June 07, 2005

Pharmacy chain installs Sony PictureStation kiosks

It has been nearly 25 years since the first minilab made its appearance and forever changed the face of retail photo processing. Its still possible, however, to offer customers great service and high-quality prints without an in-store lab.

Fruth Pharmacy Inc., Point Pleasant, W.V. (www.fruthpharmacy.com), is a good example. With 22 locations in West Virginia and Ohio, none have a minilab.
The Fuji wholesale lab in our region handles our processing, and a Fuji van makes daily stops at all our stores to pick up the film in our drop boxes and deliver completed orders, says Terri Thomas, director of Advertising/Marketing.
Our customers who are printing their digital images at home are our biggest competitors.
Terri Thomas
Fruth Pharmacy Inc.

We have an unusual situation in that Fuji overnight processing and delivery lets us offer our customers 1-day service, while the local Kmart and Wal-Mart offer 2-day standard service.
Fruth charges $3.99 for 3.5-by-5-inch prints and $4.99 for 4-by-6-inch prints, regardless of exposures. To obtain a CD with prints costs an additional $6.99.
In an April 2002 interview with Drug Store News, Don Pullin, Fruth CEO, said the company strategy for growth was to strive to raise the performance of existing units through the time-honored tradition of delivering exceptional customer service and maintaining a loyal customer base.
Regarding photographic services, this translates into offering in-store digital imaging choices to its customers.

Kiosk solutions
Among the 22 Fruth locations (two new stores are scheduled to open later this year), 20 units are in freestanding buildings, and two are located in strip malls. Except for the four stores located in Charleston, W.V. (the state capital), and Huntington, W.V., the remaining 18 stores are located in rural areas.
Each has 16 running feet allocated for photographic products, which include the traditional assortments of films, one-time-use cameras, batteries, and frames, as well as digital imaging items, such as inkjet paper, replacement inkjet cartridges, and media cards.
To stay competitive with Wal-Mart, we also need to carry a few digital cameras at modest prices.
Thomas signed a contract for 22 Sony PictureStation kiosks, one for each store, last October at the 2004 PMA Fall Conference and Mini Trade Show in Chicago, Ill.
It was the first time I attended the show, and I thought it was great, she says. I was able to see all the different kiosks in one location, and carefully weigh their features to determine the best fit for our customers and staff.
Her principal buying criteria were a built-in scanner for print-to-print copies, the ability to offer prints with borders, 8-by-10 enlargements, a touch-control monitor, and all-round ease of operation, including maintenance.
Though the Sony PictureStation is meant to be completely self-service, there always will be customers wholl need assistance.
A cashier is likely the first person to whom a customer would turn for help, as kiosks are placed near the checkout counters to help reduce the numbers of prints leaving the store without payment.
Five PictureStations were installed last December, in time to benefit from the last-minute Christmas card rush. As of mid-March, Thomas says she and her assistant were installing one kiosk per day, until all 22 were in place and operational.
The kiosks are very easy to install, and this also gives me the opportunity to do a little more training, Thomas says. She also conducts staff training sessions at the company headquarters in Point Pleasant.
The training is very hands-on, and I request employees bring either a print or a digital memory card if they own a digital camera, she says.
We had Fuji Printpix Digital Systems in some stores prior to going exclusively with Sony. Without a touch screen, many customers required assistance; and staff members werent always able to handle their questions or perform simple maintenance.
Then, too, there were no print scanners on the previous kiosks. I was looking for a kiosk to serve the needs of all our customers those who bring in old family photographs to copy, as well as customers with pictures stored on digital media.
The goal is to eliminate situations where an employee tells a customer only the manager or team leader can help her with the kiosk.
In the past, weve had an Out of Order sign on kiosks just because people didnt know how to add paper or change the internal lamp. Needless to say, this isnt good for business, Thomas says.
Given how fast technology changes in the digital world, the PictureStation model Thomas installed last December has already received its first update from Sony.
The new system and offers a slightly faster processor, plus such features as a USB 2.0 port. Thomas explains the USB feature is designed to allow stores to easily upload new software, rather than for customers to use to download picture files from their cameras at this time.
Many new cameras shown at PMA 2005, however, feature 16MB or 32MB internal memory.
So far, Ive not heard about any customers bringing in their digital cameras to make prints from the internal memory, says Thomas.
Store managers are asked to call Thomas about any out-of-the-ordinary customer requests, as well as operational issues, though she reports having no technical problems arising during the first three months of heavy usage.
The first PictureStations were designed for countertop use. The new PictureStation incorporates a stand-alone floor design, with an attractive dark blue stand.
The countertop machines can be inserted into the stand and upgraded to match the new system. Though no customers have brought one in, the new system does not accept floppy disks at this time.
Along with the Sony kiosks, Thomas also acquired three dye-sublimation printers for each unit one for 4-by-6-inch, one for
5-by-7-inch, and one for 8-by-10-inch prints. Each printer gives the customer cut and trimmed prints, except for wallet-size photos, which are printed four pictures to a 5-by-7 sheet and must be cut manually.
Because the units are designed for customer self-service, staff training also includes a discussion regarding copyright laws.
Any time a customer places a print on the scanner, a copyright warning comes up automatically on the screen. To proceed, the user must check a box that says the warning has been read and the user accepts liability for any copyright infringement, Thomas explains, adding that a similar copyright placard also is placed at each kiosk.

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Posted by keefner at June 7, 2005 03:31 AM