One retailer that is leading the way with a new digital business plan is Jeff Goulston of Camera Stop in Plano, TX. At a time when some independent photo retailers are frightened by the digital future, Goulston's plan is fully embracing it. Camera Stop's offerings are strictly 100% digital. No film cameras and no film processing!
"Well, that's not entirely true'we do have one rack of film," Goulston chuckles. "I got tired of sending customers over to the grocery store two doors down to buy film."
After leaving his job as a technology consultant in the computer industry, Goulston started doing research for the store in December 2002. After many months of planning and after attending PMA 2003, he found that nobody had a store offering strictly digital products and services.
"The concept of the store was born out of my own frustration after acquiring a digital camera a few years ago," explains Goulston. "I had some questions about the product, and after going to a couple of consumer electronics stores and some camera specialty stores in the area, I found most of the salespeople lacked knowledge in the digital space.
"With my love of photography and knowledge of computers I felt we could provide something to the community that was not available," he continues. "So as we started to put together the business plan, we found through our research that the film community was being served rather well by existing establishments'but there really wasn't much in our area for the budding digital photographer. At first people thought I was crazy entering this business. But there was nobody in this area servicing the needs of the digital photographer from capture to output and everything in between. We jumped on that niche, and we're doing a good job. That's why we're still here more than a year later. In order for specialty retailers to survive today and move forward, they are going to have to be computer literate in the digital world."
Goulston opened Camera Stop in the fall of 2003 with the knowledge that his family-run shop would have to go head-to-head with discounters, drugstores, electronics chains and specialty stores to win the digital business. Direct competition in the area includes two Wal-Marts, a Wolf's superstore, a Best Buy, a Circuit City and a Costco.
In a part of the country where big-box retailers dominate, Goulston's 1,300-square-foot store in Plano has the feel of a small mom-and-pop business'he and his wife, Lauren, are even sometimes joined at work by their dog. But while Camera Stop is just a one-store location, Goulston's digital services and knowledgeable salespeople give the impression that they are part of a big chain.
"If you give the impression that you look like a chain store, you'll be treated as such," Goulston says. "Our employees wear Camera Stop shirts with our logo on them. Everything in our store comes across as professional. Many people who come into the store think we are a chain."
Camera Stop carries a wide selection of digital cameras from photographic companies such as Canon, Nikon, Konica Minolta, Pentax and Olympus. "We don't carry any cameras from the consumer electronics space," he says. "This allows us to provide 'photographic' expertise to the consumer. We offer the customer everything from digital capture to output."
Drawing from his background, his store also specializes in computers. "We are a systems integrator," he says. "We manufacture computers that are specifically optimized for doing Photoshop and models specifically for other digital photographic applications. Color management and monitor calibration are also major issues today. We offer a service where we can come to your house to calibrate your computer's monitor. We also offer a full video transcription service where we can burn DVDs for extensive storage of images."
"We've implemented a few new ideas to make outputting digital prints at retail easier for the consumer, and we're seeing them come back to retail for that purpose," says Goulston. "From a pricing standpoint, we're charging a few cents more than the Wal-Mart in our area. They're charging 24 cents and we're charging 27 cents for a 4 x 6 print. So we're able to compete with them on price. The area where we have the advantage is in quality. We clearly show our customers that there is a big difference in quality when they go to a big-box store versus going to a photo specialty store. We have a wall of shame that shows how our output quality clearly beats the competition."
"We're also trying to be a leader in providing convenient ways for people to get photos to us," he adds, "whether it's in the store or online. We have multiple kiosks in the store. We never have a line that way."
The store offers three Whitech kiosks that print to a Konica Super R-1 minilab. "We have them set up like a caf'we even serve coffee," he says. "There are chairs for people to sit down; there's a hook under the table for women to hang their purses. They come in, sit down and print their photos. Some customers spend 5 to 10 minutes while others spend two hours. We don't have a problem with that. We like when customers stay in our store. The longer they stay, the more prints they're likely to make."