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David Ritz Throws down Gauntlet at PMDA Meeting



Retailer Sheds Light on Success; Offers Cures for Industry Ills

by Diane Berkenfeld

David Ritz, Chairman of Ritz Camera with 1,300 locations in U.S.

(Photo by Diane Berkenfeld)

"Our industry is changing, confusing and exciting," said David Ritz, chairman of Ritz Camera, during his address at last month's PMDA meeting in NYC. Speaking to a packed room, Ritz touched on a number of topics during his remarks, including the success of his photo specialty retail chainthe largest in the U.S. with 1,300 locationsas well as pertinent industry-wide concerns.

As Ritz pointed out, fast product cycles and falling prices hamper retailers from profiting in the digital landscape, so increasing market share becomes the priority. At Ritz Camera, SLR sales are growing...digital compact zoom cameras are edging out compact zoom film models...film sales are slowing, but media card sales are exploding. Film cameras can continue to sell for some time, Ritz noted, explaining that as long as new products are coming out that offer better features, they'll sell, whether film or digital.

He added that Ritz Camera stores increase consumer awareness of digital printing capabilities in-store, which the entire industry needs to do. "We're selling memories," Ritz said. Since memories that can be held are valued highly, prints are what customers want.

"Ritz Camera sells memories in the form of digital prints. Educating the public as to why its faster, easier and cheaper to print their digitally captured images at photo specialty retail is key. 'Its all just film to us,' is a key phrase at the Ritz stores," he explained.

Customers bring their digital images to Ritz Camera to have real prints made, just like dropping off film. One of Ritz's slogans is: "Ritz CameraBig Print Central: Camera store quality at a great price."

Ritz stressed that the quality, knowledge and experience of photo specialty retailers is important to promote, and both photo specialty retailers and manufacturers need to publicize it better. "Photo specialty retailers are important to keeping photography special," he said.

"Its the photo specialty stores that create the demand for new products. The early adopters make their purchases at photo specialty retail. By the time digital imaging reached the mass market, the interest had been built [through us]."

(Pictured l. to r.) Kathy Schneider, Group Publisher, Cygnus Business Media; Alan Kessler, PMDA President; David Ritz, Chairman Ritz Camera; James Chung, PMDA

Ritz noted that he promotes digital printing at retail vigorously, in print and through television and radio spots. He encouraged manufacturers to put resources towards promoting photo specialty as the place consumers should go to for their imaging needs.

Regarding the Internet, Ritz posed the question, "Do people want to use the Internet as a photo lab?"

"As there are people who would rather send their film to mail order labs, so there will be a percentage of people who will use the Internet," he noted. "Photofinishing through the web is an updated mail order photofinishing solution. Though hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the infrastructure surrounding printing through the Internet, ultimately the customer will decide where to get his images printed."

While Ritz Camera customers can print on the web, he noted that the company has more success bringing customers into the stores for printing.

And film images can be digitized too, he reminded the audience. He explained how rolls of film are brought to Ritz Camera for digitization and printing, or burning to a CD-ROM as easily as if the images were captured digitally. One example of this scenario is the customer who uses a one-time-use camera and has the images returned to them on CD, the customer can still manipulate or email the images.

Ritz admonished manufacturers who sell direct to consumers through the web. "Give me a break!" he said, noting that the retailer has to spend large amounts of money keeping an inventory of product while the manufacturers can sell them direct via the Internetregardless of whether the items are refurbished, discontinued models or sold for full MSRP. "It shouldn't be done," he argued.

One suggestion Ritz offered was that manufacturers with MAPs in place at brick and mortar retail should expand them to the web.

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