Photo Direct chalks up 10 years

Photo Direct, emerging from the ashes of Agfa Photo when it abruptly and unceremoniously quit the photographic industry, celebrated 10 years in business – and 170,000 invoices – last month.

PDirect-logoWhile the Photo Direct business has changed dramatically over the 10 years – less than a dozen items from the original product range are still stocked in a 900 SKU product line-up – the original five former Agfa executives who started the business still form the core of Photo Direct (see pic below.)

Photo Direct’s customer base has also changed. While there is a core of photo specialty customers who went with the new business when Agfa closed shop, this is now augmented by a strong and growing group of customers in the print industry, including commercial print, print & copy, and fine art printing companies.

The extended Photo Direct crew celebrate 10 years in business. Left to right: Mike, Brent, Tracy, Susan, Stephen, Jenny, Alan, Neil, Steven, Fiona, Stuart, Natalie, Christine, Steuart, Helen, Chris. The original 'Gang of 5' was Tracy Lints, Susan Smith,  Neil Glanville, Steuart Meers and Chris Howell. 'It wasn’t a planned start-up so we didn’t have many of the things you would normally have firmly in place before becoming an importer and distributor such as finance facilities, a warehouse facility, or even a freight company!' explained Tracy. 'As a result, it was all hands on deck – including those of husbands and wives- to do whatever was required whenever it was required. Home garages became warehouses overnight and private cars became couriers. We still do what is required when it’s required, to make it happen, - and we still have the support of our “other halves” so it was nice to be able to share the birthday celebrations with them by having a weekend away together.'

The extended Photo Direct crew celebrate 10 years in business. Left to right: Mike, Brent, Tracy, Susan, Stephen, Jenny, Alan, Neil, Steven, Fiona, Stuart, Natalie, Christine, Steuart, Helen, Chris. The original ‘Gang of 5’ was Tracy Lints, Susan Smith, Neil Glanville, Steuart Meers and Chris Howell. ‘It wasn’t a planned start-up so we didn’t have many of the things you would normally have firmly in place before becoming an importer and distributor such as finance facilities, a warehouse facility, or even a freight company!’ explained Tracy. ‘As a result, it was all hands on deck – including those of husbands and wives – to do whatever was required whenever it was required. Home garages became warehouses overnight and private cars became couriers. We still do what is required when it’s required, to make it happen, – and we still have the support of our “other halves” so it was nice to be able to share the birthday celebrations with them by having a weekend away together.’

‘As each year passes we see these market segments overlap more and more as businesses diversify to either capture a greater share of their customer’s wallet, or to find new customers to replace business they’ve lost to digital and non-print solutions,’; said Photo Direct’s marketing manager, Tracy Lints (below right). ‘It is not just photo specialty retailers whose world has changed.’

TracyShe said that the diverse customers base gave Photo Direct a broad perspective on market trends. ‘But no matter what part of the printing and imaging business they are in, we see some definite commonalities among our customers who are most successful in their respective segments: they are invariably those with positive leadership, good energy, and who are able to make quick decisions on new solutions, new ideas, new brands.’

Photo Direct has not taken on a welter of distributorships over the years, but rather partnered with a few companies and worked to make those suppliers successful in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

‘As a result, as each of their businesses have grown, they have continued to support us with new product range extensions which in turn helps our business grow and helps our customers’ businesses grow – it’s a very positive chain reaction and enables us to keep delivering on our promise to customers of helping them save more money and make more money.’

The DNP/DiLand solution from Photo Direct 'daisy-chains' an array of inexpensive dye-sub DNP printers.

The DNP/DiLand solution from Photo Direct ‘daisy-chains’ an array of inexpensive dye-sub DNP printers.

Perhaps the biggest move for Photo Direct in 2015 was taking on the DNP printer/Diland kiosk and printer software combination,  which filled the gap created by HP’s quitting retail photo printing and provided a low-cost, scalable alternative to more expensive dry or wetlab solutions for photo stores.

We followed up with Tracy with a few more questions to mark Photo Direct’s 10th anniversary:
What was the most difficult time over the last 10 years for Photo Direct? Starting a business is never easy, but especially when you’ve only spent hours, not months planning it, so that was certainly difficult. HP’s decision to exit the retail photo systems was another blow although at least that was a lengthy withdrawal process so we were able to spend time adjusting.

You’ve obviously been willing to adapt and change direction as required. Was there any particular course taken which delivered beyond expectations? I’d like to say many delivered beyond expectations but unfortunately that’s not the case – it is more a case of many small incremental improvements and positive outcomes. The strategic decision to actively diversify into new market channels has had the single biggest positive impact on the business.

Disappointments? HP’s decision to withdraw from the photo retail market was the most disappointing thing to happen – we had invested so much time and effort into developing the business then a decision made by a Board sitting remotely in another country undid all that and forced changes on our customers when they really didn’t want to have to face more change. So while the decision to partner with HP was the right decision at the time, and they did some really great things for photo retail around the world, it was disappointing that they didn’t continue.

The next few years – any new directions? Well, we operate with a mindset of constant change so there will be some, although what those are right now I couldn’t articulate.

Do you sense there’s any re-engagement by the general public with photographic printed products? I’m not sure it ever disappeared. It just changed significantly and many of the traditional industry members failed to see the change and change their business accordingly.

Who are the photo industry’s customers these days? Our customer is the same person and business as has always been there, but they are wanting different things. So it is still the mums with kids, the holiday makers, photo enthusiasts and pro photographers, the older population who have never stopped appreciating the value of photos, etc, and the businesses wanting signage and point of sale. But in most of those segments, their expectations of the exact nature of the product they receive and the service delivery and how and when they can order it have all changed.


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