Hey, All I Wanted was to Have My Film Developed....

A Tale of Woe; My Experience with Qualex and (by association) Kodak

  It's my understanding that Mr. George Eastman (1854-1932), an avid photographer, founder of Kodak, invented the first consumer camera in 1888, calling it the Kodak. The camera came pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures. Take the pictures, return the camera to Kodak, they'll process your film, print your photos, and reload your camera. Mr. Eastman coined the phrase, "You press the button, we do the rest."  What a marvelous invention. Mr. Eastman made it possible for all folks to record their family histories and document important events in their lives. Well, I pressed the button and things went downhill from there. None of what follows should in any way be construed as being disrespectful of Mr. Eastman. Also, none of what follows should be taken in any way as a general condemnation of all the employees of Kodak or Qualex. I am sure that there are many hard working and knowledgeable folks employed by both organizations.

   Well, this story of frustration and absurdity goes back to approximately 1999. The first time I made an effort to get things straightened out was October 2000.   I guess Iím getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
  I joined the Price Club/Costco about 1999. The primary reason was for cheap film processing. Though I was never consistent in the amount of film shot, Iíve had months of 30-plus rolls. Costco charges about four bucks for a roll of thirty-six. A pretty good deal, and by and large they did a decent job. Of course, there was the occasional screw- up, scratched negatives, spots on the prints and so onÖbut, considering the four bucks, it was a real deal.
  Anyway, my ordeal began when I started using Kodak T400CN black and white film. As some of you may know, black and white made a resurgence a few years back and Kodak came out with films that are processed right along with color film. Yep, T400CN, Black plus White, and the latest, Portra black and white, all use C-41 processing. Yes, this is the same process using the same chemicals as color negative film.
  I'm pretty sure that Ilford was the first company to offer this type of film, a black and white chromogenic. They started, I think, with XP-1. Since then they have improved their film and I believe their latest is XP-2 Super. Kodak followed them, then Konica I believe, and just recently Fuji came out with their version. The appeal of this type of film is low-cost processing and the ability to use any one-hour lab. Traditional black and white film processing cost about $20 and of course you sure can't get it back in one hour. There are other advantages to chromogenic film; one being that you can get decent prints exposing the film from about 50 to 800. Anyway, back to my story.
  The first couple of rolls I sent off were sent back to me with a sticker on the film envelope saying that they, Qualex (my understanding is that Qualex is wholly-owned by Kodak), didnít offer black and white processing. Telephone calls did no good. It was like I was speaking a different languageÖor they were.

  This is an example of my calls to the lab.......

  "Hi, you sent my Kodak T400CN film back saying that black and white service is not available."
  "That's right, we don't develop black and white film."
  "You process all of the color film using C-41, right? And, right here on the film canister it says process C-41. So, since you use this process why can't you develop my film?"
  "Well, we don't develop black and white film."
  "On the Kodak web site it says right there....can be processed right alongside color film."
  "Well, but we don't process black and white film."
  "OK. Kodak makes this film. They say that it has to be processed C-41. They further say that it can be processed just like any color film; in fact, they specifically state that it can be processed with color film. So, what do I have to do to get my Kodak film processed?"
  "I don't know."

  I mean folks, think about this for a minute. Kodak spent money developing (no pun) this film (black and white C-41), promoting it, and marketing itÖ. and, then when you send it to them they say they donít process it. Joseph Heller would be envious.   Anyway, I then drafted a letter.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
  Enclosed please find a roll of Kodak T400CN film. This is a black and white film designed to be processed C-41 alongside regular color film. In fact, this film must be processed C-41. Please, please, process this film. Yes, I realize that sometimes there may be a slight tint to the prints...a little green or blue or what-have-you. I understand this and am requesting you process my film. Please do not send it back unprocessed.
(I sent along my home and work phone numbers.)

  This I sent along with the film. Yep, youíre right. They sent my film back with a sticker saying black and white service not available. Period. No phone call. Nothing.
  Well, I decided to do battle with them when they sent back my PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) ladies film. Yes, the PETA ladies were having a demonstration and I shot three rollsÖand they were sent back the same way. Service not available; however, they did develop the film. Yes, service not available but here are your negatives. Hmmm.

For more of the PETA ladies see link at bottom of this page...

