Todd Fitzgerald's got photography in his blood. From the age of 5—when he saw his first B&W print appear like magic in a tray of developer—he was hooked for life. From that point on, Todd pretty much grew up in the store owned by his father, Glenn (Glenn Fitzgerald purchased Artcraft Camera in 1972). As a youth, Todd helped out at the sales counter, making his first sale at the ripe old age of 8. It was a red Canon Snappy, he says—and he realized he was destined to be a part of the photo retail business. "It felt right—it was part of me," Todd explains. His teen years were spent helping out after school and on the weekends, and as he grew up, Todd says he spent more and more time at the stores.
Now 35, Todd's started the transition of running the business as Glenn transitions out. For the past two years, Todd's been pretty much running the business, which consists of the flagship location in Kingston, NY, and two other locations, one in New Paltz and the other in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The name changed to Artcraft Camera & Digital about five years ago, when digital hit in earnest. They are toying with another name change, since they've added a number of niche departments, such as custom matting and framing and a digital printer. Todd's brother, Shawn, runs the family's other business—a wholesale photo operation.
Todd claims that it is the employees that have made Artcraft what it is today. The staff are dedicated. All totaled, there are 33 employees between the three locations. Gerard Burgher has been the lab manager at the Kingston location for 26 years, overseeing all photographic production at that store. Store manager Rich Levine has been in that position for three years; Ian Wickstead, the New Paltz location's store manager, for four years; and Jessica McKeown, the store manager of the Poughkeepsie location, for nine years.
Artcraft's Kingston location is located in a strip mall with other local shops. "We're in the local business district in Kingston," he explains. All of the big-box stores are on the other side of town. Nearby towns include Woodstock, Saugerties, and the Hunter and Windham ski areas. Plus, neighboring New Paltz has a number of colleges.
Much of Artcraft's customer base is made up of educated, middle- to high-income consumers who live in upscale neighborhoods. The customer makeup demands a certain level of knowledge and experience in the photo market. "I cherry-pick every camera line for my customer base," says Todd. "We find our customers trust us because of our history with them.
"We qualify customers to cameras," he continues. "What do you shoot? From how far away? What do you do with the photos? [We ask this] even before we pick up a camera to show them. For a DSLR, we ask if they have existing lenses from a film model."
As his customers are so educated and can easily do research online, once a replacement model comes out, Todd pulls the previous model off the shelves. For example, when Canon introduced the EOS Rebel XTi, they pulled the Rebel XT; when Nikon added the D40x to its line, they pulled the D40. It's for that same reason that Artcraft doesn't carry entire camera lines in each and every price point.
Discontinued stock, close-out items, white elephants, and outdated film all go to the eBay room. Handled by staffer Marisa Robish, items to be sold via the business's eBay storefront are shot and catalogued. Todd explains that there are also small-ticket items such as darkroom supplies that they do well selling at full retail price, because many stores have cut out their darkroom stock completely. With the recent redesign, they did cut back on darkroom supplies, but only by about a third. They're still doing quite well with Ilford and Kodak papers, chemistry, and other darkroom accessories. The darkroom supplies were moved off the main salesfloor to a room accessible by customers that features a large sign overhead welcoming customers into the area.
Expansion Into New Ventures
While they were completing their redesign, Todd says that they realized the heights of the display units were too high—you couldn't see over them. By lowering the shelving units to only four feet, the space looks much more open and allows most customers to see across the entire store with one glance. The aisles are wide, easily accommodating strollers.
The color scheme was also changed with the recent remodel. A warm plum color now covers most of the walls, which is more inviting than the previous stark-white paint.
Customer reaction to the changes: "WOW!" Todd says it was a no-brainer, since 70 percent of the customers walking through the doors Monday through Friday are women, who appreciate the changes.
Custom mat-cutting and framing was added just after PMA this year. "We knew we wanted to do it earlier," Todd says, explaining that they finally took the plunge this year. Artcraft's Kingston location now houses a full selection of mat and frame corners and has installed a Wizard International CMC (computerized mat cutter), as well as the equipment to cut their own glass and mouldings.
When we visited with Todd, they'd already completed the addition of a design center in the Poughkeepsie location and expected that the design center in the New Paltz location would be finished by mid-summer. The design centers will consist of a graphic designer, hired to create logos, business cards, stationery, and other such items. "We're putting together a portfolio now," Todd says. "As we reinvent ourselves, we see other small businesses are going through transformations as we did. We already have their photo business." His plan is to leverage the loyal B2B customers who already come to Artcraft for all of their photo needs with the new printing products they're able to offer. One-third of Artcraft's current customer base is made up of commercial and business accounts.