Magazine Article


2006 State of the Distributor Industry

Educate Your Customers to Maximize Their Shopping Experience

Bruce Kuperman, Senior Vice President of Sales, DBL

Know your customer base so you can maximize the customer experience when they walk into your business. Differentiate your services and remain competitive. Offer expanded products that enhance the customer’s equipment. When the economy is tight, customers will more often purchase accessories for their current equipment versus buying new equipment.

With the volatility of the digital camera market, we bear the risk of stocking product so the retailer does not have to. We continue to work with the manufacturers on behalf of the independent retailer so our customers receive the best price every day. With our buying power, we can work with the manufacturers to bring in the latest products at competitive pricing so each retailer can compete with the big-box companies.

With an uncertain economy, the consumer will continue to become more educated before making a purchase. This will be a result of higher prices for all products. As prices for raw materials continue to escalate upward, the consumer will price-shop before they make their decision. Technology will drive more sales as you will have the early adopters buying new product; however, the high cost of the technology will keep many consumers from buying until prices become affordable.

To prosper in today’s marketplace, educate the consumer on the latest technology and what it means to them. For example, the consumer should know and understand how Bluetooth technology is a benefit to their camera and the ease of use to be able to print, transfer images, and connect to the internet, all from a wireless connection. Products should be developed so they can be used across various platforms. You do not want to have another VHS versus Beta war. The only loser is the consumer.

Embrace Change

Doug Pircher, General Manager, International Supplies

Recognize the changes and take action to embrace them. The future is full of unknowns, but not doing anything different from what you have done for the last 10 or 20 years is a guaranteed prescription for failure.

Photo dealers and minilab owners need to reinvent their businesses to serve customers of all ages and offer solutions for those customers. Camera stores have traditionally catered to the adult male customer, while largely ignoring the females. Today, the younger generations have tremendous buying power, yet they do not shop in many camera stores because these stores do not appeal to them. Women and young adults have a different profile than the typical middle-aged male shopper. Get to know and understand them, and you will sell to them and grow your business. Improve the look of your store, and make it more user-friendly. Simplify your sales approach, while offering advice to help the consumer make the correct choice (they still don’t get that right at the mass merchants).

Offer additional products and services to help your customers solve their everyday problems as they apply to technology. Do not forget the school market simply because many have stopped traditional photo and darkroom classes. Carry inkjet supplies, memory cards, flash drives, and supplies for cellphones (virtually every person walking in your store has a cellphone) and laptop computers. The mass merchants and electronics stores have encroached on the photo business by selling digital cameras and offering digital prints. Camera stores and minilabs need to learn from this and carry the digital, cellular, and computer supplies. Doing this and offering additional services will help them keep their existing customers as well as grow their customer base. The mass merchants are still intimidating to the average non-tech consumer. The independent camera store and minilab can succeed by offering the expertise and service that the chain stores cannot match. Embrace the future, learn to change, and succeed.

Promote Key Advantages to Printing and Shopping at Specialty Retail

Johannes Bockemühl, CEO, JOBO AG

In order to compete in today’s volatile photo imaging market, dealers need to promote three key advantages to retail printing of digital pictures. First, retail printing is much more convenient than home printing. Second, it is cheaper than printing at home. And third, consumers will get better quality overall. It is also very important to encourage volume printing with special promotions such as 500 prints at $50, as well as offering attractively priced enlargements that take advantage of the quality of today’s digital cameras or even panorama prints.

Success in today’s market is not only a challenge for retailers. The imaging industry as a whole needs to help pave the way to success for all by encouraging retail clerk-training and by focusing on products that are profitable for the dealers, such as digital SLRs and their many accessories.

Selling such products requires knowledgeable salespeople dispensing credible imaging advice available at specialty photo dealers, which is more valuable to consumers than just “good price” alone.

By offering lenses, tripods, digital imaging software, and mobile storage products, successful retailers show real photo competency, which earns them their customer’s trust, as well as the money in the end. And this core competency is extremely important today with bargain-priced point-and-shoot digital cameras and bogus advice so easily available over the internet and at large retail chain stores.

Identify and Support the Professional Photographer as a Customer

Henry Froehlich, Chairman [Retired], MAC Group

Dealers who differentiate themselves need to have knowledgeable staff behind the counter who can identify with the needs of the truly professional photographers. Professionals will gravitate toward the specialty dealer who has the staff and the products in stock that are needed by these pros to make their livings. Most “big box” stores have neither, and thus the pro cannot feel “at home” there.

“Distributor” is too broad a term to describe the MAC Group. Marketers of professional equipment—such as we are—perform several roles. They serve the end-user professional photographers with substantial technical assistance, while channeling the ultimate sale through the pro dealers who are equipped to supplement this support on a local level. That is the new direction in the professional field.

Political and economical instability doesn’t always bring with it a negative effect. During these uncertain times, photojournalism will boom, while cost pressures will affect advertising agencies, but fashion photography will continue to thrive. More entrepreneurial men and women will try their hand at becoming pros and will need new equipment. Schools teaching photography will bring on a new crop of potential pros whose needs must be satisfied.