PTN Walks the Aisles with an Imaging Retailer
Precision Camera & Video
Just the Right Mix of Service, Marketing, and Digital Leadership
By Alice B. Miller
Precision Camera & Video of Austin, Texas, was built on service. When founder Jerry Sullivan opened the doors in 1981 as Precision Camera Repair, he had but five years of repairing under his belt and a passion for photography.
"We did quality work at a fair price and stood behind our repairs with a strong warranty. It worked then and it's still working now. People want to do business with people they like, people know they can trust us. We don't play games, switch sell, or use high-pressure. We have knowledgeable sales people who listen to the customer and solve their problems with the right equipment at a fair price."
More than ever, service sets businesses apart these days, with so many retailers selling the same products. "The only difference is in the value-added services," observes Sullivan.
In response to the photo industry's ever-growing assortment of equipment and services and the store's vigorous customer demand, Precision Camera has greatly expanded its Photo Lab services, digital imaging services, rentals, repairs, and digital photo equipment sales, Internet, and commercial sales. Now with digital cameras, Precision is the area's only Kodak Professional Digital Science Dealership. (As a footnote: In 1989, "video" was appended to the store's name and mission to reflect the rising customer interest in VHS and video camcorders.)
Precision Camera also sells and supports a line of Kodak high-end printers and cameras. "You can't buy that stuff at Wal-Mart, which differentiates us from the competition. We are the trendsetters. People come here to see the good stuff that simply isn't available anywhere else."
Digital has blurred the lines between traditional photo outlets and computer dealers, according to Sullivan. "We now sell Apple computers and peripherals in addition to cameras. This category didn't even exist when I started 30 years ago. It's become a large part of the business."
Staying on the leading edge of technology is nothing new for Sullivan. When One Hour Photo labs came along, he got the first RA4 process in town and advertised 30-minute photos. "It was competitively priced and we did a big business with it," he explained.
Precision Camera recently underwent an extensive storewide remodeling, expanding the digital equipment areaonce crammed into a small bullpen areato nearly one-half of the store's floor space.
"This allows for much better merchandising with a much better ability to accessorize during sales," says Sullivan. "We added more cash registers10 totalto allow for less wait time and upgraded our computer systems for faster lookup and real-time inventory counts. With every fixture now on rollers, we can change the floor plan whenever we need to, even pushing back the displays to seat nearly 100 people if need be."
Precision's website, www.precision-camera.com, is yet another successful venture. Created in house, it has an online ordering capability and there are plans to further automate the system.
"We'd like to move to real-time inventory, but it costs a fortune. We have two full-timers dedicated to web sales and hire another person part-time for the holidays. We also have two full-time IT professionals to keep the site up and running, and a full-time graphic designer to make the pages."
Fotowire fulfills all online print orders. "It feeds our Fuji Frontier 390 and works well." Sullivan hopes to see the online print business continue to grow, balancing out what he calls "the eventual revenue downturn in traditional film developing."
Training the Sales Team
Through the years, Sullivan has learned that the key to a good sales team is hiring first for personality. "We can teach new employees about the photo industry, but we can't teach them to be friendly and outgoing." Salespeople are born not made, he maintains, and so he insists upon every salesperson becoming a CPC through PMA. Plans call for implementing the same policy for the PhotoLab technicians.
Training is a fact of life for the sales force. "We are constantly training them on all aspects of the business," says Sullivan. "Manufacturer reps are responsible for teaching their products to them. Nikon and Canon do this regularly. We held training recently on the ColorVision Spider and the new Kodak 8500 printer."