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SPOA Partner Profile: Ark-La-Tex Lab

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Full-service volume photography lab Ark-La-Tex Color Lab – now also known as “The Lab” - has roots going back to the 1960s, when Dottie and Paul Miller started a lab in 1968 to support their portrait studio, according to Christi Smith, owner. Her parents, Dewey and Gail Hitt, began working as teenagers in the lab, eventually purchasing the business in 1987.

Despite intentions of going to college, Smith stayed with Ark-La-Tex Color Lab to learn the business. “I thought, there's nothing they can teach me that my mom can’t teach me. That's where it started. I just started working in nearly every area of the business (except for IT). There's not much more in this place that I haven't done over my lifetime.”

Smith approached her parents in late 2009 to by the business from them, and took possession in June, 2010. Around that time, the silver-halide to digital transition was well underway, and Ark-La-Tex made the full commitment to digital within a decade.

Christi Smith, owner, Ark-La-Tex

“We are now totally out of the silver halide market,” recalls Smith. “We bought our first HP Indigo and were doing part of our production on it and the other part we still had our silver halide machines.” Like many labs at that time, Ark-La-Tex struggled getting photographic paper from a major supplier and committed to going 100% digital.

The conversion wasn’t without its challenges, says Smith, noting that silver-halide was a proven process that still worked well: “We took a perfectly put-together process and dumped it out, picked it back up and figured out how to do it better and more efficiently. There were a lot of learning curves.” Operations have been going so well Ark-La-Tex added a second Indigo this year.

Smith has shared some of their experiences with the digital transition with other labs: “We were able to help them with the processes we learned and mistakes that we learned from. I believe in helping people; that's what we're all here and on earth to do.”

Ark-La-Tex focuses on volume photography and offers a full suite of output products, including Chromaluxe, ID cards, etc., plus specialized services like data entry, cropping and individual color correction. “We are a full-service lab where we can take work straight in and it goes straight to print or you can provide us a bag of stuff and we make it happen.”

Today, Ark-La-Tex keeps the family feeling going among its 28 employees. Smith proudly talks about the many family members working there, many with more than 15 years of experience. That family feeling extends to the customers, too.

“I believe photographers use us because of the care and the attention that we provide to them,” she says “They're not just a number. They can call and talk to me directly if they have a problem.”

Operating now as a national presence, the company has been using the name “The Lab” a bit more, as opposed to Ark-La-Tex, which Smith admits can be hard to pronounce for some customers.

Smith has been active with SPOA because she believes in the association’s mission, especially nurturing the next generation of school photographers. She is especially interested in giving back, as seen at the recent SPOA conference: “There is so much sharing of information between the attendees. Nobody feels threatened there. People are open to help each other. The relationships that we've been able to build in the SPOA environment have allowed us to drop our walls, become friends and help each other because we're all doing the same thing. It's been really cool to watch.”

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