Magazine Article


PTN 2008 Dealer of the Year
Jerry & Rosemary Sullivan, owners of Precision Camera & Video of Austin, Texas have been chosen as PTN's 2008 Dealer of the Year. Learn more about what they're doing right.

He's quick to point out that Precision wouldn't be where it is without his wife, Rosemary. "My wife is good with people," he says. "She's very sympathetic; they [the staff] trust her. It's been nice having Rosemary; she brings a feminine point of view to Precision." (He doesn't say that to sound chauvinistic but simply to acknowledge that there's a certain point of view that she has that he doesn't.)

Since his revelation toward a customer-focused business outlook, Jerry's seen sales quadruple. "I think that's the difference between our success and a lot of other people," he says. As a manager or owner, you can't win without great customer service, even if you've got the best products or location. He explains that even though many businesses advertise their customer service, most don't follow through and actually provide it--this is the difference between those dealers who succeed and those who don't.

An important part to the photo training of Precision's staff is that all are certified. All of the staffmembers are either CPC or SPFE, depending upon if they're lab personnel or if they work on the sales floor. "It gives me a sense of comfort that they've done the training," Jerry explains. "It lets me know that they've passed a minimum level of training. Everybody's got to do it: sales, lab techs, repair. I wish there was more certification and training available."

Jerry can't sit back and observe his business from an ivory tower. "As much as I trust my employees (and they do a great job), I think employees need to see you," he says. "My wife and I enjoy working the sales floor and try to do it every day. "I'm amazed how hard a job retail sales is and I think people tend to under-appreciate just how hard those guys work. Standing on your feet all day isn't easy plus the level of knowledge necessary to sell every brand and model is astounding"

Cross-training is another important part of what makes Precision Camera & Video run smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Cross-training comes down to the fact that all people are facing the sales floor, which lends itself to knowing how to do each other's jobs and encourages the staff to help out at each others' areas when it's busy. Jerry also feels it increases their appreciation of each others' jobs. It's a useful training aid.

Jerry insists that customers don't wait in long lines, so there are 10 cash registers situated around the store: in the service department and lab, at the front counter, and on the retail floor. "It comes down to customer service," he says. Customers can go to any register to check out, regardless of what they're purchasing. One sentiment that Precision is known for, and even touts on its website, is that "our Photo lab has consistently provided 'Big lab' quality at a 'Minilabs' commitment of personal attention to every detail."

Facing Up to the Challenges

Internet sales have been one of the biggest challenge for Precision. "It drives us crazy--there's no policing of the internet," says Jerry. If there were a national sales tax for internet purchases, it would keep small business healthy, he suggests. "People seek the lowest price only," he adds. "We have a really hard time selling against mail order."

He explains that his salespeople can spend all day or more with a pro photographer, figuring out the best digital back or high-end computer system for them, just to have the prospective customer end up shopping mail order to save the sales tax. One thing that has helped his business, however, is that in Texas, pros are exempt from paying sales tax on equipment, so local photographers have an incentive to shop locally.

Precision does sell some Hasselblads, Leaf digital backs, and the like, but it's a high-cost sale since they end up spending so much time with these customers. He says, "You've got to be in the major markets to do really well selling high-end equipment. There's a lot more business in Dallas than in Austin."

According to Jerry, the Austin market experienced its consolidation years ago. Jerry was able to benefit by it not only by being the last one standing, but also by buying up a great deal of inventory from closing stores and taking on some of his best salespeople and his buyer from the stores that closed.

The Meaning of PRO Membership

"It's a no-brainer--I can't imagine why people wouldn't do it," he says in regards to joining the PRO Group. "Mark Leonard of Dodd Camera put it succinctly: 'The way I look at it, it saves me time. Why would I want to hammer out deals with 50 vendors when PRO can do it for me? It's less of a workload for my buyer to do.'"

On top of the buying power, Jerry notes that the social aspect is more than just about making friends. "Everybody wants to help everybody--they're great people," he says. "Being a part of PRO is an overwhelmingly positive experience, especially in light of the shrinking industry due to store closings and consolidations. I'm glad I did it. I get so many ideas from them."

In addition to its website, Precision Camera & Video has adapted to the world of social networking, producing its own "Mac versus PC"-type videos that are posted on YouTube, showing the benefits of shopping at Precision over going to a big-box store or shopping mail order or via online auctions. Precision also has a Facebook page and an eBay store.

For a while, Jerry (like other dealers) hadn't felt that specialty dealers were important to the manufacturers, but he's feeling appreciated again. Manufacturers need the specialty dealer, and they know it. Nikon has paid for national inserts in the local papers with the store's name on it. "I think it's been great, and I'd like to thank them for the help. They do seem to want to work with us more. Nikon's been so helpful in the last year or so with their advertising campaigns as well. They've raised the bar, and now Canon has stepped up, and so has Olympus, and Sony. The manufacturers are working with us, partnering more with the specialty dealer than any other time in my career.

"I love photography and I love the business," Jerry adds. "It's amazing how the business has changed in 30 short years. Success has been good to me and my family, but at the cost of precious little free time. While I love my business and have made many lifelong friends, I am looking forward to slowing down soon, playing some golf, traveling, and even pulling out that old Graflex (yes, I still have it, and it still works!) and actually getting back to what I really love and enjoy the most--photography!"