Typically, these seminars are held after hours; about 15-45 people show up. Sullivan follows up with customer feedback and industry publications and encourages employees to take the equipment home and use it, so they'll be well acquainted with what's on the sales floor.
Another powerful training tool is a secret shopper program, where employees are videotaped during the sale and then reviewed. "This has really helped the staff to see their weaknesses and improve their sales techniques. They seem very receptive, probably because it is objective and outside of the regular management structure."
Key staff members are cross-trained to be able to perform every job on the sales floor, including the PhotoLab counter, Rental, and Repair Department jobs.
Equally gung-ho about marketing the store's expanding services, Sullivan relies heavily on seminars, trade shows, and advertising to spread the word.
Photo classes are offered in house, mainly to beginners, six to 10 in a class; consultants can help set up computers and calibrate printers, usually onsite; and manufacturer demo days, including Mamiya Sale Days, Canon Days, Leica Day, etc. are usually well received. When photographer and instructor Dean Collins was in town this past fall, Precision sponsored an event locally with Apple and Epson.
The retailer also holds two major sales a year: one in the summer and one around Christmas time. "We promote these heavily with TV, radio, and print; and use direct mail and newspaper inserts through Visual Impact and email notifications."
They also take a booth at all the major regional photo events and advertise on TV, radio, and all the local media. Recently he decreased the store's Yellow Pages ads, putting the money into TV.
"While everyone has been complaining about how bad business has been since 9/11 and the meltdown of the local high-tech business, ours has been up nearly 20 percent."
Continuity Is Critical
While the staff has changed over the years, many Precision Camera employees have been there or in the industry for many years. "Continuity is critical to building rapport with long-time customers and we stress this to first-time customers," says Sullivan.
"Customers want to know you're going to be here after the sale. They've seen all the other guys go broke or change owners. Continuity is critical. We are in a central location, in one of the busiest intersections in town, near some of the most expensive neighborhoods. We're close to the University of Texas, its huge student population, and the medical center. Of course, having all the cool stuff is what it's all about."
It seems stocking the "cool stuff" has become somewhat of a challenge lately, but Sullivan's working with the manufacturers' reps to "wrestle a decent allocation of the scarce cameras and printers away from the national retailers and into the hands of the people who built the photography businessus, the specialty dealer."
For details of Precision Camera's early years, read Sullivan's letter on the company's website at www.precision-camera.com/history/letter.htm.