Color processing as a home-based business for retirement

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by hidesert, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. hidesert

    hidesert Member

    Messages:
    67
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Location:
    Olympia, WA
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I'll be retiring in the next year or two. Color film processing, particularly E-6, is getting hard to find locally as minilabs go out of business. Presumably their old equipment is up for sale somewhere. I'm wondering if it would be a practical part-time business for my retirement. Are these machines a hassle to maintain? How do you handle the disposal of used chemical?

    I wouldn't have to make a lot of money but I also wouldn't want it to tie me down 5 or 6 days a week. I think I'd like to run it maybe three days in a row and offer a week turn-around time and cater to advanced amateurs.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

    Messages:
    2,057
    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Nicholasvill
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    As a business, there are a lot of Federal EPA codes, local and state regulations and licensing about using and disposing of chemicals used in photography. Don't forget OSHA, HAZMAT, and the IRS. Contact your local government to see what is required.
     
  3. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,440
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    What Greg said, plus local zoning and licensing for operating a business from the home.
     
  4. Moopheus

    Moopheus Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,110
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Especially anything that has dissolved metallic silver in it. You'll have to monitor that pretty closely. Years ago I worked for a magazine with an in-house prepress shop--traditional halftones and color separations. I had to take samples from the drains and have them lab-tested for silver, and the used chemistry was collected in special jugs and taken away by a commercial hazmat disposal company. Forms and reports to be filed. I had to make sure we had the proper safety equipment and notices available. It's manageable but a hassle. There may be zoning issues where you can have that sort of business.
     
  5. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

    Messages:
    2,057
    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Nicholasvill
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I think once you see how expensive it is just to be legal, you'll understand why these places can't stay open doing just a few rolls a week.
     
  6. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

    Messages:
    2,040
    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Shooter:
    35mm
    If you're going to offer a reliable business service with promised turn-around time, that will inevitably tie you down to some extent. Customers will expect this prompt turn-around, whatever your work-load at the time (which may vary with the season and other factors beyond your control), and you would also need to think how you would cover during your holidays and possible illness (even a few days in bed with flu!).

    The commitment is much higher than, say, a part-time job in employment where the hours and duties are fixed.
     
  7. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

    Messages:
    2,057
    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Nicholasvill
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I should also add that customers are demanding. I do my own C-41 now, but when I used a lab to do it, I would only use a lab that could provide me with the process control strip they ran that day. If they couldn't show me that, then their quality control was questionable and I would go elsewhere.

    Don't let my comments dissuade you from trying, just be aware of what you are getting into.
     
  8. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,963
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2009
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Run a replenished system.

    For anything you do need to throw out, like rinse water and chemicals (neutralise pH first), build a solar still and dump them in there, and collect the distilled water for mixing up more chems and rinsing, some of the chems you may not want to do that as some might distill over too (photoflo, formaldehyde (for old stabiliser), final rinse.. check what chems are volatile).

    Saves on water usage and what chems you need to throw out, you can scrape the dry stuff to throw out in the bin (if legal).

    I'd also invest in that silver magnet thing.
     
  9. Domin

    Domin Member

    Messages:
    204
    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2006
    Location:
    Warszawa, Po
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I do not think the replenished system makes sense. If there were enough of films to be processed in a replenished system there would be probably such lab still around.

    I'd go for a rotary processor - you can run different processes and formats in small batches as demanded. Chemistry used as one shot is probably only way to keep good quality at the volume you can expect.

    There is a guy in my city does precisely that - I got interested when the pro lab here closed down dip-and-dunk c41 processor. He does all processing once a week and charges extra for a run at other times. He does E6, C41, b&w (pyro cost extra), reversal b&w and some other funky things. Can't say much about the the quality as I only got done some of the funky stuff.
     
  10. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,963
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2009
    Location:
    Melbourne, V
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I dont have a problem with running replenished, I have been running 4-5 rolls a day, and sometimes leaving it for a week. But otherwise, my results are all consistent. I can trust it completely, and it is extremely cost effective, far greater value than one shot or one shot kits, though I would probably buy control strips if I were to offer a service.
     
  11. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

    Messages:
    2,411
    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2006
    Location:
    Van Buren, A
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    There's a big difference between processing for yourself, and doing it with machines for other people.
     
