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Fishing for photo customers

Chris Wilkinson, managing director of international retailing consultants First Retail Group, encouraged retailers to Fish Where The Fish Are in his PMA 2013 conference session.

chris_wilkinson2011‘The industry hasn’t got a lot of time to get things right,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to know who the customer is and where they are.’

– This didn’t allow for spending time trying to reinvent the wheel or exploring markets in which photo specialists didn’t have all the necessary strengths, he noted.

One of the keys to identifying who and where the customers are is to understand the key trends, perhaps the most dominant of which is the inexorable rise of the smart device as the camera of choice for the majority of the population.

Piechart1Along with this is a sense – especially among the younger Generation Y and Z demographics – that prints are less necessary and images are ephemeral.

For Generation Z in particular, images are a disposable commodity. They are shared on Facebook and then disposed of soon after on the reasoning that they won’t be needed in 10 years time, as other images will have replaced them.

Another trend is the equally inexorable rise of the online channel, which has had a particularly severe impact on photo retailing, both in hardware and services. Price and convenience are the key drivers online, and once again online is the channel of choice for the younger generation.

To achieve success in the brave new multichannel world photo specialists need to:
– Achieve growth in printing;
– Focus on seasonal opportunities;
– Reinvent traditional photo products, in particular to appeal to younger customers;
– Seek external business partnerships – businesses in the local community where there are synergies, the potential to share equipment or infrastructure costs, etc;
– Be mindful of the potential for offering short-run printing services as well as one-off photo prints.

storepicMr Wilkinson called on retailers to step back and have a hard, critical look at their stores. The will need a fresh perspective to re-engage consumers.

Mass market advertising support from buying groups is a thing of the past, so it’s up to store owners to take up the marketing initiative. Consistent localised marketing programs, with a continued media presence; store individuality; and positioning the store ‘at the heart of the community’ are critical.

Create an environment where your photo store is ‘the place the local paper calls to talk about photography’ he said.

He exampled Fullerton Photographics in the US, which has adopted an approach on its Facebook page of ‘celebrating its customers and their choice of your store’, noting that this ‘celebration of customers’ is a current retail trend beyond photographics.

Photo retailing also requires some ‘retail theatre’, ‘whether it’s a sausage sizzle on Saturday or events such as market days. Let’s get some excitement happening.’

Camera cases in a sports shoe shop? Really!? Someone's dropped the ball.
Camera cases in a sports shoe shop? Really!? Someone’s dropped the ball.

Cutting our lunch!

It appears other retailers are recognising opportunities in photo that photo stores aren’t!

Rebel Sports, for instance, is successfully selling an iPhone accessory called the Mophie Outride, a casing that the phone into an actioncam.

‘Merchandising like this in a a sports shoe shop! It should be in a photo shop, not Rebel Sports. This is where our relevance should be with young.’

Likewise, Cotton On’s Typo stores were selling frames and canvas wall art.

‘Kids see this as a retro cool thing – to put a picture in a frame and hang in on the wall.’

Photo retailing’s problem is that ‘the industry is not representing typical consumers’ in either the presentation of stores, or the people behind the counter. It’s not that younger, female consumers are uninterested in photos, but they are uninterested in photo stores.

Jennifer lives!
Jennifer lives!

When a young mother walks into a photo store there’s no-one there she can relate to.

Photo stores need younger staff (with or without nose rings) to connect with younger consumers.

‘We need to see the staff in store reflecting the customers they need in the store,’ he said.

Younger staff with a more contemporary sense of fashion can also help ‘keeping things fresh and different’ in terms of dressing the store up.

‘Too many think they need to spend a lot of money when it might be a matter of a lick of paint, even simply using “found items” with a bit of imagination.

Printing is becoming cool again, but photo stores aren’t at all cool, hence the drift to other retail alternatives.

He suggested that ‘phoneography’ – taking pictures with smartphones – is ‘on trend’ and can be promoted with high visibility POS as both a category in itself and also to establish a link to a younger demographic.

‘Photo needs to own the phoneography category,’ he said.

kidbundleThroughout his presentation, Mr Wilkinson showed a broad range of examples of interesting contemporary photo retailing from around the world, ranging from the print-rich environment of the Polaroid Fotobar in the US, to successful ‘print bundle’ offers in the UK, to an initiative called Photo Savers, which was all about making photo archiving easy.

He said this had proven successful in the UK and was a rare opportunity to see a high margin return by turning a service into a product. Photo Savers is a package solution for people who want to save their images, be they photo prints, negatives and slides digital images.

‘Remember Jennifer?’ he asked. ‘The reality is that Jennifer is still printing photos, and scanning old photos and slides.

savers‘Jennifer – and Jennifer’s daughters – still have the same passion for preserving memories, but she’s confused because the images are in so many places. And she’s lulled into a false sense of security that the images are safe on hard drive.

‘Helping her manage those images is a role that the photo specialist can play to everyone’s benefit.’

He concluded with a summary to what was frankly too wide-ranging a presentation to cover adequately in a single feature story. – So here is Chis’ summary in full:
– LISTEN to your customers and respond with agility to trends;
– EXTEND beyond your store front – online and in partnerships;
– Be prepared to DIVERSIFY – leveraging site and equipment;
– DON’T DISREGARD traditional products and services;
– DEVELOP strategy and structure to everything you do;
– STEP_ BACK regularly and look at the industry with a new lens;
– Get professional, objective ADVICE on business direction;
– POSITION your business as the dominant local expert;
– RE-INVENT products, services and promotions for Gen Y and Z;
– DEVELOP different store fronts online to get more of the pie;
– CELEBRATE your customers and their choice of your store;
– REINFORCE photos as the memory keepers of tomorrow;
– STOCK and PROMOTE the sexy new photo products people want;
– Become ADVOCATES across all forms of media for imaging;
– LIVE our industry – setting an example to your customers;

Most of all, let’s get back to enjoying the photo business!

(Some of the quotes from this report were from a discussion with Chris following the presentation.)



One Comment

  1. Neil Mackenzie Neil Mackenzie October 10, 2013

    I am professional photographer, to survive we must adapt to the new landscape, just as photo retailers must do.
    I have moved to where the fish are and provided multiple revenue streams to meet the market.

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