The group also provides to members IPInet to facilitate a dealer's private website with a minimum of hassle and expense. The program includes the dealer's own online processing module and a greeting card module.
Members pay a $2,000 initiation fee plus $300 quarterly dues. However, IPI is committed to refund to members all of the vendor rebate dollars it receives beyond its needs for operating expenses. Brent said that the average payback to a member, depending on his purchases, is about $1,700 a year and could go up to $10,000 for IPI's largest dealers.
Brent said the first question every prospective dealer asks is: "What is your paper price for members?"
"We won't reveal that information to non-members as a protection to the manufacturer," he said, "and it's a policy we rigidly hold to."
Looking for more information on IPI? They have their own PMA booth, #3298, that is manned by home office staff as well as board members. Or you can reach Brent on his cell phone at 304-545-9611.Mike Worswick
Photographic Research Organization—
A Different Business Model
The PRO group takes a different approach to serving its dealer members, which, unlike IPI, seem to be more heavily focused on the camera and accessory business than on-site lab operations.
PRO separates itself from other groups in three specific ways: PRO has established its own retail brand, Promaster, a name that it uses on a large variety of the items found in a photo specialty store; the PRO group is owned by its members; members order most merchandise from inventory that is warehoused in its own facility.
Mike Worswick has been president of PRO for about eight years and is also the owner of Wolfe's Camera, Camcorder and Computer, Topeka, KS. Mike explained that PRO "is operated as a business, not a professional club." This is not a knock on the other groups, but PRO takes on such responsibilities as product design, selection, features, manufacturing operations and merchandising along with warehousing and distribution. Infinitely more complicated and risky than just negotiating a low price with a vendor.
Mike said the organization is in its 47th year and was founded by a New York retailer, Ed London, who was having a hard time competing with the large mail order camera retailers of that time (remember 47th Street Photo?). Its first product was a private label projection screen and the product lineup now includes such items as filters, flash, batteries, bags, cases, tripods and a variety of accessories—all with the name Promaster. The line also contains 35mm SLR cameras, according to Mike, but does have a digital camera offering. Dealers set their own retail prices for Promaster merchandise.
Mike said "we work with our friends at IPI to negotiate pricing for paper, chemicals and lab equipment." These products are not warehoused by IPI but ordered by members directly from the manufacturer.
PRO does have a website, www.promaster.com, that is essentially a retail site at which it shows its product line and directs customers to a local PRO dealer. Unlike others, it is not designed as a site for in-group use.
Its rolls carry 145 members that operate about 425 store fronts and the group is run by an executive committee of 8-10 and a board of 24. The PRO office is in Fairfield, CT, and is headed by Jeff Neil, VP of sales and marketing, who directs a staff of 12 at that facility.
Mike said that the organization works with a variety of offshore manufacturers that produce Promaster products. In some cases PRO controls the design of the finished product; in others a standard product carries the Promaster label. "Our focus is to develop an image around the Promaster name," Mike said. "We develop products that have demonstrable market advantages."