Strategy Session: Mat Inkley–It’s Time to Redefine Photofinishing

Strategy Session: Mat Inkley–It’s Time to Redefine Photofinishing

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The name Inkley has been around the camera business for a long time. Ron Inkley built a 31-store chain that made him a household name in the Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming region—and a respected giant in the photo industry.

Along the way, a new generation of Inkley—his son, Mat—learned the trade from the ground up: “I was on the payroll at age 11, sweeping floors, stocking shelves, working in the warehouse—doing my part. When I was old enough, I moved into the photo lab, and I was managing a store by the time I was 20. Yes, you can say the photo business has always been in my blood.”

Historically, while Inkley’s stood for hardware, Mat Inkley was honing his passion for photofinishing. And that lead to the opening of The Image Depot, our 2012 Photofinisher of the Year.

Solutions are now what drive The Imaging Depot. When you think about photofinishing, the 4×6 is about the farthest thing from Mat’s mind. 

“At Inkley’s we always had to be solution providers,” Mat says. “Cameras were the driving force, but we had a Hallmark store and we were one of the largest CE dealers in the four-state area. We had one of the first minilabs in the nation; we were ahead of the curve starting one-hour processing. And while we were selling hardware, we were also providing solutions. And photofinishing is about solutions.”

According to Mat, the industry needs to redefine what photofinishing is. “We’re still running a lot of silver halide, but we want to help our customers make a book or put a great display on their wall, even create memorable wedding invitations. So the new definition is not really about the processing; it’s about doing something more with the images they bring to us. We’re making images and helping people to provide memories. That’s why it’s so important to diversify and to be a solutions provider.”
In talking to Mat, my sense is that our industry needs to think differently about photofinishing, maybe get rid of the word all together. It’s clear that his story goes well beyond what the industry, and our customers, should be thinking about.
“I’ve learned a lot from the leaders in our industry. And lesson number one is to show what you can do as soon as your customer walks into the door,” explains Mat. “Lakeside Camera, Harold’s and Fullerton Photographic are the best in the nation at displaying their capabilities, and I believe their success is directly tied to their knowledge of how to market.”

They’ve shown him that you have to be committed; you can’t just display items in the corner of your store, or as an afterthought. “You have to drink the Kool-Aid; you have to show it off; you have to have it in your own home. You have to believe in it.”
So how did the young Inkley go from industry scion to Kool-Aid drinker? “My approach was to think of us as a start-up,” he says. “While I’ve been in the business for a while, we were trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we opened The Imaging Depot. I kept coming back to spending time in a camera store. I knew that it’s always been about the experience: when a customer walks through the door, we have to provide a new experience—and a creative environment.

“I didn’t want to look like a camera store, so I ‘borrowed’ a few ideas from ladies’ shoe stores and from the Apple experience. And we have to show that we’re experts at what we do.

“So at The Imaging Depot, it’s not really about the image. It’s all about what you can do with the images. We also borrowed some thinking from Bob Hanson at Harold’s—we have nine 4×8-foot panels that show nothing but what you can do with your images. Even if you’re passing outside our windows on the street, you can see what we do, and we’re giving people ideas.”

So are there enough consumers out there to drive a business based on photofinishing?

“We think beyond just consumers, to businesses. We really focus a lot of our efforts on business to business. From the outside, we look like a photo store, however, we really cater to people like me—people with small businesses.”

And what does The Imaging Depot provide for small businesses?

“We’ve done a lot of signs and banners, and the hardware to go along with it. We sell the hardware and the graphics, and we’re making incredible margins even though it’s so easy to get it done. We do a lot of vehicle wraps. We just finished 80 police cars for our local police department. Business cards, brochures . . . we’ve become a resource for local businesses. Again, it’s because we can provide them with solutions. You have to educate your customers about what they can do with their images. You really have to show them.”

And there’s a lot of margin in regular customers also, if you can show them things they hadn’t even imagined.

“I believe that printing is not on the forefront of people’s mind,” says Mat. “However, those people, once they understand what they can do, might have a vision but not the know-how. It’s easier than ever today to create images, but people don’t know how to execute displaying them. They’re not thinking about printing, and that’s why it’s so important for us to tell, and show, people what they can do with their images.”
He mentioned one case where a gentleman walked into the store, saw an incredible display on the walls and left with a $3,500 order. “He had a large curved wall in his home that he wanted to put his image on. So he knew he wanted to do something, but he had no idea how to do it. It was another example of getting someone in the store and inspiring them.

“We need to help people do more with the images they have—not just print them but help them to create. We have to inspire people, teach them what they can do with their images and help them bring it to fruition.”

So I was wondering, with Mat being the next generation of Inkley, like many second-generation businesses, if his dad was cramping his style. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“I learned how to be a solution provider from my dad. That was ingrained in me from a very young age. He was a pioneer in one-hour processing, but he also always had an ancillary lab for retouching, video transfer and all of those other services.

“He’s pretty involved. I twisted my dad’s arm to take over retail buying for us. There are not many people who understand retail buying better than he does. In the eyes of our customers, we use him as a figurehead. If we run a newspaper ad, it’s still his store, although technically it’s not. And I really don’t make a major decision without talking to him.

“He’s not only a great mentor, but he’s a genuine friend and I’m lucky to be able to rely on him for his opinion. At the end of the day, it’s my decision, but he has so many relationships, and his reputation can only help me in building a successful business. I have zero pride in saying whether it’s his store or my store.”
But, what goes around, comes around . . .

“I used to work for him for free. Now he works for me for free.”

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