Magazine Article


Retailers: If You Teach It, They Will Come
Retailers are a quick study—and they're learning that educating their customers goes beyond directing them to the owner's manual.

Creve Coeur Camera's School of Imaging
Customers learn the ins and outs of their new digital cameras at Creve Coeur Camera’s School of Imaging.
The Camera Shop's digital SLR class
Bilbo Blanchard teaches The Camera Shop’s digital SLR class.
Illustrating photographic point
Apertures Photo store manager Toby Gregory (r.) illustrates a photographic point during class.

Advertising these classes is in addition to their storefront services. “We’re still marketing ourselves as a retailer,” she says. “In our ads, we’ll advertise a package where you get the free prints, software, and classes, and we’ll have a bullet with each camera that gets these options, totally as a selling tool.”

For other retailers looking to get into the educational aspects, it’s crucial that you define the course. “There can’t be any misconceptions about what the course will offer,” says Bogosian. “We’ve also found that sometimes people don’t want to commit to one night a week for six weeks; some people like a down-and-dirty class, so we’ll also offer a one-night option.”

Apertures Photo: Teaching the Art of Photography

If you’re a budding photographer in Tulsa, OK, Apertures Photo won’t leave you high and dry once you’ve plunked down hard-earned money for a new camera. Its hands-on workshops offer entry-level instruction for beginners and continual shooting challenges for intermediate-level photographers.

“We started a basic Photo 101 class about five years ago that teaches people how to use their cameras properly on full manual,” explains “Dr. Filmgood” Toby Gregory, Apertures Photo’s store manager. “That way they can understand what the camera is doing when it’s in auto mode. We also have a beginning digital SLR class that we offer now. Many people don’t understand photography, yet they have this great $1,000 camera.”

Apertures Photo wants its customers to become schooled in the craft before they even learn how to take off the lens cap. “We want to teach you the art of photography,” says Gregory. “Our biggest challenge is the mentality of the digital shooter. They’re more often computer people, not photographers. One thing I say to them is, ‘Before you jump into digital, you need to understand the craft of photography.’ Our goal is to get them exposed so they really understand photography before they start to just fix things on the computer.”

The classes not only educate the consumer—they help Apertures Photo sell more equipment as well. “It’s a real fine line,” says Gregory. “When I talk to my class, I say, ‘I’m not telling you to buy anything; I’m showing you options and suggesting something you might want.’ That takes the pressure off of them, and it subtly generates revenue for us.”

Upping the imaging ante has also helped with customers who are hungry for information behind the basics. “During Daylight Savings Time, we offer intermediate classes, after the store closes in the evening,” Gregory says. “For the first two weeks of the class, we’ll meet in the store, and then the rest of the time we’re out shooting on location.”

Each intermediate class is tailor-made, further enhancing Apertures Photo’s reputation for customer satisfaction. “We sit down with the group of people we have at the first class and just see what they’re interested in. Then the second week we have a handout of each location we’re going to shoot at, based on our first week’s conversation. Every intermediate class is different. One time you might have people who just want to shoot scenics and nature; another group might be into portraits. We’ve covered it all in our classes.”

These photographic philosophies have helped Apertures Photo continue to attract new customers and build up repeat business. “This has become a major plus for us over the last five years—it’s really brought a lot of people into the store that maybe wouldn’t have even come in; maybe they even bought their camera somewhere else,” says Gregory. “But they’ll come and take the class here, and they’ll buy the accessories here while they’re taking the class.”

The Apertures Photo instructors are all professionals (a requirement to work at the store is that you be a working photographer) with their own specialties. “I like to say I’m a hired gun—I’ll shoot anything, though personally I like to shoot fashion and artistic portraits,” says Gregory. “We have an instructor whose strengths are high speed and low light; there’s another employee who runs our hand-tinting class.”

This expertise has spread by word-of-mouth. “People will say, ‘I took this class at the local community college, but the one I took at Apertures taught me so much more.’ There’s a personal touch they really seem to get out of a photographic environment. The local college certainly won’t know day-to-day what the newest product is, or what improvements this product has had recently, especially with digital technology constantly changing.”

In the long run, giving the customers what they want will keep you solidly at the forefront. “If you do a good job, if you make people feel comfortable, and if you explain everything in simple layman’s terms, hopefully you’ll wind up with a big following,” says Gregory. “I’ve seen a lot of national chains do a Saturday seminar on a specific camera, and that’s all it is. It’s very basic. That’s why our intermediate classes are important—you can’t just teach someone the basics of photography and then kick them out of your store. They need something to look forward to. It’s a one-on-one relationship between our sales staff and the customer that really grows.”