Thursday, November 22, 2007

Five, Six, Seven, Eight, CLICK!

Anywhere you go, here or abroad, you are likely to see Filipino tourists merrily posing for their camera. Every adult member of the Filipino family, and some teeners, would likely own a camera. Every OFW family would have a camera or two.

We have this narcissistic fascination for our own image and nostalgic remembrances of places, occasions, material possessions and others. In my younger days, I used to go to Velez Studio in San Juan whenever I have a new hairdo or dress or whatever. We don't just take pictures of views and interesting subjects; we must be in the picture as well.

So Picture City was put up by Eliseo Santos, erstwhile president of Camera World, and his family with some loyal colleagues, to indulge this picture-mania of Filipinos.

PC has now 60 company-owned branches in malls from Baguio to Davao. They choose to locate in malls because from their studies people tend to go to malls for their one-stop shopping, including printing of their pictures—maybe because of airconditioning and parking facilities.

Ronnie Almestas, vice president for operations of Picture City, says that their customers span the wide cross section of the economy, from A to Z, depending on the location of the branch. Their main customers are the Overseas Filipino Workers families. Ronnie says they have the disposable income (compared to the average working class) to spend on cellphones, digital cameras and related products. Many don't have their personal computers so they have their pictures developed and printed and send them to their working parents or siblings abroad. Every day, millions of Filipinos wanting to work abroad or renewing their contracts also require ID pictures for passport, visa and other travel documents.

But competition is rather fierce according to Ronnie. They are competing for the same pie. Since the income of OFWs was diminished (by at last 25%) because of the appreciation of the peso and depreciation of the dollar, their disposable income has considerably shrank.

Their second big customers are the yuppies and students who are very fond of group pictures whether there is an occasion or none at all (basta! Try mo.). Some of them can now also afford to buy inexpensive cameras like Taiwan-made Brica and Aipek whose price range is from Php4,000 to Php10,000. "Basta mayroon lang kaming digital camera."

OFWs prefer the high-end cameras like Canon, Olympus, Samsung, Pentax as they are familiar with these brands abroad. Also those who have "arrived" or salaried employees who have had promotions in position and pay tend to upgrade their camera to signal and "feel" their success. The few can-affords tend to go to trendy stores.

Ronnie says that even sales of their major products such as picture developing and printing, studio (ID, passport and portrait) and film, batteries, memory card, frames and albums have noticeably weakened. Developing and printing have declined because most customers now use digital camera and they store their pictures in computers and CDs and choose only a few for printing. Before, if they have a 12- or 36-shot film in their analog camera, they have no choice but to have everything printed because they could not see the pictures before developing.

Canon still makes analog cameras in limited number and so do small companies in Taiwan and Thailand. There are now also digital albums and home-printers like Canon Selpxy. Copies are more expensive, but people choose to print their own for convenience and instant printing—like the good old Polaroids.

In fact, Ronnie informs, Kodak has closed all their factories for film and paper except one big plant in China. Konika closed their film and paper factory a long time ago. Agfa is now only a brand to remember. Japan's Fuji and Mitsubishi are still operating but, in the future, these two companies need to go into cross production to survive. That is, one can do the paper and the other the finishing; solo factories are not profitable in the long run.

Ronnie cites a case in point is Picture City's branch in DasmariƱas, Cavite—expected to make a killing in film sales because it is in the provincial area. Years ago, it sold 3,000 rolls a month; now it is only selling about 600 rolls/month or 20 rolls a day and waning. Their branches in Manila are definitely only selling about ten rolls a day on a lucky day. Digital camera rules!

To increase per person consumption and keep their customers coming back, they offer very competitive prices and special promos. Moreover they are very finicky about quality of their printed pictures. Every morning and all throughout the day, they use only quality chemicals and follow set-up procedures by the book, no shortcuts. They also do spot checks and other management control processes.

Check them out. With a little prodding they can make you look like a movie star in your next ID picture.


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