PIR 2012 Photofinisher of the Year: The Imaging Depot

PIR 2012 Photofinisher of the Year: The Imaging Depot

1978

The Imaging Depot is located in an old post-deco-style Greyhound bus depot built in 1940, but its business model—based on evolving the retail and BtoB photo-printing models in creative new directions—is as 21st century as its vast, gleaming, high-ceilinged interior.

The single-store specialty retailer is situated in the historic 25th Street district of Ogden, Utah, a forward-looking city of 75,000 that transformed a once notoriously seedy area of town into a thriving commercial space, with much repurposed and restored 19th and early 20th century architecture, and an artistic village atmosphere.

The Imaging Depot serves a region with a population of 450,000, and that doesn’t include Salt Lake City, about 45 minutes away. The “depot” concept not only reflects the building’s origin but also fits in with the company’s brand image as “The Home Depot” of imaging—a term that Mat Inkley, its founder and president, takes quite literally.

Technically, The Imaging Depot is a start-up that will celebrate its 2nd anniversary this September, but the store feels so well established, well stocked, well organized and energetic that it seems like a longtime fixture of the community. That’s because Mat Inkley and his irrepressible, inspirational dad, Ron Inkley, have taken their decades of knowledge and experience in the photo industry and morphed it into a flourishing and creative enterprise that can do practically anything with images. And that includes scaling them to huge building and vehicle wraps or making a 33×6-foot photomural of Ogden Valley ringed by snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks.

The retail side of the business is equally impressive—the store is one of the largest photo specialty retailers in the state. To give you a better understanding of the history behind this young enterprise, here’s a thumbnail career history of both members of the dynamic duo that created The Imaging Depot and who continue to evolve it in fascinating and sometimes unexpected ways.

Ron Inkley, young-spirited, quick-witted and remarkably spry at age 83, has been in the photo specialty business for an astounding 66 years and was a close friend of Ed London and Ed Ritz, two of the founders of PRO. An early member of PRO (1960), he established and ran 31 Inkley Photo stores in the four-state Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada area; he sold 21 of them (25 locations including warehouse and lab facilities) to Ritz Camera in 1996.

Ron was vice president of PRO from 1964-83 and president of PRO from 1983-96. He officially retired in 1996, but his entrepreneurial spirit is unquenchable, and he is still an active and inspirational force in the business.

Mat Inkley literally grew up putting images on paper. He was taking and printing pictures as a little kid, at age 11 went to work for his dad behind the counter and in the photo lab, and managed a retail store at age 20. Mat signed on with Fujicolor Processing in 1997, and as part of the operations management team he oversaw daily production of film processing, including APS. He later became general manager of Professional Services of Creative Color, now Ferrari Color, among the largest commercial communications providers doing grand-format imaging (anything over 50 inches wide).

“Building on this background,” says Mat Inkley, “The Imaging Depot now has six wide-format color printers, does wet and dry printing, including silver halide using Fujifilm’s Crystal Archive papers, and dye-sublimation. Large-format (8×10 to 40×60) output is about 70% of the printing business; photo books is around 5-10%. Business-to-business printing, the largest single category, comprises 60% of the business. This includes point-of-purchase displays, flyers, brochures, vehicle wraps (print on vehicles), banners, BtoB photo gifting, custom name tags, awards, plaques, sublimation prints on metal, and lay-flat books (for optimum panoramas or double-truck display), which are all part of the overall printing/imaging numbers.

“In terms of retail printing, we have six Lucidiom kiosks on-site. We do all our own printing, plus do work for a dozen or more local professional studios and one independent grocery store in Ogden. We do a huge number of 4×6 photos, many of them generated by our Monday 10-cent special on 4x6s. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays we offer 3x5s for 7 cents apiece. The response has been incredible; some people order 4,000 to 5,000 prints at a time.

“Retail photo gifting is 3-5% of our business,” he continues, “and the big printing categories are cards, announcements, wedding announcements, bookmarks, calendars, and photo blankets. We also do team soccer jerseys that include logo designing. We have a full-time graphic designer, Cami Higgs. One unique special project was providing vehicle wraps for all 80 Ogden police cars with logos and all the graphics designed by us. Our Rocky Mountains design is very cool and distinctive, and fitting for a city surrounded by mountain vistas.

“Basically what we’re about,” observes Mat Inkley, “is helping people take their images and transform them into products that allow them to display their creativity and share it with others, friends and family. We’re not just about taking pixels from the camera but also generating their images via electronic elements on the computer as well as the full range of traditional prints. We really are 'The Home Depot' of imaging, and we can handle under one roof all of the imaging options that satisfy all our customers' needs.

