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EDITORIAL, April 4: Where’s the leadership?

Photo retailing marketing consultant Peter Budd underscores just how much change the industry has gone through in the last few years in his opinion piece this week. But if we are all having the same experience of dramatic change, how come it feels so lonely?

Perhaps it’s because there is no company or association showing a lead. At a time when it has never been so essential, both market and industry leadership is sadly lacking.

PMA continues to strive to be relevant and last year held what was rated the best conference ever at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. PMA at least remains friendly and supportive, but even executive director Peter Rose would admit they are doing it tough at the moment.

IDEA is on a frolic of its own under the fuzzy rationale of ‘convergence’. At the same time there is an unprecedented and totally unproductive cold war between PMA and IDEA, and the industry is much the weaker for that. They need to build a bridge and get over it or divided they will both fall. In 12 months, max.

IDEA appears incapable of, or disinclined to, communicate with the broader industry. (It behaves as if the the broader industry is just a little too narrow for its liking!)

The AIPP, at least, appears focussed, healthy and relevant. But one out of three isn’t good enough.

When it comes to our leading companies, Fujifilm nailed its colours to the mass merchants’ mast years ago. At least there’s no ambiguity in its behaviour in the marketplace.

Canon and Nikon seem increasingly and disturbingly inclined to compete with their customers. Canon now has both an online store for cameras and accessories, and another selling photo books and canvasses.

How can retailers trust a market leader with which they are required to compete? (When Canon’s Jason Mclean stood up and told a room of retailers at a PMA meeting 18 months ago that ‘we are all in this together’ most people didn’t think he meant we were all in retailing together!) I subscribe to a number of online photo retailing newsletters to keep up with marketing developments. Over the last few weeks I’ve had more email offers leading me to one of the Canon retail operations than I’ve had group buying offers.

Canon is not only competing with its retail customers, but doing so aggressively, using marketing funds that in a more cohesive era would be used to lift its customers sales.

Then there are rumours of a Nikon global online store, and that pop-up store exercise with Westfield over Chistmas looked like a solitary finger to their retail customers.

– Ever heard the Parable of the Boiled Frog?

No wonder specialist retailing feels so lonely right now. But apparently the horse to back is self-interest. If you look at the companies whose interests are more closely aligned with your own (and who not by co-incidence are also supporters of Photo Counter), you might just find the kind of empathy, co-operation, and trust you need in your suppliers. Not to mention margin!

As to the suppliers competing directly against you, well you probably need what they supply, but surely they have lost the trust to expect any closer role than that.

More than ever, it’s critical to assess your suppliers not by what they say, but what they do in the marketplace. In my opinion.
Keith Shipton

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