DURHAM, N.C. — Sadly, a classic case of the horse-and-buggy industry being replaced by the Model T is taking place before our very eyes in the Bull City.
Qualex, once a high-profile venture of Eastman Kodak that employed several hundred people and deployed the latest photo-developing technology, is about to close virtually all its doors.
The culprit? Not lack of quality. Not lack of performance. Not processing technology.
No, the killer of Qualex is digital imaging.
The Skinny contacted Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, N.Y., Thursday after hearing that Qualex was shutting down operations in March and laying off its Durham headquarters work force. The response came shortly thereafter – the rumors were actually fact. The reason? Qualex simply isn’t profitable any more, and Kodak, struggling with its own financial woes, isn’t about to keep around a subsidiary that isn’t making money.
As the world has gone digital, the days of film cameras, film and the processing labs to make slides and turn negatives into prints are simply over. As so many industries have experienced before, the picture world has reached a tipping point – and the old jobs needed to support the old industry are disappearing.
In addition to 100 jobs at the headquarters, Qualex is shuttering its last three regional labs and laying off 200 people.
Technology hastened the demise of Qualex in other ways. All those processing mini-labs at just about every drug store certainly helped. Why ship away film when customers could get prints in an hour? And why ship off negatives or precious prints for copying or enlargement when scanners made an 8 x 10 enlargement as easy as cooking a microwave dinner – without the mess?
Kodak certainly is trying to adapt to digital demands, as it explained in this key passage from the Qualex announcement:
“Kodak earlier this year introduced the Kodak Adaptive Picture Exchange (APEX) digital lab system that enables retailers to make prints without water or chemicals. Kodak also has an industry-leading 95,000 Kodak picture kiosks at locations worldwide and an innovative line of home inkjet printers that was recently expanded, as well as the Kodak Gallery on-line photo service. [A Kodak executive] also noted that for consumers who use film, many retail locations offer on-site, one-hour processing service.”
Qualex isn’t shutting down entirely. An operation offering special photography and services at resorts and amusement parks will stay open with some 50 people keeping jobs in Durham. But by March all the other jobs will be gone.
What’s the lesson to be learned from the demise of Qualex? If you work for a company involved in a technology that is being replaced and your company can’t adopt to those changes, freshen up the resume and go to school to learn a new trade.
Otherwise you will show up at the buggy factory only to find the doors locked and your career gone bye-bye.