Art's Cameras Plus (www.artscameras.com) with three locations in the Milwaukee, WI, area: Greenfield, Waukesha, and West Allis; is probably most well-known for its Digital Print Suite-a successful example of designing a kiosk printing space for "Jennifer" the Gen-X mom, today's most powerful imaging customer. However, there's more to Art's than that-and that's why we've chosen to honor owner Tony Miresse and his staff with PTN's 2007 Dealer of the Year award. Each year we bestow this award upon a photo specialty retailer in honor of their ingenuity, business acumen, out-of-the-box thinking, and willingness to share their successful strategies with other dealers in the industry.
Always Wanted In
As a teen, Tony had a paper route, but he knew deep down that he wanted to work in his family's store. He asked his father, Art, how old he had to be to come to work. His dad said 16. So in 1979 Tony got rid of the paper route and came to work behind the counter. "The first camera I sold was a $100 Yashica-it was exhilarating, I loved it," he says.
Tony started spending more time in the store. His father was glad to have him, pleased that one of his six kids wanted to stick with the business. Tony's father began to cut back his hours and "semi-retired" in 1991.
Tony reminisces about a conversation his dad once had, pre-retirement, with a fellow retailer and very close friend, Ray Murphy of Murphy's Camera in Louisville, KY. Ray had asked Art why he was still working: "What are you hanging around for? You said you wanted to start tapering off and that you trust Tony-is he doing a good job for you?" When Tony's father answered yes, Ray replied, "Well then, let him go."
Tony's father realized then that he had the utmost confidence in his son's abilities; after this epiphany, he finally allowed the business to totally transition to Tony's command. Eventually, Tony and his wife, Geneen, took over ownership of Art's Cameras Plus in 2001.
At the time of Art's transition into retirement, Tony had already been managing much of the business and handling all the buying. One of his first initiatives was to streamline the number of vendors the business dealt with, so he could concentrate on building strong partnerships with key vendors. "Forming partnerships with our vendors is paramount to our success," Tony explains. "After all, they're the ones who determine whether or not consumers are spending their money in our industry or on something else." Once they did more business with fewer vendors, they became more important to the vendors they did work with. "It got us to the next level," he explains.
Tony fully maximizes the space at each location to get the best use out of each store. While any of the locations can take orders for services such as photofinishing, mounting, framing, or wide-format printing, orders are sent to the specific location housing the equipment for that service.
The newest store in Greenfield, for example, doesn't have an on-site lab. Most kiosk orders are sent via T1 lines to the West Allis lab where they're printed on a Fuji Frontier and returned the next day. Customers can also choose instant 4x6 dye-sub prints at a slightly higher price. There is also a Frontier lab in the Waukesha store.
Wide-format printing is done in both the West Allis and Waukesha locations. Greenfield's wide-format work is sent to the West Allis store for fulfillment (Art's uses Epson 9800, 7600 and 4800 inkjet printers for this work). They offer "Specialty Framing" quasi-custom framing using Vicki Schober's Elevation mats and a great selection of frames. The mats and frames, which come in a variety of sizes, are kept in stock and on display. Framing, mounting, and laminating are done in Waukesha. Most of the gifting is done through the PRO network by Harold's Photo Center in South Dakota. The West Allis store is still considered the hub. Shipping and receiving, warehousing, accounting and IT are all headquartered there. Carol Pfaff is the office manager and Dan Mueller is helping launch Art's e-commerce and e-Bay store from the West Allis location. Classes are held in the Greenfield and Waukesha stores. While the West Allis location used to host classes, the space was needed for the warehouse once the third location opened in October of '06.
Two of the stores feature a drive-thru window. While Tony admits that more people used them with film, they're still frequented by his customers-"especially by moms with a couple of kids sleeping in the back seat; you can't put a price on letting a sleeping child lie." The drive-thru is just one of the ways that Art's shows its customers that it's a "mom-friendly location." Another example of catering to mom and dad: the spacious customer bathrooms in the new Greenfield location. They both have Koala changing tables, just in case parents or grandparents are shopping with babies in tow.
The Greenfield location, which opened in 2006, was designed as a lifestyle store using information obtained from PMA at "The Complete Picture Inspiration Center." Geneen is a classic "Jennifer" herself and has been instrumental in many of the ideas, including choosing the furniture designs and product displays.
