"The photo product distributor's fate mirrors that of photo product retailers," says Cindy L. Wesolowski, president, OmegaSatter. "We feel it is our responsibility to provide unique products that help to differentiate the photo retailer from the other types of retailers selling cameras these days. Customers who go to a photo-specialty store do so for the environment of being in a real camera store, plus the opportunity to see products they can't find elsewhere. Compare it to the experience of going to a real hobby shop versus a mass merchant with a hobby department. The experience is completely different. Ideally, photo distributors provide both the unique product and demand for that product so customers will want it and will have to go to a camera store to find it. And, of course, the product needs to be profitable for the store."
What can you do to set yourself apart from the shop across the street? "Diversify--compete against low-price competitors by offering exciting products and new services that they can't or won't offer," offers ZBE's Tim Sexton, VP, marketing. "With new large-format digital imaging technology, it is very easy to offer large- and small-format digital printing. The more print options you can offer, the more opportunity to increase your sales and market base. Another strategic advantage to developing unique large-format print products is that you can brand your own products, which will separate you from your competitors."
"We've noticed an interesting development: More and more people are rediscovering the unique quality of a photographic image, and they're taking steps to offer or acquire them," says Christopher Howard, senior VP, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC. "There's really never been a time when people didn't appreciate photo quality. The issue was that new digital processes produced images that were 'good enough'--plus, you got them via a more cost-efficient workflow. But some of the post-print production workflows that grew out of advancements in digital imaging technologies are migrating over to photo. For example, it's much easier, and more affordable, today to produce high-quality wedding albums of silver-halide images using tools initially developed to produce picture books of inkjet or thermal images. So we see a period developing when professional imagers and their customers will be able to have their cake and eat it, too--true photographs from an efficient, affordable workflow."
"The industry has three distinct challenges and opportunities," says Jan Lederman, president, MAC Group. "The first is looking into the proverbial crystal ball and predicting changes or opportunities in technology. We can't outdo scientists in laboratories, but we should be capable of taking what they've done and use our imagination and marketing skills to find opportunities and challenges. The second is reseller segmentation. With an increasing online marketplace, the local reseller must find ways to improve the value of his or her bricks-and-mortar business in addition to ecommerce efforts. Contests, demonstrations, lectures, sponsored field trips, and alliances with local colleges and universities are just some examples of what the local reseller can do to distinguish themselves from their competition. The last initiative is a giant opportunity and challenge looming over all of us: product education to photographers. If you look at the explosion of photo blogs, you suddenly discover a world where the consumer has created a powerful information network none of us can afford to ignore. The consumer is better informed than ever, and if we help teach them, the entire industry will benefit."
"Make it easy for the customer to do business with you," says Bruce Kuperman, senior VP of sales, DBL. "Continue to offer the best customer service when a customer walks in the door. Understand the customer's needs and offer a complete solution. Offer a customer-loyalty discount, or bundle a camera, tripod, extra battery, and camera bag and sell it as a whole solution."
"In addition to the competitiveness of the industry, we're also marketing during a difficult economic time period," notes David Lee, senior VP, Nikon Inc. "Thankfully, as history has proved, pictures and photography products tend to be resilient during hard economic times."
Rob Eby, VP, purchasing, D&H, says, "All things considered, the industry has been prosperous over the last several months. Photography is moving beyond the pro photographer and vertical markets, and into the hands of mainstream consumers. Retailers need to be prepared to educate the market in order to make the bigger sale."
"During times of economic instability, there are still opportunities for strategic growth," says ZBE's Sexton. "The companies that can differentiate themselves with valuable products and services and then proactively communicate these differences will have a unique opportunity to succeed and even grow in the coming year."
"One thing that remains consistent in our industry is a strong sense of optimism, even in the most challenging times," says Canon's Peck. "After all, we sell exciting products that visually capture the most important moments in life and preserve cherished memories."
Steve Giordano, Jr., president, Lucidiom, concurs: "The photo retail market remains strong despite a slower economy, because the industry is built on emotions and memories that consumers will forever seek to preserve. How they choose to preserve those memories, however, is rapidly changing. In addition to preserving them, consumers also are looking to share them. They increasingly are interested in products and services that allow them to stay connected to friends and family, organize and preserve memories, and tell stories."
"Regardless of fluctuating economic conditions, consumers will still go on with their lives," explains Peter Liebmann, national strategic account manager, SanDisk Corporation. "They'll get married, start families, and travel--most of all, they'll still look to capture those precious images and memories. As long as dealers create awareness for camera options that fit every budget, customers will still continue to drive the photo market forward."
"Ironically, consumers are seeing the prices go up in most industries, and cameras are going down," says Jim DiCarlo, executive director, sales, Olympus Imaging America. "Digital cameras are now more affordable than ever before. This affordability should offset some concerns about economic instability for the photo industry."
Retail printing is projected to grow steadily. According to InfoTrends' "2007 Photo Prints Forecast," retail printing is estimated to account for 58% of all photo prints by the year 2012, up from 49% in 2007, and the only segment expected to grow during that forecast period.
Noritsu's Tina Tuccillo, VP, strategic marketing and product planning, says, "The goal is to expand the view of the photo category with both retailers and consumers. With items such as enlargements, greeting cards, calendars, posters, and photobooks, the ability for retailers to differentiate their photo offerings is greater now than it's ever been in the past. And these products offer excellent margins for the retailer. On the consumer side, they can now experience their digital photos in more ways than just the 4x6. Photobooks are the fastest growing segment and will continue to evolve as consumers, small businesses, and others find ways to use these products.
"Over the past few years, we've [watched] the slow migration to the use of 'dry' technologies," she adds. "But as recently as this past year, the migration has picked up with the introduction of more products, new technologies, and additional players who've entered and started to shape the future of the industry. These new technologies have created new distribution channels, new business models, and new products for consumers to experience photo. It's truly an exciting time to be in the photo industry."
"Never before in the history of photography have there been so many images that remain unprinted, and with the proliferation of DSLRs among consumers, there's an abundance of high-quality files that are technically suitable for enlarging," says John D. Lang, president and CEO, Epson America, Inc. "I believe photo retailers can benefit by educating [their] customers about big prints."
Lang sees more to be gained by encouraging these consumers to take home bigger prints. "This service gives retailers another way for customers to showcase their photography skills and precious memories with powerful visual impact; they can use them as décor in their home or office, as gifts for special occasions, and more," he says. "For a very reasonable investment, retailers can use large-format inkjet printers to produce high-quality, big prints."