When King Henry IV warned his son Harry that "heavy is the head that wears the crown" in Shakespeare's play Henry IV, the latter was inheriting a kingdom of dissension. Judging from the rapidly changing, and sometimes frustratingly fickle, state of our own union, many second- and third-generation photo retailers might be consulting their own medicine cabinets to remedy their inheritance headaches. However, some of these second-generation "young guns" aren't so pessimistic. They are, in fact, dare I say, even hopeful?
"I think my generation is optimistic and can see the possibilities instead of being so hampered by the limitations," says Liz Weidner of Woodward Camera in Birmingham, MI, who remembers working at her parent's shop anytime she had a school vacation. Now she is a full-time owner. In an industry weighed down by pressures from big-box stores and an increasingly "do-it-yourself" environment, the question begs to be asked: did your parents force you into the business? And if not, why were you so willing to inherit the retail crown?
David Guidry of Lakeside Camera Photoworks in Metairie and Mandeville, LA, not only had to take on the challenges facing photo retailers on a national level, but has also had to do it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation locally, reestablishing his business from the ground up (see PTN, December 2005, Dealer of the Year). When I asked him how he came into photo retail, his answer was candid. "At the time, I was enrolled in a master's program for history," he says. "I started dating my future wife and I didn't feel like reading so many books. My dad offered me a job, and that was easier than filling out applications." Indeed, a lot of second-generation retailers have a similar story to David's.
Michelle Bogosian-heckmann of The Camera Shop Online, located in Bryn Mawr, PA, went to work in the corporate world for a couple of years after receiving her degree: "I was selling video conferencing systems for distance learning, medicine, and business. I made great money and played golf two to three times a week, but I was bored; a couple of years later, I was certain that I wanted to have my own business. My father was considering retiring, so I started some new projects for the store." The rest is evidently history, as Michelle has since been running the store with her mother, Kathy.
David Sarber of Sarber's Camera, with locations in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, was stationed in Norfolk, VA, in the U.S. Navy in late 1981. By 1982 he was back in California, working for his father's establishment, much to his father's surprise: "One day the manager at the main store hired me-my father and mother were both informed later about this," says Sarber.
There are some, nonetheless, that were born with film in their hand, like Todd Fitzgerald of Artcraft Camera, in Kingston, NY, who knew at age 7 that he was bound for the imaging industry: "I have never lost the initial excitement I felt when I first watched an image come to life in the developing tray. Ever since then, photography has been in my blood."
Whether DNA, fate, or a sheer desire not to read any more history books colored their paths, these second-generation dealers are youthful fixtures in an aging industry, bringing a quiet comfort along with change-an anomaly of their parent's generation. "I think that, unlike my parent's generation, people born in the '60s and '70s are more willing to take risks," says Tony Miresse, president of Art's Cameras Plus with three stores (one each in Waukesha, West Allis, and Greenfield, WI) and fellow young gun (also PTN's Dealer of the Year, 2007; see the December Ď07 issue). "We're also less resistant to change because we've seen things move at speeds never before imagined. We really had no choice but to accept and embrace computers, wireless technologies, and digital."
Change, according to Lakeside's Guidry, "is a common battleground" for the generational gap. "The older folks want to get to the finish line and therefore tend to take a more conservative approach," he says. "The younger generation is looking at the long view and may feel pressure to change quickly. These two aims need not be in conflict-the trick is for both parties to realize that the path to both leads to the same ends. How many old-style businesses that have been slow to change are still around? Change or die." Stark but fitting words for a constantly modernizing industry.
Innovation in a Digital World
These innovations have taken form mostly in the digital arena through kiosk stations, printing, albums, and frames. Art's Cameras Plus' Miresse definitely felt the pressure: "We had to plan ahead to make sure that our labs would change over to digital in a controlled manner so that we could manage our equipment loans and not be forced to buy new machines for each store at the same time. Then we had to add kiosks, large-format printers, online printing services, etc., to try and keep up with the changing market. On the hardware side, camera models change so fast and prices drop so quickly and frequently that managing inventory is more important than ever. Getting caught with dead inventory when margins are so slim could be a disaster, so it's important to have a good P.O.S. system and use the data to make wise purchasing decisions."