A swirling wind of change is in the air for independent photo retailers as digital printing at retail is becoming even more popular with consumers than ever before. To take advantage of this growing trend, many savvy camera specialty shops and minilabs are focusing on specific consumer demographics—especially the young Gen-X moms—as the quickest route to strong revenue growth and high profit margins. But just how are photo businesses making the transition to reach the vast market of amateurs and casual snapshooters? A key element in their strategy—and one designed to meet the competitive challenge of "big box" retailers—is to give their stores an extreme facelift, in the hopes that these design changes will help provide a better comfort level that customers will experience throughout their stay in the store. The overall goal: make it inviting, easy, and enjoyable for customers to come and stay awhile, browse and buy, use digital kiosks to process and personalize their digital photos, and interact with employees in positive ways that associate the retailer with the most satisfying picture-taking experience possible.
To get a better handle on this trend sweeping the industry, we spoke with a number of independent shops currently undergoing various store redesigns and asked them how things were progressing and what they hoped to achieve once their makeovers are completed.
"The way of doing business surely has changed over the years," says Chris Lydle, CPC, owner of Chris' Camera Center in Aiken, SC. "Twenty-five years ago, when you were mostly selling 35mm SLR cameras and the accessories that went with them, you could get away with having a store that was a little cluttered. Not today. To get more traffic and revenue, you have to make big changes in your décor and presentation as part of reinventing and re-merchandising to attract today's target customer."
At PMA 2007, Lydle checked out PMA's The Complete Picture Inspiration Center, a showcase of hands-on lifestyle experiences designed specifically for the most powerful target market, Jennifer, the Gen X mom. According to PMA, Jennifer is most likely to own a digital camera, buy a new digital camera in the near future, make prints, and use online photo services and self-service kiosks. "Jennifer was the customer we wanted to target," says Lydle. "This concept store provided us with some nice ideas for retail solutions, organized into comprehensive collections called inspiration centers. These centers focus on the core areas of how she [Jennifer] interacts and engages with images."
Targeting Your Market
"PMA is constantly looking for ways to help improve the business of its members," according to PMA consultant Dr. Glenn Omura, who has played a key role in the planning of the inspiration center. "At the heart of business success is clearly understanding your market. The focus on Jennifer comes from the realization that she is the power buyer in the imaging mass market. Jennifer is a mom with young children, and we have always known that moms are in charge when it comes to archiving family images."
"We've overlaid these dimensions on the imaging chain—that is, capturing, editing, preserving, and sharing images," continues Omura. "For example, for capturing, we have the Performance inspiration center that showcased impressively large, high-resolution poster images of children's action photos. Then we show her what kind of equipment she needs to get these same results. The idea was to show desirable results and then show her how The Complete Picture store has the simple solution to get these results. Inspiration centers are designed to enhance the retail experience for Jennifer, by allowing her to discover solutions for problems she doesn't realize can be solved. Ultimately, the retailer will understand her needs and desires, then provide services to earn her trust and purchase potential."
Lydle, an industry veteran, has been in his South Carolina location about five years. "The downtown Aiken area is very vibrant, and I think that our store is helping contribute to that vibrancy," he says. "The Complete Picture Inspiration Center gave us a host of ideas for creating a valuable customer experience and maximizing retail exposure, as well as how to remerchandise our storefront for broader appeal. It also gave us tips to tie into digital photo printing by creating opportunities in scrapbooking and other new markets such as photo books and fine-art. While touring the center, I met with one of the design professionals for a 20-minute session. He jotted down some design ideas on paper so we could take them back to the store to work on."
Another reason for the redesign, says Lydle, was that they recently purchased the HP Photosmart Studio. "During PMA 2007, I ordered an HP Photosmart ps2000 Studio system, and in April we began getting our store ready for it. We are hoping for delivery sometime in June." [Editor's note: this interview took place in late May.]
Lydle likes the fact that the HP Photosmart ps2000 Studio can be integrated into existing photo center or minilab operations. "HP says it can easily be operated by an attendant," says Lydle. "The ps2000 will allow us to expand beyond traditional 4x6 prints to create a central point for customers to order prints, as well as creative projects, including ready-to-share photo books, calendars, CDs, greeting cards, and posters, all of which can be picked up in less than an hour."
A third reason for the redesign: the bathroom. "One other element we wished to upgrade was the area to our bathroom," says Lydle. "PMA's [Glenn] Omura said during a talk at the show that women plan their shopping trips around the bathrooms in the stores they go in. Since we are asking them to spend more time in our store sitting at a kiosk, it makes sense to make their stay a comfortable one."
The first thing that Lydle did was take out his office area. "This opened up more retail space," he says. "We turned it into a photo gallery. It provides our customers with a nice area to walk though to get to the bathroom. It's more important that my customers have a good experience in my store than if I have a lovely office."
To save money on the project, Lydle and his employees did some of the work themselves. "I'm very handy with a hammer, but there were some bumps in the road—and in the floor along the way," Lydle recalls. "In what originally was my office, there were a few weak spots in the floor. If I rolled my desk chair the wrong way, I hit a low spot. So while turning the office into a gallery/passageway, I figured we'd have to replace one or two floor boards. Yeah, right! Turns out the floor joists were really, really rotten. Water was leaking in through the side wall. So the first project was to rip up the floor entirely and ‘sister' the joists with treated 2x12s. Then we treated 3/4-inch ply—two layers—and a subfloor.
"The next step involved putting a new door into the bathroom that the gallery now leads to. Once the HP system is installed, we'll start to work on the bathroom interior. We plan to have the best bathroom in downtown Aiken, and to get to it, customers now have to pass samples of our big prints and museum-wrapped canvas. For our gallery, I printed six 24x36-inch graphic prints, which form a ‘T' with the stub wall. They go in a narrow molding and hang from the suspended ceiling, so we can change them out if we get ambitious."
Lydle also modified a 42-inch sink base cabinet to have a sliding rack for the poster printer from the HP Studio system when it is in place. "It should fit with a quarter inch to spare," he says, crossing his fingers. "This has been a great exercise for us and we're better for it. To remain on the cutting edge, you have to keep reinventing yourself if you want customers to continue to find your business more interesting and exciting. Overall, the redesign is progressing pretty well. In the long run, this will make us as Jennifer-friendly as we can be."