BUSINESS FEATURE: Contact Photo on the move

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
January 28th, 2010

Big changes are happening for businesses on Market Ave. in Grand Forks – Value Drug Mart is taking on the photo business. Contact Photo that is. As Bill and Sandra Wilby take their next steps towards retirement after 27 years running their successful photography store, Carol and Dave Lajoie are excited to be moving Contact Photo into their store to expand the services they offer. The change of hands, a process which started in the summer of 2009, will officially take place by Feb. 1, so as people cruise around downtown, look for Contact Photo in its new location at Value Drug.

Carol Lajoie says that the service is a great fit for their store especially with their interest in photography and scrapbooking. “We’re really excited about the opportunity. Just everything about it fits,” said Lajoie. “Dave in particular has a passion for photography, and, of course, we’ve had the scrapbooking section here for 10 years now. It’s pretty common to have photo departments in drug stores now, so it all works.”

Although Bill and Sandy are moving on, Bill is continuing as an employee for Value Drug for one year as the business transitions to the new location. “We wouldn’t have done it without that because we know how key Bill has been to that business, and his expertise is unmatched in this community,” said Carol. “We wanted to tap into that and learn as much as we can from him.”

Carol said that they are developing key employees who will be working in the photo lab department and be trained by Bill. New faces include Rebecca Fogg who worked for Contact Photo in the past. “As far as the customers go,” said Lajoie, “the only change is really location. We will be offering all the exact same services that Contact offered in the past, the difference being the location and that it will be open longer hours now.”

The frame sales, camera sales, and other gift items will still be available in the new location and Carol hopes to expand on the scrapbooking products they currently have available. There will be two self-serve photo kiosks and they will still run the wet lab developing services for those still printing from film for the short term.

“What Bill’s excited about, and what we’re excited about, is the idea of expanding our scrapbook club. We’d like to turn that into a bigger event and have a photography club. So Bill’s quite excited that he’ll have more time to actually focus on some of that stuff. With more resources we hope to do more education,” explained Lajoie.

While Bill will be staying with the store, Sandy is planning for her time off. “I’m going to go visit my mom!” said Sandy. “I’m semi-retired and it feels great! I’m looking forward to get into things I put aside for 30 years. I really want to get back to art – hand to paper not the computer!”

It really is a closure for the Wilby’s even though the business will live on. Bill reflected on the 27 year run for Contact Photo and the constantly changing, evolving business they created. He sees this new move as just another step along the evolution for photo labs.

“From day one you always look at change and how to move on. I always felt that to get out of business successfully is difficult,” explained Bill. “We decided we didn’t want to get bigger, and a business like this, in this market, needs to be either a lot bigger or contained within something else. Sandy and I have been doing everything ourselves for the last two years and its not easy. So I’ve been looking for ways out.”

Part of what prompted the Wilbys to sell the business was the opportunity to sell the building – no, it won’t be an empty storefront but that is for another story. The other part has been the vision to be retired, or semi-retired. “Under Foto-source I go to meetings with other shareholders, and I’m one of the youngest there,” said Bill. “I just saw another member just close his store due to age and health. He’s probably losing money doing that. And I didn’t want to be in that situation.”

For the Wilbys the change is just a transition and the chance to successfully see the service continue beyond their retirement. “Drug stores and photo departments are common – case in point London Drugs, one of the most successful photo department chains in Western Canada,” said Bill. “Its important to me that I’m going to be there for continuity between what has been and what will be happening in the future.”

The Wilbys will be developing their Nice Card business online over the next year creating art cards printed on fine art paper. While it is another business venture, it will give them time to travel and relax with lower demands on their time.

“This has been a family business so Sandy and I could work together while we raised our children. We’ve enjoyed doing it. But change is important. There’s definitely some sadness about it, lots of people have shared that with us. But I know things needs to keep changing to keep strong. And I’ve seen too many other businesses that can’t change and they disappear. To me that is sadder – when something closes up and is just gone,” said Bill.

Check out the new location starting Feb. 1 at Value Drug Mart.

Categories: General