Magazine Article


PTN's 2008 State of the Industry
Industry leaders offer their perspective on how the photo industry is doing, and where it's going.

"The consumer should not feel taken advantaged of, and in this sense will hopefully be a repeat customer as needs and equipment change," Leathem adds. "As manufacturers and retailers, experts if you will, we all stand to gain if we listen as much as we try to educate. The right card is out there for everyone who picks up a camera."

Strong Business Practices

"Despite being one of the hottest categories in the electronics business, the photo business is more competitive than ever," says PMA's Fox. "To compete, retailers must be closer to their customers than ever, and engage them on many different levels. It's not enough to have TV and radio ads; consumers now expect to interact with retailers through in-store experiences, online videos, email newsletters, and social-networking sites. To convey the depth and breadth of today's photo retail experience, it's going to take all of these approaches and more."

"No matter what industry changes occur, the idea most often missed is the one constant thing that exists within a retailer's operation: their business database," offers Whitech's Delnawaz. "Know the value of your database and learn to use it."

"With constant innovation and somewhat shorter product life cycles, it will be more important than ever for retailers to effectively manage their inventory and sales, in order to consistently offer customers the latest products," says Nikon's Lee.

Mike Worswick, PRO Group president, explains, "To succeed in this environment, retailers need to do two things. First, they must be very aware of customer's current wants and adapt their retail pricing and marketing strategies to meet them. In some cases this may mean select price drops. But more important will be having the selection of products and services that customers desire. The customer must see the retailer as the place where they want to spend their limited dollars. More than ever, hard times mean that people want a real feeling of satisfaction when they spend money.

"Secondly, retailers must bring their cost of doing business into alignment with sales income. Many retailers have seen erratic swings in sales volume. If sales are trending flat or down, steps must be taken to assure a positive bottom line. This may require adjustments in staffing, store hours, advertising, and gross-margin objectives. Success only comes when gross-margin dollars exceed operating costs."

"In today's economy, customers will be paying closer attention to price-tags and will be more inclined than ever to question a photo specialty dealer about the products and accessories they sell, and rightfully so. Quality and performance will be top-level concerns, and this puts the photo specialty dealer in a unique position to educate and communicate the value associated with a trusted brand that stands for quality," says Paul Wild, President, Bogen Imaging.

It's human nature to search for the lowest possible price, but as the saying goes, "you get what you pay for." This is true in any industry and certainly in the professional photo accessories market. Guiding customers through this tough financial landscape and helping them understand exactly what they're getting for their dollar will be of utmost importance. A customer will be more inclined to opt for a higher-quality brand if they fully understand its long-term value versus the uncertainty and unreliability associated with other budget brands. Expertise, guidance and trust is what will help photo specialty dealers continue to engender brand loyalty and grow amidst such financial instability," adds Wild.

"The focal point for the distributor continues to be inventory control for the independent retailer," adds DBL's Kuperman. "The best distributors will provide their customers the right product, at the right time, with the right product information to educate their customers. The result will be more sales for the retailer and a loyal customer all around."

According to Brent Bowyer, executive director, IPI, "The best advice [for] dealers today is for them to follow the lead of their peers who are managing successful businesses, those who are increasing their gross sales and growing their net profitability. Attend industry and member group–specific events, and read, read, read to develop your specific plan to implement and execute!"

This Holiday Selling Season

Amid the uncertainty of the current economical crisis, "one thing is predictable: consumers want to capture beautiful digital photos," says David Briganti, national marketing manager, imaging, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co. "Photography is aspirational, and consumers always want improved photo quality, ultimately helping them to better preserve their memories. Consumers don't stop taking photos [during] harder economic times, so their desire for 'more' and 'better' keeps digital imaging products relevant.

"However, manufacturers must motivate consumers to upgrade by delivering easy-to-use features with benefits that will help them improve their photography," he continues. "By offering intuitive technologies with practical benefits to the consumer, manufacturers can provide the tools to capture better photos, and digital imaging products can have the potential to peak in any season."

"Photo dealers should be stocked with diversified offerings beyond a few brands to ensure a varied selection that an end user may desire and no empty space on any shelves in case of any product shortages," suggests Bill Zani, VP, marketing and sales, Pentax Imaging Company. "In the case of DSLRs, remember that most end users grow out of a lens kit quickly. Be sure the lens and accessories selection is ample and offers a 'good, better, best' scenario for all of the shoppers who'll be ready to expand their systems both from the onset and post-purchase."

