Magazine Article


The Son Also Rises

So customers are never kept waiting, Click Camera's stores have up to four kiosks at each location, allowing visitors to print quickly and then complete the sale.

It would be 10 years before Click tried a major expansion again, but this time it would be far more successful. After years of seeing customers from the Dayton area drive to Click's Springfield store, Ed decided to save them the trip and opened a store in Dayton in May 1979. The second full-service camera store in the Click line was located in Dayton's Northtown Shopping Center, combining 3,500 square feet of sales floor with 5,500 square feet of office, stock, and warehousing space, making the location the hub of shipping and receiving for the entire company.

Better yet, the store was a hit with Dayton customers. "It proved to be an immediate success," Rob says.

Following up on this success, Click Camera opened its third retail store in August 1983 across from the Dayton Mall in Prestige Plaza. Guessing right that the mall would become one of the area's top retail locations, the new store quickly became Click's number-one location.

Things really started clicking for the company in 1984 when it decided to get into the then-burgeoning one-hour film processing business. Click opened its first 1-Hour Photo Lab in August 1984 in downtown Dayton. Once again Klaben had guessed right, and soon after that, all of Click's stores had one-hour labs.

"He knew that was where the industry was headed," Rob says. "The immediate response to the lab was sensational. And we wanted to make sure we had labs in all our stores to meet the demand."

Meanwhile, Rob worked in the background to shore up the infrastructure of the stores and upgrade the computer systems to better track sales and inventory. As consumer buying patterns changed, some stores closed only to reopen in better locations, always with an eye on where people would go to shop. "We have continuously evaluated store locations to find out where people are shopping and where they're not shopping."

When PTN honored Ed Klaben as Dealer of the Year in 1989, Click had a total of five stores.

A Succession Success

Despite its tight-knit structure, sometimes the hardest thing for a family to do is what should be the easiest—communicate. And when it comes to passing on a family business, a lack of communication between one generation and the next can be the kiss of death for even the most successful of companies.

"I've seen it happen before and I'm sure I will see it happen again, where the owner of a company does not have a succession plan and when it comes time for them to retire, there's no one to take the baton," says Bill McCurry, a former PTN Dealer of the Year who now heads McCurry Associates, a business advising firm. "You've got to take steps at least three years in advance and start planning it five years in advance. If you don't, you are going to be left hanging in the wind."

Rob Klaben credits much of Click's success to his management team who are veterans with the company. Shown (l.-r.) are Brian Pyle, corporate lab supervisor, 14 years; Randy Potter, operations coordinator and south store manager, 12 years; Rob; Mark Mohler, VP of sales and operations, 15 years; Nancy Sticklen, controller, 24 years.

As a model of succession success, McCurry points to the Klabens and Click Camera. "Eddie Klaben built that business from zero and he grew it substantially—he was larger than life, whether he was starring in his own TV commercials or walking out into the community with a name tag that said ‘Hi, my name is Mr. Click,'" McCurry says. "But at the same time, he was also not shy about pushing Rob to the forefront at industry meetings, at vendors meetings, and at meetings with the bank. He had no qualms about stepping out of the spotlight and sharing information with Rob. Consequently there were no questions at Click Camera about who the successor would be."

Rob Klaben's active, behind-the-scenes role in the business before he became president and CEO of Click was also a big plus.

"I never felt my father was keeping deep secrets from me, and that helped," Rob says. "But it also helped that when we would go to these trade shows and conventions, I wasn't out by the pool. I was inside walking the show floor, attending sessions, and learning."

As advice to any business that is dealing with succession either between family members or non-family members, Rob offers the following tips:

  • Don't be threatened by new ideas. Allow a younger generation to test themselves. The only way they're going to be successful is if they're going to learn from their mistakes.
  • Talk to other businesses. Meet with other companies that have gone through transitions and see how they've dealt with it.
  • Allow the younger generation to be successful. Once you retire, don't hang around second-guessing every move they make. Not only will that screw up the business, it will screw up family dynamics, which are even harder to repair.

The Soft Sell

When Rob took over Click in 1996, it was clear from the start that he had his own plans for the company.