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Big name lab closures


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From the BJP http://www.bjphoto.co.uk/

13 December 2006



Hard times see two labs fold

In a devastating week for the pro lab industry, two major London players have closed their doors for the last time.

Sky Imaging UK and Ceta both closed their operations on 01 December, following in the footsteps of Keishi Colour, which shut up shop in March.

Sky has gone into voluntary liquidation, although a skeleton staff, including managing director Mike Sherry, will remain to help customers with enquiries.

Sherry revealed to BJP that the decision to close had been made a couple of weeks earlier, and only after he had looked into the possibility of selling the company. He admitted: 'I have been trying to find a possible buyer for the business as I wanted to rescue something but, as director, I am responsible for my staff, and knowing what December is like for people, I didn't want to put them through another difficult month.'

All 15 members of staff have now been made redundant but Sherry adds that several staff members who had been providing analogue services left four to six weeks ago, when the service was no longer cost effective. He added: 'I want to thank to the staff because they have acted commendably, especially over the difficult past couple of weeks.'

Sky Imaging emerged in the spring of 2005 when Sky Photographic Services, one of London's oldest and best-known professional labs, went into administration (BJP, 13 April 2005). Sherry launched a new company, retaining Sky Photographic's staff and its central London location in Ramilles Street. However, the new venture also floundered. Sherry said: 'Profit margins just kept on getting tighter and the marketplace tougher. In the end, we just ran out of steam.'

In addition, Ceta, which was also based in Soho, has closed. It is mooted that this is connected to the move over to Metro Imaging by two key members of staff. Brothers Tony and Colin Windows now work from Metro Imaging's Soho branch. Tony told BJP: 'The owner of Ceta, Steve Kent, has decided to shut down. I don't think he wanted the hassle of finding new people. It's a shame, but these things happen. Trading conditions are extremely tough for everyone at the moment.'

On the same day as its competitors shut up shop, Metro Imaging closed its Chelsea branch. Operations had already been hugely scaled back, and so only one staff member was made redundant while a second is to move to the company's Soho branch. Metro Imaging managing director, Ben Richardson, told BJP: 'The Chelsea branch was not contributing a profit to the group and not covering its costs. There has been a real drop in the volume of film being sent for processing. The present levels are about 15% of what we used to be three years ago. The closure was something we knew was inevitable. The industry is in cataclysmic change and there will only be a few survivors.'

Richardson went on to refute rumours that Metro Imaging is to pull out of film processing altogether. He told BJP: 'We will still continue to process film while there is still film out there'.

Another London outfit, TapestryMM, has also made changes, pulling out of black-and-white film processing. Shea Kelly told BJP: 'The amount of business is so small that there's not enough work coming in to pay for the chemistry. Black-and-white processing is such a niche market now that only guys who work by themselves under railway arches can survive.' Kelly added that the decision was ultimately taken to allow expansion of the company's studio facilities. He continued that the move reflects a wider need for labs to adapt to the present climate tough climate. 'It is a difficult time in the industry, and it is a terrible shame as the guys at Ceta and Sky are our friends. But to quote Darwin, it's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent - it is the one that it is most adaptable to change.'

Nigel McNaught of Photo Marketing Association (PMA) UK reiterated this: 'London was over-served for general lab work. It's not any great surprise that the pro lab market has changed rapidly and that the work that the remaining labs do has changed. They have had to become more specialist and more niche to differentiate themselves from others.'

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