, etc

And, you have deeeeeeeep pockets, and are proper geeky when it comes to creating websites, fixing kit and getting everything to talk to each other, then you might have a business.....

If it is just an idea , then I suggest you have a few more long baths and see what other ideas you have.

Good luck whatever you decide!


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Minimum £40,000 spend 2-3 years to get established, long hours , no fun  must I continue.. Phil is spot on hes been around the block like a few others

and the industry is not what it was 5-10 or 15 years ago. The manufacturers and suppliers have killed things by giving the Likes of Tesco's silly deals on equipment and consumbles then

wonder why there GP has vanished.

Save your money and look for something else.

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Bit doom and gloom there Trevor.  I think it's difficult starting up a business in any field just now.

If you listen to the latest Dimacast Blacksands then you'll see that it's still possible to build a successful photo business.


It's all about differentiating yourself from the big multiples.  For example, a lady from Aberdeen only gets her photos printed when she takes a holiday in Shetland as our staff are the only ones who help her use the kiosks.  I was in a big supermarket superstore in Inverness last month and was very surprised how poor their photo area was.  This is exactly where the specialist photo retailer can come in.  Anyway, when I'm in a supermarket I can't wait to get out of the place, I don't want to spend any longer there printing off my photos.


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Thanks to you all for all your advice - they are very good and helpful. We are serious about it and have been talking about it on and off. Like you say, Trevor - it is just getting the money. We have the enthusiasm and passion. We also know we have to be realistic, though. Esp in this climate.

Thanks for the link, Ben.

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I think there is still opportunity in the industry but you need to be so much more enaged on a business level - not trying to be artistic, or catering to a dwindling film market. Let's face it, that has been disappearing fast. Six years ago it was a different story, but today you'd be 99% focused on digital or you'd be dead.

A couple of warning shots sounded. One was Klick closing as they only got rid of the stores that didn't make money in the buy out. That should say something. The other was how much you understood the changes in the industry. Really you need to stand in a shop for a couple of days to see what goes on now. Oh, another thing is that you just have to be computer, web and equipment savvy as that is such a big factor these days.

You could look at existing shops for sale (there are lots) or look for a Snappy Snaps franchise re-sale nearby. Rather than starting from scratch that may be much safer as I don't think you'd be able to get finance otherwise

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At the moment we are just sticking to the jobs we are in at the moment. my hubby is a teacher and i escort additional needs kids to school. When we are ready to take a leap we will. We had thought of starting our own business but perhaps buying a franchise might be easier. But at the moment, we just wanted to ask around to see how realistic/financially viable it would be to start a mnilab  business now.  Maybe we are too scared to take a risk! We will def keep our mind open about it tho. If we were to start any business it would be to do with photography. thanks for all ur help and advice!!

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