Your local camera store, what you need to consider.
Your local camera store, what you need to consider.
Camera stores are interesting things. Camera stores are speciality stores and speciality stores are a though business. In my day job (Accounting and Business Management) I see the struggles different business go through, including my own some days, and speciality stores have even more challenges. Because of my addiction to all thing photographic, I thought a discussion about camera stores as a business might make an interesting read. So here I go. There are the chains like, Black’s and Japan Camera. There are Fotosource stores and there are stores like London Drugs, Future Shop and Best Buy. There are small electronics stores with limited camera equipment. Finally there are the Camera only type stores, The Camera Store, McBain Camera, Saneal Camera and Henry’s Photo, Lens and Shutter, Vistek and B & H Photo in the US.
If you’re lucky you live in a place that has all these types and you get a variety of choices. If so, you probably can always get what you need or want (instant gratification is important to me, lol). What happens if you don’t have all that choice? Well, a better question might be, what happens to the retailer in smaller places that can’t offer that level of choice? It has to be difficult. How is one to know what items to have in stock? When are models going to change and what happens if you have the older model in your store when they change? Do you get price protection from the manufacturer? What price can you sell your stock for and still make enough to have you business survive? Can a small independent store be competitive at those prices?
Here in Yellowknife, there is no speciality store which sells only photographic equipment. We have Wal-mart and Staples and those type stores and we have Roy’s Audiotronic, which has a camera department. So, of our choices, Roy’s, in my opinion, is the best choice. They have Ian Vaydik, who is what I call their camera guy. He is very knowledgable and a great guy to talk to about anything to do with photography. He is always a great help for me. So what problems does Ian face as Roy’s Camera guy? Well, everyone these days does price shopping. How many things do you buy that you don’t check the price online? That is one problem. When Ian prices equipment, can he be competitive with his prices? Lets think, Future shop buys thousands of pieces for dozens or hundreds of stores. They get, what I would call, a bulk buyers discount price. Small Independent stores may not be that lucky. Future Shop can have dozens or hundreds of pieces in stock, because they have many stores that can access that stock. They don’t need to be as concerned about having to sell that one special lens, they can just send it to another one of their stores that can sell it. Not Ian, if he orders that piece it is Roy’s that must sell it. So, Ian has to be aware of what things he can sell in our small market area. To add to that if he can’t get his price down to that chain stores prices will we even buy it from him, we could just order it online.
He also must also compete with those speciality stores that sell online. Specialty stores in a good market can offer things that can help them with different revenue streams. Some speciality stores do things like offer seminars or workshops, they can offer courses on learning about a particular camera model, the list is endless. Those kinds of things can generate very good streams of income. So much so that income from equipment sales can be reduced to keep the camera prices competitive. Let me give you and example, if a store makes 10% profit on a $ 1000 camera so, a $ 100 profit. They need to sell ten to make a thousand dollars. Will that store sell ten of those in a day? If they pay a photographer $ 1000 to teach a one day seminar and get forty people to attend at $ 75 each they just made $ 2000. They had no stock to buy, no sales person to pay, no freight charges and the list continues. So, a speciality store could make less on equipment and more on events. That allows them to keep a wider range of equipment and accessories in stock with a revenue stream to compensate for a lower margin on that equipment. They can rely on other types of income other than retail sales. If we add to that the online ordering business, where once again, staff is reduced and retail space could be reduce, then that type of store gains another advantage. So, there is another headache for my friend Ian.
I could continue with different things forever, but you would stop reading. So what are these small market and independent stores to do? Well, let me address their potential customers first. I have talked to people many times about what camera they should buy. I study camera stats and have a brain full of useless information but, the first thing I tell everyone when they are buying a camera is to hold it in their hand. See how it feels. Do you like how it feels and where the controls are? How do you get to hold that camera? Well, at your local store. You say it is cheaper elsewhere. Did you factor the freight charges? Do you want that local guy around to sell you your camera accessories? Your memory card, your bag and so on. Well, how are they to do that? You don’t want to pay those few extra dollars for one piece but, you want that business to be around for those little low-cost items you want later. I am not asking you to pay some outrageous price, just be fair when considering that purchase. Talk to your camera guy about pricing. You may find a price point that works for both retailer and consumer. Ask about that specialty piece, if your local store can’t get it or can’t be competitive on a special item then find it where you can for a good price but, at least ask. If they are like Ian, they will be honest and tell you if they can get you that piece or not. Also remember that some stores get access to equipment that others can’t get access to. Some wholesalers and manufacturers will sell certain items those retailers that have a certain amount of sales volume.
Retailers, it is harder for you. You need to know what people want before they do because, you need it on the shelf before, they come to purchase it. You can’t bring in those speciality items for that one customer because, you just can’t sell enough of them to keep those items in stock. You have to be monitoring your pricing all the time to remain competitive and you need to pay attention to those margins to make sure you actually make a profit. You can’t bring to many items because, you may just not sell them all. So, if you just try to work with that customer hopefully, it should work out for both of you. Customers are a finicky bunch and are always looking for that deal or the best price, so it won’t be as easy as it may sound here.
So, I know there will always be things we get from that box store, from that speciality retailer or from that online store. I am not saying you should only buy local. What I am trying to say is, if you want that local store, that place to go to see and feel that piece of equipment, then you need to be prepared to support that business. If not, someday when you want to see if that one item is the right fit and that local independent store just might not be there and you will than have fewer choices and I don’t think that is ever good.
So Ian, I am sure I will be ordering more stuff in the future but, I may still have my Camera Store and B & H accounts. I know however, that I can count on you for good service and I know you will always be fair when pricing my equipment. I also know that you need to make a profit because, if you don’t eventually you won’t be around to help and that can’t be good for either of us.
A Nikon D300S with a 17 – 35 mm f2.8 and a Canon 70 – 200 mm f4 IS lens. Just a couple of nice pieces at Roy’s.
A Panasonic Lumix GF1 with a 20 mm f2 lens at Roy’s.
Ian Vaydik playing with my Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D.
As always, thanks for reading and Happy Shooting.