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Q&A: How Polaroid Fotobars help frame Polaroid?s mobile-age makeover

Polaroid Fotobar, a licensee of the Polaroid name, is expanding as an explosion of images on smartphone and tablets offer the latest route to a makeover for the iconic photography brand.

Seven micro-retail Polaroid Fotobars recently opened in Westfield Malls throughout California. The openings are part of Polaroid?s transition to a mobile strategy based on allowing consumers on a range of mobile products to personalize and print photos.

?Right now millions of people have billions of pictures stored on their mobile phone,? said Warren Struhl, founder and CEO of Polaroid Fotobar.  ?Polaroid Fotobar is trying to make it as easy as possible for people to take these pictures and turn them into real, lasting memories.? 

The new stores are opening through early November in Westfield mall locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose, CA.

Launched in 2012 Polaroid Fotobar lets customers instantly print pictures from wherever they live. Customers can display photos through custom frames, displays and photo products crafted from canvas, acrylic, metal, glass and bamboo.

Polaroid Fotobar locations also offer an array of Polaroid-branded products, including cameras.

Two years ago, Polaroid, whose invention of instant-film cameras was a mainstay of photography for 60 years, launched the Polamatic application, which worked on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices and was available for 99 cents from Apple?s App Store.

Consumers could either take pictures inside the app using their device?s camera or upload pictures from their photo album. Users could then choose from 12 different effects to give pictures an older, vintage look and could upload their creations via social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

In an interview, Mr. Struhl discussed how mobile and digital have changed the business models behind traditional print photography companies and the role of Polaroid Fotobars in helping Polaroid adapt to the mobile era.

Why is Polaroid Fotobar expanding? Why are the locations in California? Are there plans for a bigger rollout?

We have received great feedback from our traditional brick and mortar locations, but we know that the new smaller, inviting store layouts are something consumers will respond to. 

Framing photos in Polaroid Shadowboxes.

The California locations in Westfield malls are high-traffic malls in great geographic areas. Westfield is putting a lot of emphasis on immersive retail experiences in their common areas, which fits perfectly with our micro-retail offering. Our plan is to continue opening up further locations in 2015. 

What can customers expect to encounter when they visit a Fotobar?
Customers can browse the various options for creating Polaroid picture products that are displayed throughout our micro-retail location.

Then they sit down at the Fotobar in front of one our eight terminals, either upload pictures from their smartphone or access their Instagram or Facebook accounts, choose to create Polaroid pictures in three different sizes, personalize the picture captions if they would like, then have their Polaroid pictures printed out right at the Polaroid Fotobar, select a framing or display option, and leave with their instant product. 

They can also choose to create custom art products available in metal, acrylic, bamboo, canvas or framed prints, which typically take three days to create and can be shipped to the customer?s home. There is a "Fototender" there to help them every step of the way.

How does this move fit with Polaroid?s overall mobile strategy?
We are committed to providing the best possible mobile experience. The entire in-store experience is designed and optimized for mobile platforms. 

What does this move say about how Polaroid has re-invented itself for the mobile age while other formerly traditional camera brands are lagging?
More pictures were taken last year than all of history combined. We have been able to re-invent ourselves and tap into a behavior where everyone is a photographer today. For most of our customers this starts with their smart phones. 

An avenue into the hearts of mobile shutterbugs. 

We have empowered them to liberate those photos trapped on their iPhones or Android phones and turn them into memorable, long lasting, real Polaroid pictures and products. 

What kind of mobile-marketing campaigns do you have planned for this expansion? Where can people find any mobile ads you plan to have?
We are in discussions with several firms to better understand both geo-targeted campaigns, in-mall campaigns and beacon technology.

Final Take

Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.