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Mike's Camera Leverages Size, Inviting Store Design to Dominate Denver Market



Size matters.

So says Alex Christianian, vice president for operations and marketing of Mike's Camera, the largest independent photo retailer in Colorado. "Part of our success, as with any photo retailer, is having knowledgeable sales staff and competitive pricing," he explains. "But in addition, our stores are bigger than the typical specialty camera store. That gives us a bigger geographic draw and a broader demographic base."

The company operates three stores: the original Mike's Camera location in Boulder, with 10,000 square feet of retail space; and two newer locations in central and south Denver that opened in 1998 and '99. All are affiliated with the Kodak Image Center Solutions (KICS) program. The Denver stores opened under the Image Center Solutions banner; the Boulder store just joined the program this year.

Alex Christianian is vice president for operations and marketing at Mike's Camera in Colorado.

"We've always used Kodak paper and chemistry. We believe in the products, in the relationship with Kodak, and have always looked at them as a partner in the business," says Christianian. Taking advantage of the program's merchandise display fixtures, he adds, has created a kind of store-within-a-store centering in each store's photofinishing area. Rebates on Kodak products and other merchandise ordered through the program pay for the store design elements over time.

The two Denver stores feature the traditional wood-grain wall fixtures that have long typified KICS participating stores, while the Boulder location sports the new frosted, translucent panels. "The look has changed, but not so radically that it isn't familiar," Christianian says. "The refresh program from Kodak reflects the trends in retailing today-it's a little softer, with more translucent materials. That is appealing to the female customer, who's not only buying frames and albums and bringing in digital media for prints, but is now also becoming the primary digital camera customer."

The stores sell everything you'd expect from an imaging superstore, from amateur cameras to professional ones, from frames and albums to darkroom supplies, from standard print film to E6 slide films, black and white, and more. There's a substantial inventory of nonphotographic optical products, including telescopes and binoculars, and multimedia hardware such as DVD players. Add to that a professional division and a government/commercial division with an outside sales force, and the result is a big bottom line. Christianian says the stores' average sales-per-square-foot is notably above the national average cited by PMA.

Changing Customers

Christianian says the company's typical customer has changed. In years past, camera and high-end hardware sales have been predominantly to men. But today, more women are buying, especially when it comes to digital cameras. Is the change due to the shift in technology? Or the more inviting retail atmosphere? Christianian doesn't purport to know for sure.

Susan Forkos prepares to submit a digital print order using the Kodak Picture Maker kiosk. Mike's Camera has developed a new product: the tribute DVD. Customers provide photos and other raw material, and Mike's Camera assembles a custom DVD presentation complete with music.

"One thing I am sure of is that when it comes to selling cameras, you aren't just selling to the 'photographer' in the family anymore," he says. "Ten years ago, when you went out to a club or a party, no one brought a camera. Now they do. Digital cameras are so popular that people are taking them everywhere. Photography is more mainstream."

For Mike's, that means reexamining its advertising and marketing messages, as well as the target audiences of its media. "It's definitely the mass consumer we're out to get more of," Christianian says.

And, of course, getting that consumer to Mike's Camera for photofinishing. All three stores operate in-store Noritsu QSS-2711DLS digital lab systems, so the company is well-positioned to serve the maturing digital photofinishing market. The Boulder store also has a central lab that handles E6, black and white, custom printing, video transfers and DVD production, and digital imaging (large-format inkjet printing, retouching, graphic design and layout services).

Photofinishing is branded as "Legacy Photofinishing," a distinction that includes printing on Kodak Royal Generations paper and production by employees with SPFE (Society of Photo Finishing Engineers) certification. Members of the Legacy Photofinishing Club get a 35 percent discount, which makes Mike's competitive with area warehouse clubs and mega-retailers.

The stores also feature the new Kodak Picture Maker G3, allowing customers to print directly from digital media, or to preview their orders and route them to the Noritsu lab for in-store photofinishing. "The minute we put it in the store, people knew what it was and started using it," Christianian recalls. "All the big box stores already have them, so if you don't have one, you're way behind."

LifePics: The Online Connection

Mike's has made a concerted effort not just to promote digital printing, but also the convenience of online photofinishing through the LifePics portal. At the time of a digital camera sale, the customer gets a one-year membership in LifePics and a card for 50 free prints through the portal (as well as a second card for 50 prints available in the store). "We've found a lot of customers love the idea of being able to upload their images for printing, then come into the store to pick them up," Christianian says. He reports that 95 percent of online orders from Mike's customers get picked up in the stores. And fully a third of Mike's digital orders come in online.

Customers Kelli and Gigi Boryla make prints from prints at one of the early Kodak Picture Maker kiosks in the Mike's Camera location on Denver's south side.

Film customers haven't been left behind, either. Beginning three years ago, Mike's began doing free uploads to the LifePics portal for film customers, so film customers have become familiar with the concept of online ordering for reprints and enlargements and can archive and share albums with family and friends.

"This is the last three years of my life," says Christianian, pulling up a screen showing many online albums of his own personal photos. A standard membership comes with 100 megabytes of online storage; additional storage can also be purchased.

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