Cultivating a Digital Mix
By Lorraine A. DarConte
Tucson, Arizona is a small city of less than one millionGreg Lussky, owner of Greg's Camera,
people that has a surprisingly large number of professional
photo labs and a gazillion mass merchandisers such as Walgreens,
K-Mart, Osco Drugs and Wal-Mart, which offer photofinishing
services (and some product). What the city lacks is a good
selection of traditional camera stores that provide a full range of
services, products and knowledgeable sales people. Luckily for
Tucson, Greg's Camera, in business since 1979, does all of the
above and then some . . .
"We're the average mom and pop-type camera shop," says owner Greg Lussky. "We try and cater to parents who shoot photos of the kids, vacation pictures, etc." Although many of his customers are serious hobbyists, Lussky isn't interested in pursuing a more professional clientele. "The main person we're looking for is the casual snapshooter; that's our bread and butter. We like those kinds of folks." Greg's Camera, a fairly small store, is situated in a strip mall on a main road in Tucson where there is plenty of competition from mass merchandisers. "We're located in the middle of a whole plethora of cheap one-hour photofinishers," he reiterates. "But we compete on the quality of our prints. For instance, just this morning a customer came in with a Nikon camera that she thought was broken. The people at one mass merchandiser told her her pictures were bad because her camera was not working properly. We reprinted her images and they were perfect. So we've now made a customer for life and she'll tell other people, and that's how we've grown the business."
"Photofinishing is a large part of what we do. Offering quality photofinishing, and being able to charge accordingly, is important to us. We also produce enlargements up to 8x10 in-store with a Kodak Copyprint and a Fuji SFA 238 Minilab, the smallest footprint one-hour machine the company makes. One of Fuji's technicians was recently in and was amazed at how many pictures we'd printed on the machine. His comment was, 'These machines weren't designed for this many prints.' We have really put it through its paces with an average of 40-50 rolls a day."
The store also offers APS, and there was a time, notes Lussky, when it was doing fairly well. But that has changed dramatically. "I think APS is dead," he states. "That's a pretty bold statement, but we're getting almost no play off APS anymore. We bought the minilab initially with the APS attachment ready to go. We were one of the first places in town with it and it did real well in the beginning. We promoted the cameras and so on. But the new cameras like the Minolta 150 and a number of Olympus systems are very compact with much longer lenses. Hence, the 'advantage' to APS is gone. The size advantage is certainly gone, plus the film is smaller and the pictures aren't as good."
"I may be wrong, but I notice that manufacturers are not replacing models when they run out. For instance, when Canon ran out of the 490, which was a fabulous seller, it didn't introduce anything to replace it. That tells me something. I'm real soft on APS now and this will be our last Christmas with it, if we even go that far. It's certainly easy enough to switch someone to a 35mm now that they are smaller with longer focal lengths and better image quality," says Lussky.
Greg's Camera's shelves are stocked with point-and-shoots, SLRs, digital cameras, lenses, flash units, camera bags, accessories, Hoya filters, Varta batteries, frames, albums and more. "Our best selling point-and-shoot is a Pentax. We carry them in the Factory Kit, which comes with a five-year warranty. Customers really seem to like that. It's gotten to the point now that a lot of people have older cameras that are broken for any number of reasons, and when they come in looking for a repair, we try to turn them toward a new camera. Since Pentax has a huge range of cameras, we can fit one into just about anybody's price point. Olympus is a consistent seller as well. People like the weatherproof and clamshell cover."
Although the store doesn't do quite as well with Canon point-and-shoots, the company's SLRs are number one at Greg's.
"We carry a full range of accessories and general merchandise such as albums and frames, too. Parker frames have done really well for us," Lussky notes. "We display them by the copy machine so when someone picks up an enlargement we can slide them into a frame and double our retail. And Tamron lenses and SLR bodies have been a big boost for us the last six months."
Business is good at Greg's Camera, and although Tucson's population fluctuates greatly depending on the season (college students, snowbirds and tourists more than double the numbers 6-8 months of the year), the only time it's real slow is September and October. So how does Lussky keep 'em coming? Word of mouth is probably his number one form of advertising. But he also takes advantage of the local television market. "I produce my own TV commercials and place/air them on both cable and local stations. The best is cable because I can target a specific part of town," he states. "We ran a commercial when we first got the Kodak Copyprint machine. It was very successful; we paid for the machine in about a year and a half." Other than a Yellow Pages ad, Lussky has not used print media. "We installed a computer system last year that keeps track of all our customers, serial numbers, etc. It has great database capabilities so I think the next thing we'll do is direct mail."
Greg's also has a friendly, knowledgeable staff that keeps customers happy and making return trips. "Staffing situations are the most difficult but can also be the most rewarding," says Lussky. "I have a real good crew right now. Wendy's been with me five years; Brian for over a year and Tasha just started. They all learn quickly — and they have to. I make sure the staff is up to date on what's happening [in the industry] and that they are low pressure as far as closing sales. We get a lot of repeat customers because of that. Also, because I've been here 20 years, it's fun to see older customer's kids come to us just as their parents did."
Yes, Greg's Camera is a small-time, traditional store, but that doesn't mean it hasn't stayed abreast of current trends. "To stay competitive in this business today you have to look at the new things — the product and services that offer new opportunities. I've proved it with the Kodak Copyprint machine — I was the first one on the block with it and it's been a really good producer. We're on our second machine; we wore the first one out. Digital offers the same opportunities," notes Lussky. "However, we stick with original manufacturer companies such as Canon and Olympus that deliver product directly to us rather than going through distributors. This way I'm protected if there's a price drop."
"Last Christmas we sold about 50 Canon digital ELPH's. That's been a great little camera. We started selling digital cameras about 3 years ago with the Minolta DiMAGE system. It was the only camera around and it was expensive. It did okay, but it wasn't until the last year that digital took off in our store. Twenty-five percent of our cameras sales are digital and 25% of our accessory sales are digital. In the beginning, we had some concerns about the high price and poor picture quality. But that's changed completely. Most of the time the cameras work great and the software works well. The only real problems we've had in the past are when the software doesn't work with the customer's equipment. The camera may work fine, but if the software doesn't, they get frustrated very quickly. When customers can't get the software problem resolved, the cameras are returned. Canon comes closest with its software packages," he notes. "We haven't had a single complaint. I think theirs is the most compatible software available."
"I think lots of consumers know today that a digital camera isn't the only camera they're going to use. We don't sell them as a replacement for 35mm. A customer with that expectation will probably be disappointed. We tell people they will need both cameras to be used in different situations. We also put in a Digital Now CD burner station so we can make CDs for people, print their pictures, and upload to the Internet. I bought the system a year ago at PMA. At the time there were only two systems available — Kodak and Digital Now. I almost wish I waited since there are now more systems to choose from. I knew I didn't want the Kodak because of the click charge; I would have to buy proprietary CDs. But with Digital Now, I can use any CD I want."
"Don't be scared to jump into digital photography and sell the cameras," advises Lussky. "We've done really well with it. We're averaging 44% profit on our digital accessory sales, which includes rechargeable batteries, memory cards and cases. Again, we buy all these items direct so we have price protection. We do almost $1 million a year in sales," he states. "We've had great success with trying new things; but it's important to be careful what you buy and not just jump in willy nilly. Find out what's selling. There are some good Websites where you can see the new products and learn what customers are buying."