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Jackson company focused on high-tech and customer service

Photo Images looking sharper with new technology

For Photo Images Inc., the strategy has been pretty simple: utilize state-of-the-art technology and focus on customer service by offering high quality images and employees. Customer service and personnel were the very first places Don Vanlandingham made major changes when he was brought in as a consultant.

“Our philosophy is to help our customers do, whatever it is they do, better,” said Vanlandingham, who now serves as president of Jackson-based Photo Images. “We don’t supervise people here. So, the first thing we look for in an employee is dedication. We don’t baby sit. We give people the tools to do the job then let them do it.”

It’s the arrival of new “tools” that currently has everyone buzzing at Photo Images. With a history of staying a step ahead in the race for photographic superiority, the company has recently brought in new weapons to the arsenal giving them an edge in both customer service and quality.

Photo Images was founded in 1981 by Chip Bowman. It offers photographic imaging for non-commercial and commercial customers including professional photographers and advertising agencies, and serves business and industry with the design and production of promotional materials such as back-lit graphics and trade show booths. Photo Images has been particularly successful in airport-based advertising and promotional material, and today employs 19.

Over its history, the company has created a track record of embracing the newest technology before its competition. For example, it established a Web presence (www.pisite.com) way back in 1993. And in 1995, it was one of the first to bring in the best in digital processing of its day — inkjet.

While inkjet offered the highest quality available, it has a few minuses. It is not a true photographic process. It is, as its name implies, ink sprayed on paper by minute nozzles. Thus, control by the processor is somewhat limited, and longevity is also an issue. Water, sunlight, creases and scratches spell doom for an inkjet-produced image.

“What we needed was technology that offered a marriage of digital imaging with a true photographic process,” said Mitch Wolverton, Photo Images’ lab manager. “That’s what we have now.”

What Photo Images has are Cymbolic Sciences’ Lightjet and Fujifilm’s Frontier 370 Digital Minilab, which arrived last year in August and November, respectively. Both offer the highest-quality digital imaging available today, can accept data from a multitude of different media and have seemingly endless applications.

The Frontier offers digital processing for mainly non-commercial use. Relatively small — looking like a hybrid computer/scanner — the machine can digitally convert all types of conventional film, prints (even instamatics), as well as accept floppies, CDs, smart cards from digital cameras and zip discs. The machine may be accessed in Photo Images lobby, but, via an on-premise Web server, customers can e-mail their images in and get them back without leaving home or office.

The Lightjet is the Frontier machine on steroids. Weighing 4,600 pounds and almost eight feet long, the Lightjet can produce images of up to 50 inches by 100 inches with a resolution of 406 dots per inch (d.p.i.), far superior to inkjet’s maximum capability.

Other advantages of the new technology are that its a true photographic process. Control over the image, therefore, is limited only by imagination or taste. Because it’s not sprayed-on ink, images have a life expectancy of 80 years and more. And the machines are far more effective and efficient, saving time and labor.

The last mentioned should be especially appreciated by its customers. Any savings in time means money to the buyer.

“With the inkjet, you had to stand there and watch it continuously,” Wolverton said. “I can load up the Lightjet and go home. You don’t have to stand over it, and it’s much faster than our old inkjet system. So, that savings is passed on to the customer.”

Wolverton and Van Landingham jumped on the new technology the first time they saw it at a trade show in Las Vegas. They saw the competitive advantage. According to the men, the nearest place with this system is Atlanta, and Orlando is the only other city they have found in the U.S. that has both machines in-house.

Still on its customer service bent, Photo Images has new services planned. It will soon be offering classes on digital photography and also plans to offer a workstation where a person can come in and rent the company’s state-of-the-art software and hardware for processing images and/or to “test-drive” the system.

The company’s also excited about new, Web-based applications, such as creating a password-protected folder for a customer at Photo Images’ Web site, allowing access to only him or others of the his choosing. The parties could then choose which images they liked, order them from the company and receive them anywhere worldwide.

“We’re coming up with ideas for new applications all the time,” Vanlandingham said. “We’re very excited about tomorrow.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

About Wally Northway

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