Cruise around Columbus, Ohio, and you’ll witness a modern-day merging of old and new. Landmarks such as the quaint 19th-century German Village and the Greek-Doric-style Ohio Statehouse are juxtaposed with the ubiquitous Paneras and Starbucks that are cropping up in cities nationwide. The Easton Town Center, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex that makes Downtown Disney look dated, is not too far from the history-steeped Columbus Museum of Art and Ohio State University.
Venture onto North High Street, and you’ll also find a specialty retailer that has retained a vital part of this state capital’s history while continuing to embrace new technologies and trends to stay ahead of the photo-business pack. Cord Camera has catapulted itself into a unique position within the industry, claiming 37 stores under its corporate umbrella and crediting its success to a savvy combination of continuous scrutiny, a valuable team of employees, and its owner’s quest to keep a family dream alive.
An Appealing Environment
Wander into Cord Camera’s newly revamped Clintonville store, and it’s easy to see why this is no ordinary photo retailer. “Once you see the store, you’ll get our overlying theme,” says William Martin, director of Sales and Field Operations for Cord Camera. “Cord is very customer-centered. We make it easy to shop, because if it’s easier to shop, customers will keep coming back and giving you their business.”
A “history wall,” documenting Cord’s 1954 establishment date, is visible as soon as one enters the store, adding some context to Cord’s current locale (the building used to be a restaurant and an antiques dealer, among other things, before its current incarnation). A Clintonville Historical Society display takes up a large portion of the wall in the back of the store. “The local community had been concerned that we keep the history of the building, and we’ve tried to do just that,” says Bill Schwinn, regional sales manager. Work your way around the perimeter of the store to catch a glimpse of Cord’s myriad services. Fully stocked shelves of printers, inks, papers, hardware, projectors, CD burners, and other accessories provide do-it-yourselfers everything they need to bring their pictures to fruition. Shoppers looking to turn images into art will want to stop by the custom framing department, traditional photofinishing lab, and full-service copy center.
“I’ve seen the evolution from film to digital, and Cord Camera has adapted really well,” says Imaging Services administrator Phil Kinstle. “Any time a new technology came out, Cord made an investment in the technology to stay ahead of the curve.”
The lab’s synergistic relationship with the store’s copy center, managed by sales manager Barb Thompson, is also key to keeping customers happy. “A goal of ours is to incorporate more of the document printing side that Barb handles into the lab operation, because there’s a lot of activity between our two departments,” continues Kinstle. “We want a streamlined process for customers to make it easier for them to place their orders.”
Thompson agrees. “We’re not a Kinko’s, and we don’t try to be,” she says. “People are printing more images now in a variety of ways, so we have to be willing to capture that business in any way, shape, or form. There’s a nice relationship between the lab and the copy center, because there are things that are done better as just an image, and things that are done better in a document.” A camera “bar” offers customers a tactile way to peruse and preview the point-and-shoots and SLRs they’re interested in, without having to wait in line for the next available salesperson. “This is another area where Steve [Cordle] was ahead of the curve,” says Bill Schwinn. “We actually lost salespeople over this, because they didn’t think it was a good idea. But this way, you have all the cameras set up in front of you, all the bullet points featured next to the cameras. You can pick up and touch the cameras, it’s a tangible experience, and then a salesperson can help you with more detailed questions you may have. Plus, a salesperson can then help more than one person at a time.”
Next stop is Cord’s Digital Print Center, an airy appendage featuring six Fuji kiosk stations, so customers can come in to edit, enhance, and print their photos with minimal wait and easy-to-use interfaces. “The kiosks are in clean, spacious setups, and the kiosks have an intuitive screen,” says Schwinn. “You can print in five minutes, and it’s a pleasant space to work in. We try to keep it a well-organized store and make sure it’s the right environment for clients.”
And because catering to customers is the number-one goal, Cord Camera also offers a convenient “Digital Highway” via its website, where customers can order prints and picture gifts online; a hefty photographic curriculum at its custom-designed Cord University, offering techniques, tips, and advice for photo enthusiasts; and a handy drive-through (available at select locations), so patrons can process their images without ever leaving the car. “The drive-through is in about one-third of our stores—people come to depend on that,” says Bill Schwinn. “If you have kids, you don’t have to get out of the car, for example. We have a pretty fair amount of orders dropped off like that.”
But it’s the new scrapbooking section of the Clintonville store that has really been making the most waves since its grand opening in April. And it’s the section that has rapidly become the heart of Cord’s ultimate business plan.
Crop Circles: Cord’s Scrapbooking Phenomenon
It’s not difficult to differentiate the store’s new scrapbooking addition from the rest of the facility. Cord Camera didn’t just stock a few linear feet with embellishments and papers, hoping to attract the overflow from its photography business—instead, from January of this year through its big debut on April 1, the 14,000-square-foot store underwent a major revamping to make room for the new scrapbooking section. It’s a whole different décor from the rest of the store, with tasteful lime-green walls, wide aisles stocked with plenty of merchandise (but not too much merchandise so that it seems cluttered), and even a homey coffee bar in the corner. And this differentiation was purposeful.
“We wanted some kind of division, which you can see with the different flooring and décor,” says Schwinn. “But at the same time we wanted it to integrate with everything else we do.”
“It’s cohesive,” agrees Barb Thompson, copy center sales manager. “When you add different components to your business, it feels like there are ‘extra’ parts. But we’ve integrated it so successfully that it all fits together.”
Cord’s Scrapbook Studio is the place to be for both die-hard scrapbookers who will go so far as to attend one of the store’s bi-annual weekend scrapbooking camps (held at a local hotel or B&B), as well as for beginners who are just learning the ins and outs of journaling, die-cutting, and cropping (ideal candidates for the store’s Scrapbooking University 10-course intro to scrapbooking). The center features weekly educational classes (held in one of two private classrooms), product specials, and special events, as well as an informative staff who retain the same passion for the genre as their customers. Plus, when there are no classes being held in the classrooms, customers can come in and while away an afternoon at one of the comfortable scrapbooking stations.