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Owners of Idaho Camera Share Retail Success Secrets
The Idaho Business Review (Boise, ID)

Pat and Dennis Nagel are the owners of Idaho Camera. Their father opened the first store in downtown Boise in 1946. Idaho Camera also has stores on Orchard Street in Boise, in the Boise Towne Square Mall, and in Nampa. The brothers said they have been careful not to grow too quickly, and have grown along with Boise itself.

Recently, they opened a fifth store - their largest yet - on Vista Avenue. The neon sign hanging over the entrance is the same one that hung over their Orchard store 50 years ago. The Nagels plan to use the larger store as a classroom to help customers get the most out of the equipment they purchase. Dennis Nagel said they borrowed the idea from Apple Computer, which offers some in-store training.

It's an idea they hope will give them an edge in an industry changed dramatically by digital technology and increased competition.

How did you get started selling cameras?

Pat: Our father started the company about 60 years ago. We both grew up in the business. This was our family's life. We lived blocks away from the Vista store. That was when Boise was a small town. We worked for our father through junior and high school, sweeping floors and helping on the sales floor. Then I got a business degree and went into the military as a pilot. It's been 30 years since I came back to the business.

Dennis: I also went to college and got a degree in business, then a master's. I was an accountant at Morrison and Knudsen, then came back into the family business 27 years ago. Our father thought it was important we both get experience before coming back and contributing to the business.

Do either of you have experience as a professional photographer?

Pat: I've been taking pictures since I was a little guy. I shot in junior high and high school. I took pictures for my college paper and local newspaper. I'm not a pro, just an enthusiast and hobbyist. Dennis: Both Pat and I grew up with photography. Photography is the core of our business. It's a wonderful hobby. We also test everything we sell. Our number one criteria for hiring is a strong photographic background. If they have that, they can learn the rest. This is a business of photographers.

Best Buy and Circuit City have a big presence in Boise, right across the street from your store in the mall. Even discount retailers like Target and Wal-Mart are selling professional photo equipment now. How have you been able to stay in business, let alone grow?

Dennis: We compete with everyone. Plus the Internet.

Pat: Our Internet store is like a whole other store.

Dennis: We try to be competitive. It's difficult against larger companies. The difference is our ability to build service into our product offerings. Big boxes are inflexible and slow to react to customer needs. When a customer buys a camera from us they get a class with it, $50 worth of free prints and extra software. We also have a much broader selection of accessories and equipment. We're much more complete than big boxes. Customers can get things that are hard to find or not available.

Pat: At a big box you get a big box, and you have to figure it out yourself. They sell boxes, we sell photography. All our employees are photography enthusiasts or ex-professionals.

How has the online store affected you business?

Dennis: We're coming up on the first anniversary of the online store. There are thousands of products online. It's a pretty complete store now.

Pat: A lot of people purchase online in Boise. And a lot of people purchase from Florida. Both kind of surprised us.

Dennis: A significant part is our online photo finishing services. People can upload their images and have prints waiting for them. Service is a significant part of the Web site too.

Pat: Online customers can call and talk to someone. They're not just filling up a shopping cart.

Is film dead?

Dennis: No. The market has dropped severely, but it's not dead. It still works well. Negatives as storage medium are excellent. Digital has a lot to offer. It's the future. Film is more of a specialized art.

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