  I then made my first call to the Qualex corporate office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Yes, I know the ladyís name but there is no sense in mentioning it here. Anyway, canít remember what her title is, but basically she handles all customer relations (complaints?) for Qualex. She was quite personable and professional. I explained the situation. She gave me the name of the manager of the Fayetteville lab (I wonít mention his name either) and told me to send the negatives to him. Yes, she had talked to him about my ďproblem.Ē My problem????
  Sooooooo, off the negatives go to him. Yes, they were sent to his attention...I knew now that everything would be OK. Hey, just a slight misunderstanding. Some time later I get my negatives and prints back. They processed them. Hmmm. But, guess what? Hereís the note they sent with them.

Note from the Fayetteville Qualex lab....

  Yes, folksÖone more time. Kodak owns Qualex. Obviously, Kodak wants you to buy Kodak film and send it to Qualex. Kodak makes Kodak T400CN film so that we can have our black and white photos processed anywhere color film is processed. I buy the film. I send it to Qualex. Qualex sends it back saying they donít process it. I bring this to the attention of the consumers' relation person at the corporate office. She calls the lab manager and tells him my problem. Iím told to send the film to the lab manager. I do and get this note. "...Costco...do not print black and white film...we have printed a...set of prints for you." Is this some kind of esoteric paradox that few can understand? We don't print black and white but here is a set of black and white prints???? Hmmmm.
  Some of you might be saying about this time. Hey, why didnít you take your film elsewhere? Good question. A couple reasons. One, I work just a couple minutes from Costco...so, itís convenient to drop off and pick up film on the way to work or the way home. Secondly, hey...I joined Costco so I could get cheap film developing. And, hey, Kodak. I ain't asking for nuthin' special, am I? Just develop my film.
  Sooooooooooo, I plug along. Over the next six, eight, ten months I have this ongoing struggle. Finally, they start to develop the film without my having to send it back. But, then they start overcharging me. Yes, at first I didnít even realize it. Picked up the film, got in checkout line, and when it was rung up I realized Iíd been overcharged. I then started checking the prices when I picked up the film and the folks at Costco would call the lab. Hey, they got the same business, talking to folks who had no idea of what was going on. Soooo, over the next few months Iíd be charged $6, $8, or $12. Yep, seemingly no rhyme or reason to it; same film, same number of exposures. Then they again start sending the film back to me without prints; sometimes they sent the negatives, sometimes they sent the film back unprocessed. This went on for months (thankfully, during this time, I wasn't using that much black and white). Unfortunately I had a computer glitch that erased my copies of e-mails sent to the corporate office. I sent at least 30 messages, this in addition to fifteen or so phone calls. Anyway, to shorten this tale of woe, I finally gave up. I sent a list of all the overcharges and asked for a refund. Yes, I threw in the proverbial towel.
  Actually, what happened is a Samís Club opened. Samís uses Fuji processing. Did you catch that, FUJI. Before signing on with Sam's I called the Fuji processing lab.
  "Of course weíll process your Kodak black and white C-41 film."
  And they did. And they are. Send it off, and it comes back processed. Just like it's supposed to happen. Fuji. Who would have thunk it???
  After 10/12 months or so I still hadnít gotten my refund from Qualex after sending the lady in Charlotte an itemized list of all of the overcharges. Yes, the envelope numbers and the amounts. I never heard from her. Finally, about eight or ten months ago I called her. She said she didnít remember getting the information about the overcharges, sooooooooooooo, I sent her a copy of the original e-mail that had all the information (this just before the computer glitch). I have yet to hear from her.
  Thatís why I decided to have this web page. If my computer hadnít had the glitch and erased all the e-mail copies, I would have posted some of them. But, Iím sure the lady remembers me.
  Let's see. Over a period of a few years I spent several hours on the phone, several hours writing e-mails, a couple of hours with the Costco folks locally trying to get things sorted out, a couple of hours of wasted time shuttling envelopes back and forth to Fayetteville, a couple of hours messing with this web page, and I'm out about forty or so bucks in overcharges. Also, I am no longer a member of Costco...so they lost about $2,800 a year in sales. But, hey...Sam's now has that $2,800...and, instead of being able to stop by Costco on my way to and from work...I now drive about 15 miles to get to Sam's.
  So folks, thatís my tale.
  Let the buyer beware.
  A couple of days ago I heard that Kodak had layed-off about 15,000 employees. I felt no glee at all as I can imagine few things worse than losing your job. In fact, I wouldn't even want the folks in Fayetteville to lose theirs. But, if my experience is any indication of how Kodak is run, it's a wonder the whole company doesn't go down the tubes.
  January 25, 2004

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