Word on the street is that Eastman Kodak is preparing to file for bankruptcy. The company is massively in debt and has run out of ways to generate income. They are trying to establish themselves into the home printer business, but other companies have a much stronger foothold in that particular market.
Kodak spends hundreds of millions a year on healthcare and pension benefits for retirees. If they go through bankruptcy, they may be able to lessen that cost. The pensions would be secured by the U.S. government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The retiree healthcare would not be protected and the bankruptcy court could allow Kodak to get out of its obligation to provide health care to retired workers.
I used to work in the photofinishing industry. First in a large central processing lab as a repair tech and then as a field engineer for Gretag, a Swiss company that made photofinishing equipment. I traveled around the eastern United States installing and repairing photofinishing equipment, mainly photo printers.
Gretag went out of business years ago, and rightfully so. To say Gretag wasted money is an understatement. They once sent me to Hannibal, Missouri to watch a guy replace a mini-lab wash tank at a Walgreen drugstore. I didn’t work on mini-labs. My boss had me go there simply because he didn’t have anything else for me to do that week.
It’s impossible to work in the photofinishing industry and not have any interactions with Kodak. They, under the name Qualex, owned most of the large central photofinishing labs in the country.
I was with Gretag when they purchased Kodak’s CLAS wholesale photographic printer business. Gretag sent me and five other lucky people to Rochester for a month of training on the CLAS printer. The former Kodak engineers training us weren’t very excited to all of a sudden to be working for Gretag, not that I could blame them.
The CLAS printer was an awful machine to work on. They were constantly breaking down. The only reason Kodak was able to sell them was that they owned most of the photo labs in North America. They also practically gave them away to other labs so that these labs would be forced to purchase Kodak paper. Every sale of a CLAS printer came with a contract for photo paper.
Gretag didn’t sell photo paper, so perhaps owning a line of printers designed to help sell paper wasn’t the wisest business decision.
I left Gretag in 1999. I wish I could say I left because I could foresee that film-based photography was on the way out. That wasn’t the reason. I just got sick of the needless, stupid travel. The night I woke up in my hotel room and couldn’t remember what city I was in, I knew then it was time to start looking for a new job.