Quite naturally, quality service has become the bread and butter of photo retail, more important than ever since the birth of digital; customers who buy from big-box stores are arriving at the doorsteps of dealers like Miresse seeking advice on using their new camera, accessories they need, and output options that are possible.
"I love it when a customer comes in and wants to know why half of the frame is black and the other is perfectly exposed, or why the relationship between the apertures and the shutter speeds is important," says Sarber. The ability to merge people skills with knowledge of the product is integral for retail success. According to Weidner, who inherited Woodward Camera, "One of the most notable changes made to photo retail is the ever-softening image of the intimidating camera store for consumers." Fueling this shift to a more enthusiast-friendly service is the widespread influx of "Jennifer" moms into photo retail shops-another piece to the modernizing puzzle that retailers of past generations never had to consider. "My vision is different than my father's; it is really focused on the service end of the business more so than on the product," says The Camera Shop's Bogosian-Heckmann.
Experience is key, and creating an atmosphere friendly to non-pros has been the goal of many of these retailers. "My sense is that we are more dialed in to the customer's experience as a valuable differentiator," says Guidry. "This has to do with the nature of today's brands. What we desire to sell to meet our aims is to subordinate to what our customers expect of us to help us meet theirs. Much of this isn't about the product at all; it's about the feeling."
As digital has taught us, this feeling can come in many different shapes and sizes. And according to Artcraft's Fitzgerald, that shape doesn't need to be dressed in a suit. "This is not the jacket-and-tie business of yesteryear," he explains. "I believe in, or at least I am, a more flannel-and-cargo-pants type of business owner, and I think that is a reflection of our management style. High-pressure meetings don't get the same results as they used to. We take a more Montessori approach to management."
Easily Adapting to Change
The ability to move with the times is ostensibly one of the more advantageous qualities of youth-an idealistic open-mindedness that gives these owners a leg up against the competition. A fluid business model is essential to any entrepreneur these days, and Bogosian-Heckmann says that delegating responsibility to able-minded employees is one way she handled the digital shift. "I allow a lot more freedoms to the staff and managers and entrust them to make decisions, whereas my father always had to have the final say," she says. "I hire people who are looking to making this their career path; we pay competitively with other corporations. I expect a higher-caliber person who can think on his or her feet. We do a lot of training, beyond just typical product training, on how to carry yourself and address people properly."
And going beyond can sometimes mean renovating your shop's look. Fitzgerald went beyond the spartan ambiance of the old retail shop and opted for something a little more youthful: "What was once a white-walled camera shop is now more of a boutique. In addition to adding a digital lounge and custom framing, we have made our presence in our local community real."
An easily adaptable approach seems to be the greatest advantage these young guns express as their saving grace.
As for succession plans, most of these thirtysomethings have children still in grade school, and although they wouldn't mind seeing their children inherit their business, many want their progeny to do what impassions them. Sarber, however, already put his daughter to work: "My 11-year-old, Andrea, does work in the stores now, but on a very limited engagement; mostly she just harasses the employees there."
So, in the end, there is no "typical" story; the circumstances that led these "kids" to the business are varied. Now that they're here, though, the general consensus among our young guns is to do your best, change if need be, and accept the tides as they come. Oh, and one more thing: "Learn how to yell if it's important enough," advises Weidner.