“The Imaging Depot is also a PRO member, and we’re committed to providing a high level of customer service. That’s why we carry the largest accessory line of any photo specialty retailer in Utah, hands down. Some examples are batteries for virtually any digital camera, and a huge selection of accessories to help customers with the craft of photography—not just new DSLRs and point and shoots, but also bags, filters, tripods (we’re a big, big Manfrotto and ProMaster dealer), accessories for Canon and Nikon, plus a complete line of Tamron lenses.”

The Imaging Depot currently has six full-time staff members, including: Mat Inkley, owner/partner and president; his wife, Kelly, who helps with operations and accounting; Cami Higgs, senior designer; April Sessions, lab tech; and David McClelland and Brad Paxton, retail salesmen on the floor. Jackie Carter is an outside salesperson who’s 100% focused on BtoB at the customers’ sites. Ron Inkley, an owner/partner, is also actively involved in business as a consultant and inspirational figure. The business is constantly evolving, and the company is considering expanding by one or two retail locations in the Ogden area.

“Historically, we’ve had lots of success with add-ons,” notes Mat Inkley. “Customers start with 4x6s but then order larger prints like 11x14s and 16x20s. It’s very hard to make money on 4x6s, but they drive store traffic, which leads to more orders for enlargements at the same time.

“We offer a deal: Buy any frame up to 16×20 and we’ll make the print to fill it for an additional one cent. We sell a lot of frames that way, and we also offer a full range of matting and mounting services, custom framing for display and presentation, UV coating, and a full choice of bookbinding options. We produce all photo books in-house, including casing in, and wide-format laminating.

“This is a family business, and it sure helps that Ogden is a major center of outdoor sports equipment manufacturers, many of which are headquartered here. A number of these enterprises are our clients, and at retail the result is that our #1 point-and-shoot seller is an outdoor 'life-style' camera, the waterproof Pentax WG-2. We also sell a lot of Contour helmet cameras to mountain bikers and skiers.

“On the BtoB side, we produce a lot of point-of-purchase displays and event graphics. We’re constantly pushing the envelope in printout, and we definitely encompass nonphotographic imaging and hybrid (photo plus artwork) solutions. After all, imaging is our middle name. Just as cameras are now basically CE products, imaging has expanded to include all aspects of graphic imaging.”

Mat Inkley recalls, “I was part of the keynote panel for PMA@CES 2012, and one thing that came out of the ensuing dialog was that customers are looking for an experience—an experience that begins the moment they walk into the store. We provide an inviting environment for soccer moms and kids (we have a kids’ play area), and we’re not shy about letting our customers know they can have their questions and concerns addressed with knowledgeable, personalized answers. If they have a creative idea, we help them to execute it. It’s all about the experience, just like visiting Apple’s Genius Bar or going to Disney World. I want them to be engaged, have fun and come back for more.

“We also cover events like hotel events where we take pictures that we print and offer to the participants before the event is over. A good example was the recent Harvest Moon Festival; we had a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy with a green screen in the background and shot images of people astride the bike that looked like they were riding it through the city. We also cover Halloween parties and sell while-you-wait 8×10 prints of participants for $10 apiece. At one recent three-hour event, we netted $1,100—not a bad hourly return. Covering events provides a lot of ancillary benefits in terms of name recognition that are more important than dollars.

“Ogden is nestled in the Rocky Mountains, specifically Wasatch Front, and that big peak you see out there is Ben Lomond,” he continues. “There are not too many other places that afford such a panoramic view of the mountains, and it’s a natural for photography.

“What makes The Imaging Depot unique is that we take what we’ve learned from some of the most in-depth experiences in multiple industries and combine them to provide solutions and a fulfilling experience for our customers. We integrate the total range of printing proficiencies that other enterprises can only serve partially, if at all. For example, we can provide the optimum tools that help customers create images, take these images forward to an unlimited range of output products, and finally teach them how to do it themselves. We have the capability of covering all aspects of the imaging chain; we have a huge capacity to print on hundreds of substrates, and we provide an extensive range of photo classes at all levels from basic to expert to help our customers further their own personal knowledge.

“To give you an idea of our educational outreach, we offer specialty workshops in light-painting and wildlife photography. We host Canon Discovery Days and Tamron Adventure Days (they showed up with four trunks of lenses). We offer Photoshop classes, a Boy Scout merit badge in photography program, and a Ladies Scrapbooking night.

“It’s all about learning the exciting, amazing and fulfilling things you can do with images. It’s more than just a successful business model. Our mission is to work hard and think creatively about something that’s really worthwhile—extending the range and depth of our customers’ experience.”

Perhaps more than anything, that’s the reason why we selected The Imaging Depot as Photo Industry Reporter’s Photofinisher of the Year for 2012.

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