The internet is becoming more of a retail channel that consumers are turning to. Zani continues, "Many customers will refuse to pay four dollars per gallon for gas to drive around town shopping this season. While online shopping will never fully replace a hands-on buying experience at your counter, your webstore should represent all of the products and accessories that are on your shelves and more. Every product, accessory, warranty, or value-added service missing from your site represents a missed opportunity."

"It’s now more evident than ever: high-definition has reshaped the landscape of digital imaging. The industry continues to rapidly evolve and manufactures are now offering solutions that revolutionize and further simplify the way consumers integrate digital photography or video into their high-definition lifestyles," says Tony Sorice, VP of Sales and Marketing for Digital Imaging at Samsung Electronics America.

"The emergence of high-definition presents the specialty photo dealer with another opportunity to continue to demonstrate their expertise to consumers, especially those in search of photographic products and accessories. It's important that photo dealers embrace the new technologies that are coming to market and turn to manufacturers with trusted reputations in the HD space to help further educate their staff on specific HD related camera features how to effectively communicate the benefits of high-definition to their customers," adds Sorice.

As new features, settings and modes are added to the increasing numbers of available product each year, consumers will be seeking guidance from retailers. "An educated staff that's well prepared to answer questions regarding new cameras with high-definition features and connectivity, is more important than ever. The ability to guide a consumer to the appropriate solution to help them capture and share their memories in HD will help grow your business and be better prepared for the future," Sorice concludes.

New Consumer Content = New Retail Opportunities

According to Mette Eriksen, director of the Digital Photography Trends Service for InfoTrends, "The digital camera market is maturing; in 2008 almost 4 in 5 households will own a digital camera. Retailers and imaging vendors are now standing at a crossroads where the straight and easy path replicates the traditional photo experience, where capture and print film behaviors rule. This path generates much of the industry's revenue today, but InfoTrends believes that other paths exist that will lead to exciting new opportunities. A still-to-be explored path is the connected experience.

"A connected experience will enable consumers to connect to their photos and videos anywhere, at anytime, through any device, regardless of where content is stored." adds Eriksen. "InfoTrends expects that consumers will migrate more image content from digital cameras, camera phones, camcorders, memory cards, and hard drives to the web. This 'content cloud' will become a key repository where images will be stored and where stories will be told and shared. Retailers and imaging vendors need to begin planning for this next phase in the evolution of the digital imaging market."

"The market transformation is certainly influenced by "green," the economy, lower print volumes, etc., but the new sociology of memories may be the greatest force," says Ed Monahan, of Eastman Kodak. "A generation is emerging that texts, instead of talks; watches YouTube/DVR, over broadcast TV; buys iTunes songs, instead of albums; and plays Xbox/PS3 with tens of thousands, rather than play with a few friends in the backyard. This generation socializes in cyber space, more than physical space, and has made MySpace and Facebook the epicenter of life. A single posting reaches a multitude of 'friends,' is done real time and all the time, and allows a continuum of interactive responses. They post not just a picture of an event but a collection of images, videos and songs that broadcast their life," Monahan adds.

"Retailers today have the ability to help consumers publish their content by generating new venues and ways for them to express their creativity," adds HP's Marsal. "This involves transforming their traditional photo labs into complete end-to-end scalable digital publishing centers that move beyond prints to rich digital media, including creative photo products and new types of content such as event-oriented correspondence, highly customized travel guides, marketing collateral for small businesses, signage, and more. This will allow consumers to mix personal content with third-party professional or licensed content to publish their personal content in new ways, turning the digital files on their hard drives into digitally printed keepsakes--in turn, also helping retailers gain new market opportunities and increase revenue streams,"

"Technology continues to transform the world of photography," says Kevin Connor, VP, product management, Adobe's Professional Digital Imaging Products. "The first major technology transition was the move to digital capture, and that transition is largely complete. It has enabled, however, the acceleration of another major transition--the move toward web-based processing, services, and communities. The appeal of having on-demand access to all your images--as well as convenient editing and organization tools--wherever you happen to be is undeniable.

"The key is to transform," he adds. "It would be a mistake to ignore new technologies, but that doesn't mean companies have to abandon existing strengths."

"In this turbulent economic time, manufacturers and retailers are faced with more challenges to provide creative marketing solutions and compelling new product features to consumers," says James Chung, president of IPC.

Chung notes: "According to the CEA, recession or no recession, there is a huge market potential surrounding the digital storage and back-up markets, some $12 billion not accounted for by digital camera sales. What are we waiting for?"

"The photo industry has faced down many challenges in the past but has emerged stronger than ever. This year will be no exception," concludes PMDA's Knickerbocker.