Realizing he needs to remain proactive, Tony continually searches out new opportunities to increase sales and profits. Art's added multiple kiosks and online print-ordering solutions well ahead of most specialty dealers. And the Greenfield store was designed from scratch to be a destination. The store features Art's Digital Print Suite, an area with six digital print kiosks where customers can relax in a comfortable environment and print for as long as they'd like. The Digital Print Suite was given its name to distinguish it as a more upscale destination. "We charge a few pennies more than Walgreens, but they don't have to wait in line here. Plus, our staff will help them get familiar with our kiosks and show them all the neat things they can do with their images. All the while, their children are occupied at our train set," explains Tony. Each store has five or six kiosks consisting of a mix of Lucidiom APMs, Lucis and a customer workstation (which connects to the internet, allowing customers to order prints, greeting cards, and photo gifts from Art's website.)
While preparing to open the Greenfield location, a planned remodel at the Waukesha store was put on hold. However, at the urging of the staff, a scaled back renovation was approved by Tony. They used bright colored paints to spruce up the sales floor; added inexpensive yet comfortable furniture for a more homey feeling; and purchased display pieces that are fashionable and up to date, allowing them to keep pace with today's upscale retailers. "The changes made for a much more comfortable atmosphere; one in which customers will frequently plug in laptops or read while they're waiting for their spouse to place print orders," said Geneen. "They're staying longer which has resulted in print orders increasing by a noticeable percentage," Tony added. "They're staying longer and printing more, and if we're doing our job right, they're being exposed to scrapbook pages, posters, greeting cards, shoebox scans, hard cover books and more."
Art's has reorganized the way they do everything. Tony says he's learned so much from PMA: "Why should I think I know better?" The Complete Picture Center was a big motivator for many of these changes. "It shows people that it doesn't take a lot of money to update," he says. "The total cost of renovating the Waukesha location was just over $3,000 yet it looks like we spent $20,000. In this day and age, we can't afford to have stores that look the same as they did in the '70s and '80s! Photography is cutting edge and photo specialty stores need to look like we are moving ahead with technology, not stuck in the past," said Tony.
It's the little things that help, like signs near frame displays reminding customers to ask a salesperson if they don't see the size or color they want; attractive displays of the creative gifts that consumers can create with their images, such as photo blankets and scrapbooks; the feminine touch of silk bridal bouquets placed near the wedding albums and frames on display in the Digital Print Suite; or the classes that customers can take to hone their skills-and hopefully print more of the images they take. One item that may seem out of place at a photo specialty store are gift bags. While not money-makers, they're inexpensive and on display at the sales counter as a customer convenience-what's easier than buying a gift and the wrapping all at one time?
One of the more recent changes Tony has made is in the camera display. He's rearranged the display cases by type or style of digital camera instead of by brand to make it easier for his salespeople to show customers product. Once the staff qualifies a customer to the type of camera they're looking for, they can show them a grouping of same-type cameras without having to grab cameras from multiple display cases. The categories in which cameras are grouped include: "Sleek & Stylish," "Travel & Life," (cameras with wide angle zooms), "Capture the Action" (long zoom compacts), entry-level DSLRs are together, and finally there is a section for those "Serious about SLR Photography" which includes the higher-end DSLR's.
Girls' Nite Out
Geneen and 11-year Art's employee, Kris Bertling, had a lot to do with the planning of the Girls Nite Out event. The first one took place in early November to give the attendees a chance to order some of the gift items that may take several weeks to fulfill and still have them in time for the holidays. Tony and his wife spent plenty of time talking with others in the industry who have thrown successful GNO events, including Gaby Mullinax of Fullerton Photographics (who's known as the Queen of GNO), and Pauline McKean from Calagaz Photo. "It's great networking with others who've done successful events," Tony says. "It gives you confidence that it should work well."
"We're doing Girls' Nite Out marketing internally first as a thank you," Tony explains. "We want to reach out to our female customers and let them know we appreciate their business. I'm a believer you'll get most of your business from current clientele and Girls' Nite is one way to create extremely loyal customers."
They created a fun experience for their female customers at this event. They set up eight different stations where they showed the ladies examples of the great things they can do with their images and gave them a taste of a great Art's experience. "We served wine, chocolate, cookies, cheese & crackers." explained Geneen. "When they arrived, we gave attendees a punch card to make sure they visited all of the stations. If they filled their card, they received an envelope with a prize in it." Prizes included a voucher for 25 free greeting cards, a free photo calendar, a $75 credit toward a specialty framing job, a free hard cover photo book, and more. Nearly all of the 72 attendees received a prize and were very appreciative of the evening. There was even a raffle of a Casio camera outfit valued at $300 with all the proceeds going to breast cancer research. The raffle raised $500 for the cause. Several GNO customers have returned since the event to order prints and gift items, with others purchasing cameras and accessories. The next Girls Nite Out is tentatively planned for March of '08.