This quest for customer comfort was also the impetus for the boutique-style coffee shop (complete with sweet treats, lattes, and homemade fruit smoothies), strategically located in one corner of the studio. “We’re giving our customers another reason to stay a little longer,” says Bill Schwinn. “Wives can shop or scrapbook while husbands hang out at the coffee bar. In the warmer weather, we can open the outside patio. It all adds to the experience of the store. We want customers to stay longer—the longer they stay, the more they spend, and the happier everyone is.”
The progression of Cord’s scrapbooking revolution started in 1997, when vice president Rich Cordle (Steve’s cousin) attended a buying committee meeting, where someone suggested Cord should look into scrapbooking. “That’s where the seed was planted,” he says. “Later that year we started bringing scrapbooking merchandise in, in as many linear feet per store as we could.” Then, in June 1998, Cord Camera attended the ACCI convention and realized what they were doing wrong. “We realized we really needed a destination scrapbooking store, rather than just putting 40 linear feet in as many stores as possible,” he says. “So since 1998, we’ve been on the right track. Scrapbooking is more than just a category—we look at it as a whole separate business under the Cord umbrella.”
Since Cord Camera didn’t have a store available to devote that much space to its new venture, they took what is now the Cord University room at its Fifth Avenue store (about 900 square feet worth of space) and started offering scrapbooking one day a week. Later that same year, Cord moved its Delaware store to a larger location, and that became its first official scrapbooking store seven days a week.
Not that there wasn’t a learning curve along the way. “The first crop tables we had were these brown 8-foot folding tables, with accompanying folding chairs,” says William Martin, regional sales manager. “We weren’t thinking about the people who would be sitting in these chairs for seven or eight hours at a time.” Eventually, under the direction of director of Operations and Administration Kacey Hartman, the accoutrements were enhanced to provide for greater comfort. “The new tables were custom-designed,” explains Martin. “They now had built-in cupholders, and a place for their tools, 12x12 paper, and mat cutters. And then there were the chairs—I don’t know how many chairs we went through to get just the right chair. If you can go someplace to scrapbook where you’ll be sitting in a folding chair or in a comfortable chair for six hours or more, where would you go?”
Today, the newly designed Clintonville store has become the prototype for all future scrapbook expansions at Cord. “We’re going to pattern the others after this store,” says director of Marketing Bill Fletcher. “The 10,000-square-foot store in Dayton was originally going to be the model, but we hired an interior designer for our Columbus store, so now we’ll remodel Dayton.” Because of scrapbooking’s inherently social nature, the staff is constantly trying to keep up with customer feedback and suggestions, as well as appealing to perhaps untapped demographics. “Digital templates is one way to open up a whole new audience: people who are not interested in the social aspect,” says Fletcher. “That’s handy for people who don’t have time.”
Digital templates may also draw in more of the male audience, in an area that is 99 percent dominated by women. “Steve Cordle’s vision of scrapbooking extends beyond what we have now,” says Chris Zollner, district sales manager. “Digital templates can appeal to men who are maybe more computer-oriented and prefer something more electronic, where they’re dragging images into preset templates. That’s probably something we’ll grow into more.”
“In the end, everyone has a shoebox full of pictures,” explains COO and CFO Gary Binkoski. “Scrapbooking has taken that shoebox of images and put them into some semblance of order. The quality is better, and memory transcends for longer. You remember how you felt. We believe there is always an opportunity to do a better job,” he adds.
For other retailers interested in getting into the scrapbooking arena, Rich Cordle offers sage words of advice culled from the experiences of Cord Camera. “Scrapbooking is a very complicated business,” he explains. “You need to be fully immersed in it, and the average camera store isn’t going to do one-third of the things needed to be successful. If you have the top 10 or 20 things needed to get into this business (the people, the dedicated space, the understanding of the scrapbooking industry), then go for it. If not, and most stores will fall under the ‘if not’ category, then a retailer should not be bringing scrapbooking into their store as a simple category.”
What most retailers can do that makes sense, says Rich, is expand into the scrapbooking industry by partnering with a local scrapbooking store. “As a photo retailer, you can hold photo classes for them, and take out a four-foot section of their store where you have your newsletter and promote your own products and services—you become their photo consultant,” he says. “Then in your store, the scrapbooking store will also have a four-foot section that promotes scrapbooking in their store. There’s a synergy there that benefits everyone. For most photo stores, that’s where the real opportunity probably lies, because unless you really get into it from the inside-out and treat it as more than just a category, you won’t succeed.”
Customer Education and An Educated Staff
Keeping up with technology and keeping customers informed remains one of Cord’s main priorities. “One of our biggest challenges has been continuing to educate the customer that they still want prints,” says Hartman. “The digital revolution has put a lot of the single-type of operations out of business because they didn’t upgrade to a digital minilab, and because people slowed down making prints. Companies like Fuji and Kodak have realized they need to get into that campaign that people still need prints, still need to see photo albums, still want to hang images on their walls.”
Martin concurs. “It’s our responsibility as a specialty retailer to educate the customer,” he says. “That’s our place in the market. Our customers come to us for our expertise. And we’re very competitively priced. I think what people are finding out is that it’s great to be able to make that quick print for Grandma, but overall I don’t think there are people out there making 100 4x6s from their weekend or 200 prints from their vacation on their home printers. That’s the business we continue to chase, and that’s where we fill the void. We’re able to give you a quality, archived product that is cheaper than what you can do at home in the long run.”
“Everything we carry in our store is a photo-quality printer, as opposed to walking into an office store, where you get a generic all-in-one printer, and certain papers and inks only last 15 years,” adds Zollner.
Cord Camera invests in its educational efforts on two fronts: by keeping its customers informed, and by keeping its staff up to speed. There’s a section on the Cord Camera website where customers can provide feedback and ask questions, and a previously print-only customer newsletter (around since 1999) is now on the information superhighway twice a month, thanks to Amy Kennedy, general scrapbook manager and buyer, and Leslie Maddy, scrapbooking buyer’s assistant. “We publish it online now, as a high-res PDF, and there’s no plug-in required,” says Leslie. “Our first online edition was May 1, and we hope the online version will become much more interactive, with lots of links. People will be able to see a product, click on it, and then be able to purchase it directly from our store. We have more than 9,000 subscribers to our print version, and we just broke the 6,000 mark for the online version. We’re trying to get more people to sign up via email. We also send our scrapbooking customers weekly updates, with a coupon in every email that’s good until the next email comes out.”
To compete with the big-box stores, Cord Camera has to excel in customer service, and they keep that in mind in their hiring choices and training curriculum. “We’re a specialty retailer, and any specialty retailer has to be known for customer service,” Fletcher explains. “The hardest part is always personnel. We have the concept correct—now we have to fill it with the right staff.” Cord Camera emphasizes continual training for its employees. “Twice a year we do a major training show for our staff, where we’ll bring in 8 to 12 vendors, including internal vendors, to teach our associates,” Martin says. “Plus, throughout the year, many of the vendors will do online training, and we highly encourage our associates to take advantage of that training.”