Here’s some big news in Europe that hasn’t made a big splash in the US and has largely flown under our radar: the very day after Photokina, Tetenal announced that it’s in financial turmoil. Tetenal is one of the largest photochemical businesses in the world and produces chemicals for brands like Ilford and Kodak.
Due to some bad business practices from its suppliers, Tetenal is in a state of insolvency. The film resurgence is real, but it’s still in a very fragile state. Tetenal’s collapse could potentially decimate the film photography industry.
Marwan has been in direct contact with Tetenal and the information he provided in the interview is direct from Tetenal and not hearsay. Tetenal is in a state of insolvency. What does this mean? It’s not quite a bankruptcy, but the company is in a state in which it doesn’t have the cash flow to pay the bills.
How the heck did this happen? Well, unfortunately, suppliers were unable to deliver on their goods in a timely manner and Tetenal’s business customers pulled their orders. Like a bad date, Tetenal was dumped with a dinner tab it couldn’t pay.
In the past, when these situations occurred, businesses would get emergency loans to pay back once their inventory sold. But these are different times. Financial institutions are more reluctant to act in these situations and getting the funds are difficult. It’s very risky with very little guarantee the strategy is successful for both Tetenal and the banks.
What is the result? Similar to a bankruptcy, Tetenal’s management is going through a restructuring process and looking for new ways to generate revenue. Traditionally, Tetenal’s business model was B2B (Business to Business) by converting raw materials into chemicals that were then sold to large photo businesses. This is changing and Tetenal has an ace up its sleeve. It’s looking into expanding its direct-to-consumer business model, thus opening up the opportunity in delivering new ideas and resurrecting some old ideas.
Many forget that Tetenal has been in the photochemical business for 170 years. It has many recipes for developing processes long-forgotten that could fit today’s market. For example, in the days in which the press needed to get negatives to the news outlets quickly, they would use a portable ‘press kit’ to quickly develop the film. As the popularity of digital cameras quickly replaced the need for film cameras, these tablets were no longer needed and quickly forgotten.
As Tetenal is thinking of new ideas, it has realized that this product could possibly return in a new market: home developing. With successful Kickstarters for at-home developing like LAB-BOX, there is a stronger market for at-home developing. Using these at-home products and a simplified way for mixing chemicals, Tetenal may be positioned in quickly bringing back products once thought were no longer needed.
But this is just one idea. Tetenal wants to hear from the film community. It’s interested in crowdsourcing ideas for bringing innovation to its business-to-consumer (B2C) strategy. It’s asking the community to share our thoughts, and we can do that by using the hashtag #savetetenal or contacting Tetenal directly on their social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
— SilverPan Film Lab (@SilverPanLab) December 6, 2018
— vienna on film (@vienna_on_film) December 6, 2018
@TetenalUK I need a batch of colour film before it's worth buying a kit. Longer lasting/single/smaller/one shot use chems. C-41 costs £3.50 p/r so the kit needs to be cost effective for home dev's. Movie stock dev'ing chems as well. Developing services #savetetenal
— Stu Myers (@StuM35mm) December 6, 2018
Film photography is still a very fragile ecosystem. There are so few players still in the film photography business that those that remain really depend on each other. A domino effect could certainly take place if any of them collapsed. If one business as critical as Tetenal were to fail, we could see a global shortage in film processing chemicals and be left with rolls and rolls of latent images potentially facing the same demise as Kodachrome.
About the author: Bill Manning is the co-host of Studio C-41, a podcast about film photography. You can also connect with Studio C-41 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.