To stay competitive in the marketplace, Wolfe's offers classes (they're offered free of charge to Wolfe's customers), or will often throw in free printing—things the mass guys aren't doing, and it adds value.
Involvement Has Its Rewards
Mike considers himself just about third generation in photo specialty retailing. His uncle Harold Wolfe opened the business in 1924, with Mike's father, Harold Worswick, joining in 1946. Mike joined Wolfe's in 1971; DeWitt joined in 1980. In 1996, Wolfe's Cameras, Camcorders & Computers was honored as PTN's Dealer of the Year. In the 10 years since, Wolfe's has consistently worked to adapt to the changing needs and wants of its customers.
Mike has been involved with the PRO buying group for three decades now. "Being involved in PRO has been one of the most profitable things I've ever done," he says. However, it took the loss of a major vendor to get Mike to think seriously about joining the buying group. He'd had the opportunity 35 years ago and decided against it. After losing a vendor a few years later, he looked into the group again, and this time he decided it was the right thing to do. "Joining PRO was the best single business decision I've ever made," he says. "By being a member of a buying group, it allows you to find quality merchandise we can sell at a profitable price. We can proudly sell Promaster products and create margin opportunities that make the business succeed."
"PRO is the key to our success," explains Mike. In addition to the power of the buying group, sharing ideas and working with other dealers is an important aspect of the PRO Group. "It is my responsibility to share ideas, too," adds Mike. "No one person can invent everything. If each retailer who's part of PRO thinks up one good idea a month and shares their ideas, that's a lot of great ideas being generated."
With fewer independents staying in business, Mike feels it's more important than ever to participate in a buying group, whether it's PRO, which focuses more on hard goods; or Independent Photo Imagers (IPI) or Town & Country; both IPI and Town & Country focus more on photofinishing. "I don't think there's any independent [who] shouldn't be part of a buying group."
Meeting Customer Needs
"We're always looking for something new to add to our mix," Mike says. About 10 years ago, Wolfe's added 4,000 square feet to the store's existing 6,000 sq. ft. to bring it to 10,000 sq. ft. At that time, photofinishing, frames, and custom framing were added to the store's mix. At one point, computers made up 40% of the store's sales volume.
About five years ago, Mike and his staff began to realize that the stronger the digital revolution became, the quicker they'd have to figure out what the next business model would be. And as with anything new, the challenge that arose is communicating the message to the customer.
"Our real initiative right now is to grow services while having no slip in hard goods," says Mike. Consumers need replacement cameras for their first digital, if they haven't yet moved onto their second one. "Maybe there'll be one more round of that upgrading, but once simplicity and speed of operation are there, which it almost is now, it will be harder to sell digital cameras four to five years from now," says Mike. Consumers may wait up to five years to replace a second- or third-generation digital camera, slowing the rate at which new cameras are sold, so it is important to offer a range of services that will keep customers coming through the doors.
Wolfe's has also scaled back on the scrapbooking that they offer. Mike explains that scrapbooking was good early on, but the physical layout of the store doesn't lend itself well for crop parties or other such gatherings. For scrapbookers, Wolfe's does incorporate the Lucidiom Luci kiosks and has added a new scanner that can scan a customer's 12x12 scrapbook page with a 3-D appearance. Mike says the job now is getting out the message to customers that the scanning service is available.
Today Wolfe's is working aggressively to sell HDTVs to bring in new revenue. At one time they sold PDAs, but those faded out of the product mix when they became unprofitable. In the '90s they sold home theaters for a short time, but phased them out for the same reason.
Mike enjoys running Wolfe's Cameras, Camcorders & Computers, and there's no stopping him anytime soon. "DeWitt and I love what we're doing and are having fun, and if we can do that and make some money, we'll keep doing it."