  12. patois

    patois Member

    Messages:
    78
    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2009
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I would tell you to put some feelers out and there and is what happens. However, I did work in a lab and some of the EPA regulations make running a c41 lab difficult. Advertise that you do it, even if you can't and see who responds.
     
  13. B&Wpositive

    B&Wpositive Member

    Messages:
    404
    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2007
    Shooter:
    35mm
    One thing I'm looking for, is someone who will run C-41 chemistry with the formalin stabilizer or yore. Why? I like to have film cross-processed. But generally when E6 is crossed into C-41, formaldehyde is not part of the processing, though it's needed for E6 film. Also, I still have older C-41 film in the freezer that requires the stabilizer with formaldehyde. No labs seem to offer this chemistry. If you were successful in creating such processing a business, I would potentially be a customer for such jobs that required that type of stabilizer if you were to use it.
     
  14. bwfans

    bwfans Member

    Messages:
    176
    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    How about buying a closed lab? Does those labs need to be reviewed according to EPA rules / regulations monthly, quarterly or annually?
     
  15. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,601
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If you were doing this twenty years ago it would have been a pretty risky way to invest your retirement money if you have never done any commercial lab work, in the current state of the film processing industry in the "digital age"it would be as reckless as founding a company making buggy whips.
     
  16. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,465
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If you are in a medium or big metro area, and can pick up a good processing machine for pennies on the dollar, I'd think it'd be an easy and fun low risk thing to try in your garage. E6 should be a lot less materials and work than printing color prints to go with negatives.
     
  17. AlbertZeroK

    AlbertZeroK Member

    Messages:
    540
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2011
    Location:
    Central Virg
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    This is VERY true. This is why, reguardless of your issue, it's a one to two day turn around for most support issues out of our IT office, we don't want people to get in the mood thinking we'll fix everything in minutes, or that everything can be fixed in minutes. They expect a one day turn around and expect to talk with my secretary and know while I'll call them back, it will be a few hours to a day.

    As for the business end, it will depend on what you can offer. If you were local, I'd bring my film to you if you were reasonably priced, for send away service, you have to worry about shipping cost. Personally, I'd love to see someone process my 120 and 220, do a proof scan, then let me select what frames I want high quality scans of. Do all the scanning and send me back film and scans and do it reasonably.
     
  18. Canuck Bob

    Canuck Bob Member

    Messages:
    23
    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2011
    Location:
    Calgary, AB,
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm just getting involved in film again. Processing hassles may drive me out just as quick. If I could find a service like you describe I would use it locally. It is an interesting argument that turn around is important. Yet people are happy to mail film across a continent for processing then wait on the postal service of two countries (I'm Canadian) for turnaround status. For me one of the charms of film is the outwitting of the digital age and powerful marketing forces that control our life. Big brother lives on Madison Avenue not in the White House.

    As a retirement business it is probably safe to say you are not concerned about your target market long term. If you are any good, and your business will disappear if your not, local shops will pass the word. I found decent labs in Calgary from the internet responses. The chemical issues would drive me crazy and need careful research. Also, without people like you wondering these things and acting on them when there plan is feasible film will disappear.

    One more point. All the people I know who have started retirement business' work harder than they ever have. The initial period will be 6 days a week to get established before you reach a point of sustainability. I'm old school about retirement, Babcock men die in harness, is my creed.

    Could you make as much developing in a hobby shop to a select group of shutterbugs, love that name. As long as you respect the planet and your safety it should be workable. A giant machine and 50 gallon barrels of chemicals is a different matter.
     
  19. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

    Messages:
    2,040
    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Agreed.

    I think the point which I tried to make earlier, which is largely being missed, and which applies to any successful business, retirement or otherwise, full or part-time, is the commitment needed to meet the expectations of customers. If the OP, as he proposes, offers a quality one-week turnaround, customers will expect just that, whether he has one or 1,000 films to do that week, whether he has a vacation booked for that week, or even if he has a bad cold and just wants to stay in bed.....

    There's a huge difference in doing anything as a hobby, with no time constraints, pressures, or anyone else to please, compared with doing the same thing as a business for outside customers.