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Putting On the Ritz



"We as an industry need to nurture and grow the photo business and expand it," declared David Ritz, president of Ritz Camera Centers in Beltsville, MD. Ritz was directing his comments to the more than 120 photo industry leaders who gathered to hear him speak at last month's PMDA meeting in New York City.

At the meeting, Ritiz tackled a number topics of pressing concern for retailers and manufacturers including preserving the history of photography with customers; the importance of the internet in retail sales; and the growing impact of camera phones.

"Just like preserving memories with pictures we all have to help preserve our industry," Ritz said. "We must keep its identity, its specialty. Our industry deserves this because it is more than just a product business. It is also a business of memories and emotions. It preserves the history of our country, our world and our families. That's why it is a wonderful business.

"Over the past few months we've lost a number of famous photographers such as Cartier-Bresson and Richard Avendon. However, they left us the history and memories in their pictures. In fact, that's why they were famous. They took the tools of our industry and turned them into emotions and memories of the past."

David Ritz tackled topics of pressing concern for retailers at last month's PMDA meeting.

Ritz showed how his company was using this theme of capturing emotions and memories in a number of its recent television spots. "At Ritz Camera, we believe that is how we continue to grow the industry. We think the consumer needs to be told what photos are for. We need to tell a story to them why they need to take pictures. Many manufactures don't address this on their ads. It's the story, the history, the emotion and the friends and family. In today's digital world, pictures have taken on two distinct roles—the first is sharing and the second is preserving. These two different ways of enjoying photos offer a lot of opportunities to the retailer involved in picture making.

"At Ritz we have recognized the added importance that pictures have made in the digital world. We even reflect this change in our new logo, Ritz Camera & Image. Why the change? Because we realized that our customers are coming to us not only to purchase cameras, but also to enjoy the benefits of digital images and pictures from film that all cameras produce."

Ritz said this presents a big advantage for the retailer. "The specialty photo retailer is well positioned today to take advantages of these changes in digital images and pictures. To provide better services more sophisticated equipment is needed. While print station kiosks are important to standard size prints from digital media, we feel that the many additional services and products that can be produced will mean growing business for the photo specialty store. And, at the retail level, many of these services can be offered in as little as ten minutes."

Growth in Online Services

Ritz then took on the rise of online photofinishing and touched on his store's new one-hour online service. "Sharing of digital images has created a new business with photo websites allowing members and customers to share their pictures with friends and family. These sites also offer unlimited storage of prints. I believe that this model might change from lifelong storage to limited storage, as I don't feel the economics of lifetime storage are positive ones. Still, storage and sharing of photos leads to more pictures and gift products being produced as these pictures move from one computer to another. At our ritzpix.com website, we offer limited storage and sharing as well as our primary print feature, Internet Pictures, digital pictures ordered online delivered in as little as one hour available at most of our stores for pick up. We find this integrated retail/internet model to be very positive with our customers. It's quite different from the typical 3-5 days people have to wait for pictures from other internet sites. And, with the Ritz national network of stores, customers can choose a number of stores throughout the United States for pick up at the same time by friends and family in that same one-hour period. Of course, film customers can also share photos over the internet and archive their pictures by simply ordering CD with their pictures. This has turned out to be a new business that has grown for film users as digital images have grown."

Ritz noted that online services are also changing what customers are ordering. "We have noticed that two sets of pictures as a requested service has declined as internet sharing has grown. Two sets are no longer necessary to give a person a picture. Now, many of these images are shared electronically.

"This leads us to the second role of pictures–preserving. We at Ritz call it the ‘hard copy picture.' It is still what pictures and photography are all about. The picture is still the thing that you can hold in your hand. We need to make all consumers and people understand this. Without their hard copy pictures, the memories, and the history will all be lost.

Whether it's the camera manufacturer or digital minilab or kiosk manufacturer or the photo retailer, that story needs to be told over an over. Sure it's neat to send those pictures over the internet or to play them back on the camera's LCD screen, but those are ‘only slide shows' easily lost or forgotten in the ‘electronic computer world.'

"The real picture is the one you can hold and pass on to the next generation. You know, those pictures you always see being saved from floods and fires on the 6 o'clock news. As photo retailers we can grow this business. It's much easier for us to make the pictures than for our customers to do it at home. We can make them better, less expensively and faster—as fast as ten minutes. We just have to remind the customer that they need those real pictures."

Ritz then looked at the problems retailers are facing with the popularity of larger media cards. "Another change we as photo retailers have to deal with is the large media card. For years we lived in a world of 24 exposures. Take 24 pictures, go to the minilab and get prints back. Lots of trips to our stores. Now there are 256MB, 512MB, 1 Gig cards, holding 200-400 images. That's wrong. There are too many pictures to save up. It's bad for the customer and its bad for us. We need to send this message to our customers: ‘don't get stuck with a full media card. Either use a smaller one or make sure you make prints and clean that card out.' If you don't, you run the risk of a full card when you really need to take that important picture. What we think the customer wants, and what we try to offer our customers is ‘The Film Experience.' Simply treat your media cards like you would a roll of film. Bring your card in when you have 20 or 30 pictures on it, just like film. Give it to us; we will print your pictures in minutes and return the card to you—ready to go again. It is a changing world, certainly in picture making. The specialty camera store is well positioned to take advantage of those changes as long as the customer remembers what pictures mean—memories (and the emotion of the moment)."

The Camera Phone Phenomenon

Ritz then addressed the camera phone phenomenon and the question of whether the phones would ever replace the digital camera. "There has been a lot said about camera phones and their effect on the photo business. Our feeling is bring them on. Why not? More cameras, in any form, should make more pictures. As long as we can turn them into real prints. What about a camera phone versus a regular digital camera? Can that mean the loss of digital camera sales? Lets look at digital camera sales first. People do not buy and do not use and do not feel about digital cameras like they did their film cameras. Their Nikon or Canon or Minolta or Pentax film cameras were personal. It belonged to you. You repaired it when it broke. It was like your car. Not so with the digital camera. It has no personality. You aren't part of it. Today's customer will change cameras on a whim—design, color, megapixel, size optical zoom. Different cameras for different moods, styles and uses. That's good for all of us that sell them. Although that personal attachment being lost may not be. If the camera is not a tool they cherish, will the pictures be? So will the camera phone affect digital camera sales? I don't think so. Also, will these camera phones mean more pictures? Eventually, but first, everyone needs to figure out an easy way to get those pictures in the phones to a photo site or a retail store for printing. With many cellular services and no compatibility of systems—this is far from being solved yet. But, when it does, those pictures should flow."

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