Camera Land, the small-town camera store located in the heart of one of the biggest cities in America—New York City—opened in 1957. Arnold Rothstein and Alfred Slessinger were the founding owners. In 1974, Ed Paymer bought into the business. Son Joel soon became a fixture, making deliveries, handing out flyers, and doing anything else that was needed of him.
But Joel’s mom had a rule: he had to work for someone else other than his father for a year, before he could come to work for his dad. And so Joel did as she asked before becoming a full-time employee at Camera Land in 1982. Brother Doug Paymer has also been working at Camera Land for the past 20 years.
Invaluable Industry Experience
Camera Land’s customers are fortunate in that most of the staff have been working in the store for a long time. In addition to the Paymer brothers’ tenure, Arnold Rothstein and Ed Paymer have been involved in the photo industry since 1949—Arnold with Camera Land since its inception, and Ed’s tenure with Camera Land totaling 32 years. Judith Gregory has been at Camera Land for 25 years, Mark Wajnrach 16 years, Neil Stopel 10 years, Reggie Garcia 7 years at Camera Land (30 years within the industry), Lenworth “Scottie” Scott 5 years (20 years within the industry), Ramel Jourdan 2 years, and Sara Mohammed 1 year (though she’s been in the industry for almost 8 years). The officers of the corporation are: Joel, president; Doug Paymer, VP; Arnold Rothstein, secretary; and Ed Paymer, treasurer.
At a young age Joel learned from his father about the benefits of giving back to the industry. “You always learn something,” he says. “Even if you pick up only one sales idea at a time, it’s a good thing. The more you get involved, the better off you are.” In addition to enthusiastic participation in PMA—both at the NY/NJ Metro division level and the national level, Camera Land is an IPI Group dealer and member of the PRO Group.
The Camera Land Philosophy
When asked to describe Camera Land, Joel Paymer says, “The difference between us and them is us.” This is the Camera Land philosophy, instilled by Ed Paymer, and a phrase that’s commonly heard among the staff of Camera Land. In fact, you’ll hear this phrase uttered at least once every meeting.
In the couple of hours I’m there, Joel answers the phone at least a dozen times; takes a couple of important calls; assists his staff with questions; and directs customers entering the store to staff who could help them out.
The average customers to Camera Land’s midtown-Manhattan location are a varied lot, including people who live and work in the neighborhood, as well as visitors to New York from around the country and the rest of the world.
Camera Land is a busy photo specialty camera store. “We offer the service a typical consumer wants, with the more competitive price that’s normally found at a professional photography store,” says Joel.
He adds: “I want the Tiffany customer who appreciates the service and is willing to pay a little more for it.” Camera Land serves mostly consumers, with the odd pro photographer. “They [consumers] need a good deal of handholding,” Joel says.
“Can you teach customer service?” I ask Joel. “Yes,” he replies. “But it’s not so much teaching the concept of customer service as it is teaching the Camera Land philosophy of spending as much time as needed to help the customer—going the extra mile to get the sale.”
Joel explains that the store stands behind everything it sells. Say a customer comes in with a camera in need of repair. Camera Land will take a look at it, and if it’s still under warranty, the store will be the go-between for the customer with the manufacturer to get the repair made.
“We don’t just hand you a box and say goodbye,” Joel says, explaining that if it takes six hours with a customer just to make a $20 sale, the staff at Camera Land will do it. “And we have,” Doug adds.
Customer service comes down to keeping your customers happy. “If you keep your customers happy, they’ll come back and they’ll tell their friends; if you don’t treat people right, you’re a click away from negative emails, internet postings, and the like,” says Joel.
The staff of Camera Land prides itself in servicing its customers. During my visit, I overhear a customer tell Joel that one of his staff “saved my sanity.” It’s this level of service that has people returning time after time. Another customer calls, complaining that their battery charger isn’t operating. At first Doug is going to send out a new one and have his customer ship back the broken one—but upon further thought, he realizes it doesn’t pay for the customer to ship it back, so he explains that to the customer on the phone and ships out the replacement unit.