Tony partnered with a local pizzeria, Papa Murphy's, to provide free pizza; a local radio station promoted the tent sale and provided complimentary soft drinks.
Last year, the famous Milwaukee Brewers Racing Sausages came out to entertain the crowd. And a number of customers were drawn to the event simply to speak with the manufacturer's reps.
There were free seminars, too. Topics included how to choose a video camcorder, which format is best, and another one titled, "Help, I have pictures stuck in my camera!"
Although it was a lot of work, it was a profitable event that also helped expose a lot of new customers to Art's. Tony found that people didn't mind waiting in line, because they felt they were getting a bargain. "Although many customers came for limited loss leader items, most went out with a kit which included batteries, memory, a case, club membership etc., allowing a reasonable profit to be made."
Running the Business
The mission of Art's Cameras Plus is "to exceed our customer's expectations for quality, service, and value," Tony says. When it comes to hiring, "We hire for personality; we can train for everything else."
A big part of the training process involves teaching his salespeople to be truthful and ethical. "If you don't know the answers to a question, customers will respect you so much more if you say, ĎI don't know, but I'll find out for you,'" he says. "And then you ask someone else. It might seem like pretty basic stuff, but most customers can tell when they're just being sold something and the salesperson helping doesn't care at all about what their individual needs are."
Because of the vast array of services available, and the manner in which Art's does business, customers realize that Art's offers more than a big box can.
In 2003, Art's instituted the AOR (Areas of Responsibility) system created by Mike Woodland and Dan Poresky at Dan's Camera City in Allentown, PA. Tony says that adding the AORs made his business much more efficient. "It makes transactions at the counter more professional; no one waits anymore while customers are rung up at the register," he says. "The system helped bring the staff together, too," he says. He explains that it's so much nicer when everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
"We're a small operation," Tony continues. "You don't just hire salespeople to stand behind the counter and sell. Somehow before, everything that needed to be done always got done, but now it's more efficient." He explains that before he incorporated the AORs, nobody ever knew where rebate forms were, because nobody was accountable for keeping track of them. "With the AORs in place," Tony says, "The person who was responsible for making sure rebate forms were updated, suggested that we keep a folder of forms on the computer so they could be printed at the time the sale was being rung up. It was an easy solution with no more waste, no more running around looking for them. We seem so much more professional when customers see we're organized."
Art's staff is extremely conscientious and is encouraged to share any ideas they may have that could improve a system or help increase sales. "We want them to take initiative. Anything that can make us more efficient in any way, shape, or form, I'm all for it. What business owner has time to have their fingers in every part of the business? I've got people who are very good at what they do, and I've got to let them do it."
And good ideas from his team do get implemented. For instance, one associate noticed the inordinate amount of time spent calling customers asking them to pick up old photofinishing and repairs each month, many of which end up being total losses. "She suggested that we implement a prepay system for photofinishing to minimize these losses and save time making phone calls each month," explained Tony. After speaking with several PRO members who have successfully implemented a prepay system, Tony and his management staff decided to take the advice and will implement it in January.
A loyal staff speaks volumes as well. "Some of our employees have been working here 12 to 15 years," Tony says. "I hope that means we're doing something right. Our warehouse manager, Greg Fischer, started with my dad when I was 11 years old and has worked here for 34 years; the Waukesha store manager, Ray Llanas, has been with us 15 years; Our network administrator, Kevin Kane, has 17 years with the company. Several others including West Allis store manager and director of Sales, Chris Jourdan have been with Art's for 10+ years.
In 1998 Art's Cameras Plus joined the Photographic Research Organization (PRO) buying group. Tony was appointed to the PRO board of directors in July 2000 and has been a member of the executive committee since April 2003, serving as secretary. He is also a frequent speaker at the annual PRO membership convention, and a PMA advisory committee member.
Tony feels he owes much of his success to his membership in the PRO and IPI buying groups. "It's not just what it added to our margins; with PRO, I'm saving money on all the products I was already buying and because of the paper prices IPI negotiates with the manufacturer, the money I save pays my annual membership dues," he says. "However, the most important thing is all the idea-sharing and networking, the forums on the websites, talking with fellow members and getting all the business advice."
He's humble enough to ask for advice when needed. "I believe there are very few people who can do everything well," he says. "In my case, I really enjoy buying and selling equipment-I'm a box mover. But I admit I'm not the best when it comes to lab issues. That's why it is so important to have friends who are sharp in areas I'm not and who are willing to share their expertise and successes. That's what you find in the membership of PRO and IPI."
He's open to giving as well, sharing his successes with dealers who have asked. "I don't know where this business would be if it weren't for the relationships we've built with others who are in the same boat," he says. "In most cases, I'll consult with someone who is willing to share an idea that they've had success with and we put our own twist on it. It gives us confidence to know that we're implementing something that's been proven to be successful."
Why Work Retail?
"I love the face-to-face with customers," Tony says, "though I'm not on the floor as much as I'd like to be. I think it [work] has to be fun; you have to have fun with the customers." It really does make a difference to him when the staff can greet customers by name as they walk in the door.
Tony is passionate about his customers and that they should have a great experience when they come to Art's. "I think having a personal connection with customers is important for business, but it makes it fun as well," he says.
"People are printing now," he notes. Art's has marketed their output solutions to capitalize on this, showing people there's a choice other than the chains because Art's can do it better. "They'll print more pictures the easier we make it for them," he says. "And if they have a good experience...they'll print even more photos."
Tony and Geneen have two children. Their daughter, Kim, a high school senior, recently started work in one of the stores, and their son, Mark, 14, does odd jobs for Art's.
Over the past 28 years, Tony has seen the industry change from flashbulbs and enlargers to Wi-Fi enabled cameras and the digital darkroom. Tony is optimistic about the future of his photo specialty business and is constantly looking for new markets to capitalize on. He realizes that when the photo industry changes, he needs to face the challenges head-on. "To be successful, we must look for opportunities to provide our customers with solutions to their imaging needs while constantly creating new revenue streams," he says.
He knows that to remain viable with the competitive pressures from e-tailers and big-box stores, he must stay ahead of the curve. Instead of running from technological changes, Tony realizes he must continually invest in growing the business, especially in times of transition.
We believe Tony Miresse and his staff at Art's Cameras Plus are poised for much success and growth in the future.