WESTFIELD, NJ - The new "Face Place" photo booth begins field testing this month with production scheduled for February. Face Place LLC, the company manufacturing the photo booth under license from Polaroid, is headed by industry veteran Gene Lipkin. He expects the photo machine to create a new level of customer satisfaction, operator flexibility and profit opportunity.
The photo booth offers today's patrons a novel mixture of nostalgic retro visual appeal and cutting-edge technology. It allows customers to buy a strip of four different black and white photographs, each 2 ins. square, similar in look and feel to the classic "four-for-a-quarter" photo booths of the 1950s. The company plans to add color capability in the near future. The booth itself is constructed of rugged steel materials , built for the toughest locations , and is styled to look like a giant digital camera.
The original "Face Place" was introduced by Polaroid Corp three decades ago, to capitalize on the popularity of its new "SX70" integral film. Self-developing and self-timing, the "SX70" material did not require users to pull the exposed film through the camera's rollers, time the development and then peel the pack apart. The consumer "SX70" camera was supplied with film in 10-sheet packs, and the film packs included batteries that powered the camera's print ejection mechanism. "Face Place" used similar packs, but without the batteries, as it operated on mains power. "Face Places" were installed in such prestigious sites as the 86th floor of New York City's Empire State Building, and they enjoyed long earnings life in high-traffic sites.
Recognizing changes in the coin-op amusements business, particularly the decline in the video game dynamic, and to a lesser extent the slowdown in the redemption category, Lipkin believes a new photo booth company again can provide earnings solutions for operators and locations. "I'm getting back in the business with a product that will give value to the 'food chain'," he told VT. "It must work for everybody: the operator, the location, the consumer and ourselves as a factory."
"Face Place" will roll out at a cost of $5,495 to the operator. It will be supported by aggressive marketing by the manufacturer to aid in placing and promoting the new machine. Face Place will introduce the unit with no-money down financing to accelerate placement.
The "Face Place" hardware and software systems are dedicated to the photo booth application. A CPU powered by an Intel "386EX1" embedded processor controls the booth's operation. While compatible with the ubiquitous "x86" Intel processor family, this particular processor is optimized for real-time embedded applications, and does not require "rotating" offline memory from hard disks or CD-ROM drives. The software resides completely in "flash" memory running under "MS-DOS."
Additionally, the company designed a customized input/output board that contains the digital camera, along with a separate programmable controller that performs the associated photograph-with- printing functions. The I/O board also generates speech, providing the user with audio prompts. And it controls ambient lighting, strobe flash and user visual prompts. It also supports crediting devices, and provides system audits and diagnostics.
The result Lipkin, pointed out, is a photo booth that can capture and print a high-quality image in 16 seconds, which he regards as the fastest vend cycle on the market. The design also minimizes system failures and reset issues, more common on models running under a "Windows" operating environment.
"Face Place" employs print technology deployed under a worldwide exclusive agreement with Polaroid. Equipped with dual printers that hold two paper rolls, each capable of producing 400 four-image strips, the photo booth eliminates "end-of-roll" issues. It also puts 800-strip high capacity on location.
"We came up with a fail-safe print solution," Lipkin noted. "Our goal was to find and develop technical solutions for all photo booth applications'for street locations, site-based entertainment and the growing rental and events business. Its fast 16-second throughput addresses the needs of operators, and will advance the category itself."
Lipkin developed an equally attractive business model for the new "Face Place." In addition to designing a machine that will sell for under $6,000, Face Place will market its media for $200 a roll (400 4x2x2 images). At a suggested vend price of $2, each vend can earn $1 profit when subtracting the standard 25% location commission. Media sales, of course, will allow the factory to be a part of the ongoing revenue stream. Lipkin said that the company also can match operators with locations.
Additionally, Face Place will be developing various promotions and branding opportunities to help open up new locations. The photo booths will be equipped with MEI validators that accept coupons, as well as bills, to support a wide variety of marketing initiatives.
A team of seasoned engineers and designers, whose experience dates back three decades to when Lipkin ran Atari, developed "Face Place's" proprietary technology. "The development team understands what the level of acceptability and quality is for a coin-op product," observed Lipkin, who serves as president and chief executive. International banker Steven Hirth, Argus Advisors, has partnered with Lipkin on the project. And Steve Epstein, founder of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association and operator of New York City's fabled Broadway City Arcade, recently joined the company in a customer service and marketing capacity.
Face Place is headquartered at 425 North Ave. East, Westfield, NJ 07090; tel. (908) 233-4373; fax (908) 233-4898; faceplacephoto.com. Gene Lipkin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.