Torch Is Passed to Robert Klaben as Ohio's Click Camera Is Named Dealer of the Year by PTN Once AgainLike his father Ed Klaben before him, Robert Klaben has been named PTN's Dealer of the Year.
Growing up behind the counter of a photo specialty store, Rob Klaben was always very aware of what a long shadow his father cast on the business. His dad, Ed Klaben, was a near legend in photo retail circles, known as much for his outsized personality as for his uncanny ability to handle on-the-floor sales. A product of Brooklyn—a borough known for generating its fair share of wheeler-dealers—Ed was just one of those people who had a knack for chatting other people up.
In fact, as Rob remembers it, it wasn't unusual on any given day to see his dad making a pitch at one of Click Camera's stores in the Greater Miami Valley of Ohio to one, two and sometimes even three customers at a time. The guy was simply a master.
For a quieter, more thoughtful personality like Rob's, though, old-school salesmanship wasn't going to fly. So instead of trying to match his father's rambunctious style—something that just isn't possible for anyone who knows Ed Klaben—Rob decided to stick to his own path.
"I tended to shy away from being in his shadow and decided to focus on other things," Rob says. "By doing that, it gave me a good opportunity to learn aspects of the business that have helped me grow it in a much more systematic way rather than in a seat-of-the-pants way, which is what can happen when you're on the floor all the time."
Two different men. Two different styles. Both successes. In the case of Ed Klaben, it was a style that helped him turn a tiny three-person photo operation purchased from Robert and Rose Adler in 1963 into the number-one camera store in the Springfield, Dayton, and Greater Miami area. It's also a style that helped him be chosen Dealer of the Year by PTN in 1989.
For the more pragmatic yet innovative Rob Klaben, who took over the reins of Click in 1996, his stamp on the store has been one of studied expansion mixed with an almost visionary knowledge of the photo retail market, where new technologies and demographics are incorporated into the business to help keep Click on the leading edge.
It's also a style that has helped the company, rebranded by Rob as Click Camera Digital Print Centers, expand to over 140 employees in Click's nine retail stores, photo labs, corporate offices and warehouse facilities. And it has helped Rob once again capture Dealer of the Year honors for Click in 2004, making it only the second time in PTN's 65-year history that a store has been picked twice.
Photo Beginnings, Photofinishings
In 1945, a small photo store known as Click Camera Shops opened its doors at 45 West High Street in downtown Springfield, OH. Owned and run by Robert and Rose Adler, the location would later be transformed into the home of the Adlers' other, more successful business venture, Tru-Foto, which went on to become one of the largest independent wholesale overnight photofinishing labs in the Midwest.
Not long after a new Tru-Foto processing plant was built in Dayton, OH, in 1962, Bob Adler and his son Mike, who later went on to create MotoPhoto, decided to focus exclusively on the photofinishing business, selling Click Camera to Edward and Irene Klaben in 1963. At the time, there were just three employees.
Despite the small beginnings, Ed established early on that the business would be built on one of the central tenets of successful retailing—good customer service.
"The success of the company was based on customer service and building a reputation through great word of mouth," Rob recalls. "And it's been a tradition that I made sure continued as we have added stores."
The early expansion of Click, though, took a stumble in 1969 when the Klabens opened three Click Cube drive-up photo processing outlets. The stores, much like the national Fotomat huts, sold film and photo processing services. But the concept proved unsuccessful for Click, and the Cubes closed after several years of low sales.
The failure dealt a near-fatal blow to the company. "It almost bankrupted us," Rob recalls. "I remember my father going to vendors and saying we were going to pay our bills if they could just hang on a little while longer. It was a difficult time, but it prepared him for further growth down the road."