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Huge potential for photo retailers in 2012

So 2012 is predicted to be a tough year for retail and the photo industry in particular?

That would not qualify as news: the photo industry has done it tough year after year for the last four years at least, and those that are still standing are battle toughened for the next onslaught with a myriad of adaptation plans. Christmas trading just passed was satisfcatory for most photo specialists, if not exciting.

On that basis alone, those in the photo business are likely to be quietly optimistic and positive about 2012, a viable Europe and USA notwithstanding, simply because they have learned that there are things they can do that will generate sales with margin – things that the chains simply are not equipped to do.

In any event, the broad appeal of the greed-merchants appears to be on the wane as many people seek more than just price, and like a back-burn gone horribly wrong, they (the chains) are being slowly consumed by the the very bushfire they originally set, which was designed to eliminate the competition. It hasn’t.

It is too early for specialist retailers to leap off the bridge just yet. The flame of hope may have flickered a few times, but it is still there and there’s a feeling abroad that specialty photo stores are being slowly rediscovered, not only by their customers, but by vendors as well.

If specialist retailers were to become extinct, it would have a massive impact on the industry they have served so well over decades and would eliminate a huge library of knowledge and skills that cannot be duplicated by a few days of customer-training in other locations.

Specialty photo stores can call on all sorts of secret weapons to increase their appeal, the major one being a greater degree of interraction with the customer. Doesn’t work for everyone, but is effective today with up to 90 percent of the population, particularly females. (The mass market is welcome to the other 10 percent.)

Weary of not being recognised as a person, not being called by their name, not being given the right advice, not understanding the piece of equipment they bought so cheaply online or at the discount store, many, many customers are seeking out specialty retailers and in doing so they open the door of opportunity.

A well-managed photo store can offer: a better range of merchandise, particularly accessories; specialised services from one-on-one training to sensor cleaning; free set-up at the time of purchase and a free knowledge upgrade say, two weeks after purchase; unique lines not available in chain stores – lighting, macro, filters, high grade tripods and monopods, mounting & framing services, bags & cases – it can be a long list.

In addition, while most photo specialists no longer trade-in customers’ unwanted gear, they can offer a unique consignment arrangement with a good margin. That also helps to engender loyalty to the dealer.

The specialty photo dealer has no choice but to be an optimist, a realist and an innovator.

And on the basis that very soon market share may take a backseat to margin for smart manufacturers, and given that production numbers of middle to upper-end cameras will be conservate for several years at least, for a variety of reasons, specialists may well be favoured again by vendors to give them the extra margin and stability the photo industry so desperately needs. We shall see.

But there is room for optimism. And much of that optimism should be centred on the role female customers will have on the future of our business as they discover their creative side and realise that cameras aren’t just for ‘snaps’ of the kids at sport or happy holiday shots.

If there is to be growth in specialty, it will flow, mainly from how we understand the huge market that females—of all ages—will offer in this new age.

 – Alan Small, Taree Camera House



  1. Stan Kessanis Stan Kessanis January 19, 2012

    I have followed Alan’s industry comments for years and have generally agreed on most of his observations, despite his geography being Regional Taree and mine being cutthroat city retail. I am glad to see that he is still contributing valid comment and providing some hope when all I hear in popular media is gloom. I have watched many of my clients (photo retail groups) close down and have despaired for the future of the industry. I still have catalogues and posters in my office from a bygone era when our products were selling at significant pricepoints, giving a living to all of us in the photo food chain. More recently, as a photographer, I have also watched the explosion in the number of serious enthusiasts who are much smarter than the consumer of the past, and also more heavily invested in hardware. As a marketer I am still a little puzzled why consumer investment in photography has never been higher but photo retail has been plummeting. I have always felt that the 2 severely neglected markets are women over 35 and the seniors market. Probably because there are no companies prepared to take the risk of producing catalogues and campaigns that don’t feature bright young things with cheesy stock smiles. The real money is with the over 60’s who despair over the lack of old fashioned service and values in retail plus the emerging demographic of older single women pursuing their creative muse. The opportunities are there, we just need committed retailers who embrace the “new world” of retail. Yes, online purchases will continue to erode the local customer base, but don’t try to sell to the internet savvy, price conscious consumer who gives you nothing but grief. There are still a lot of people who place information and support above a $100 saving. You just have to get them to trust you to provide a better package.

    • robbo robbo January 19, 2012

      Being in your demographics, Stan, I agree wholeheartedly. Over 60’s have TIME…MONEY..and the motivation to capture a world that they now have the desire to explore.
      But most companies only see us as old farts that wont take up new technology. As for women…forget it, they are even worse off. Yet they live longer than men and will end up with all the money..Retailers focus on the customers that will give you loyalty …We wont live long enough to go and try again to capture that once in a lifetime event or experience. we have moved onto the next item on our bucket list.. and we don’t have the time for the second chance of a first good experience.

  2. John Swainston John Swainston January 19, 2012

    I think the opportunity provided by CSC cameras for the woman seeking smaller, lighter, less technical more results-oriented cameras is the perfect place for this transformation to start. Many CE retailers have difficulty in embracing the female customer, just as the car industry fails to recognise the importance of respecting the 51% of the working population who are women. Since women represent some 70% of the photo market memory-keeper role in families it’s a no-brainer. The real key though, is not just gaining back market share. It’s growing the whole pie, something ever more challenging with continued falling prices for hardware. Solution, as ever – build that accessory attachment rate. Give REAL and total solutions for better photography, teach ‘m how to excel beyond point and shoot, and everyone might get a really good surprise. Happy Lunar New Year to all.

  3. Phil Phil February 13, 2012

    Baby Boomers with scanning of photos, film and videos are a regular promo for us, they need one on one service and want to talk to those who do the job. Something photo retailer specialists can do that others can’t.

    • John Swainston John Swainston February 16, 2012

      What I want to know: Just when the peak in baby boomer retirement is upon us, why is it that the two major industry suppliers of dedicated slide/neg scanners (Nikon and Canon) have discontinued manufacture? For the next 10 years we don’t need any new scanner improvements (4000dpi and DMax of 4+ is fine); but we do need them to be available for people to buy, and with compatible software. Boomers will increasingly have time and motivation to go through all those files themselves and they will be the people who will want to print those images. Or Phil could set up a national franchise of Boomer ScanFast Centres for those that don’t want to DIY. Just a thought.

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