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DDI Magazine

Fine print

By Erin M. Loewe
May 31, 2013

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Photo: Jill Erwich Photography, Delray Beach, Fla.
Warren Struhl, founder and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Fotobar LLC, estimates that 1.5 billion digital photos are taken each day. But, while the idea of uploading large photo files onto a website and figuring out how to edit and print them in an attractive display may be the idea of a good time for some, it is clear that the process of “liberating” treasured photos is quite onerous to the general population.

Thus, the idea for Polaroid Fotobar was born. It was this increasingly common regret of not having more tangible photos that was his inspiration for Fotobar, Struhl says. “A few years ago, I saw these great photos on people’s phones, and when I asked if those photos existed outside of their phones, they would usually say ‘no,’” he explains. “There seemed to be a disconnect to printing it out online, so I thought [the] only way to do it was in a retail setting.”

As the first of at least 10 locations, the inaugural 2,000-sq.-ft.-store opened March 1 in Delray Beach, Fla., at an upscale lifestyle center called Delray Beach Marketplace. Designed to make the process of transforming prized digital photos into treasured works of art fun and easy, customers can work with trained “phototenders” at the bar to ensure quality control, and to customize and order their prints.

Offset with a dropped ceiling, the bar is lined with nine high-resolution monitors with articulating arms, so that they can be easily viewed. Photos can be pulled from smartphones, email or any variety of social media accounts to be transformed onto different mediums, including canvas, wood, acrylic, bamboo and metal. These are created at Fotobar’s factory in Boca Raton, and shipped within 72 hours.

“We’ve got a brand and a history of 75 years of innovation, and while we’ve launched brands over the years, this is the first bricks-and-mortar retail presence we’ve had,” says Scott Hardy, president and CEO of Minnetonka, Minn.-based PLR IP Holdings LLC (parent company of Polaroid). “It’s not just about selling products, it’s about offering service. The online process is so clunky, so we think having stores will open up a new paradigm and new opportunities for us.”

The store is clean and bright—a space meant to showcase the many creations available from Fotobar. For the design, Fotobar partnered with Coconut Grove, Fla.-based P2 Interiors LLC and Boca Raton-based RIS Design LLC.

P2 Interiors developed the design, layout, renderings and fixtures for the project. “We really wanted a store that was clean, modern and easy to navigate,” explains Ponch Herrera, owner of P2 Interiors.

The store’s lighting is practical, yet also complementary to the products it showcases. “The ceiling has a recessed LED strip light that leads to the photo wall at the back of the store and also helps move people through the store,” Herrera says. “The strategic positioning of the lighting contributes to the clean and simple environment.”

Warren Struhl’s wife, Robin Struhl, owner and principal of RIS Design, says she wanted to create a space evocative of an art gallery. A bench sits in front of the canvases between the two retail tables, which house some classic Polaroid cameras encased in glass. “We wanted the store to be a conversation piece, so that people could feel like they were walking into an experience,” Robin Struhl says.

She adds that the biggest challenge was trying to merchandise all of the SKUs that Fotobar has to offer. “Our goal was to have customers see and touch everything, but with limited space, we had to figure out the best way to display [it all] so it didn’t look overwhelming,” she says. “Using the computers in conjunction with the wall works out really well, so people can understand what we are offering them.”

Originally, the store was all white with an espresso tile floor, but Robin Struhl says at the very last minute, she decided to make a change. “I was standing around looking at a sea of white, so I decided to paint [the] Polaroid wall black about four days before we opened,” she says. The Polaroid wall also features a cork board covered in a mass of 3-in.-by-4-in. iconic “logo frame” prints with an LCD screen that scrolls current store activities.

At the back of the store behind the black wall, a white sliding door leads to a studio area, where Fotobar can hold classes and host special events. The space includes different backdrops and a green screen area where people can shoot and superimpose to different background types. Hardy says this feature will likely be in most future Fotobar stores, including upcoming locations in Las Vegas, New York and Boston.  

“Fotobar also will have a part where local photographers are partners and will display [their work] in-store and inspire creativity with customers,” Hardy says. “It’s all about liberating treasured images to give to grandparents or friends.”