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Are camera stores retailing’s dodo?

Alan Small (Taree Camera House), sees a diminished future for both specialist retailers, their customers and their suppliers if the twin trends of meagre retail margins and major suppliers competing with customers continues…

Alan Small, Taree Camera House: '...leading suppliers are competing directly, and at times unfairly, (and at other times secretly) with the very retail stores that assisted in their rise to commercial prominence over the years '...leading suppliers are competing directly, and at times unfairly (and at other times secretly), with the very retail stores that assisted in their rise to commercial prominence over the years.'
Alan Small, Taree Camera House: ‘…leading suppliers are competing directly, and at times unfairly (and at other times secretly), with the very retail stores that assisted in their rise to commercial prominence over the years ‘

A client, just back from England, said to me recently: ‘I went to several larger provincial cities
in England looking for a specialty camera store. In three of the cities, I could not find one.’

Are camera stores, as we understand them, disappearing all over the world? Is the friendly specialist at the counter going the way of the Dodo?

On the surface, it appears that the answer is ‘yes’ !…..

Ask  a thousand people for the reason and you will get a thousand different answers – similar to the climate change debate. All of those reasons may have a grain of truth to them, but it is difficult to pin down a major reason for the worldwide decline  – and possible extinction – of camera stores, and it is even more difficult to find a solution.

But if you were to combine the top half dozen factors leading to the decline of camera
specialists, it  would mainly come down  to this: a lack of margin and therefore, profitability.

Everything else is most likely secondary to that fact.

Of course,  there are many other important considerations,  the most common of which is
quoted  broadly as competition from online shopping. While that is certainly true, it does
not factor in an ugly side of online shopping whereby some of the specialty stores’ leading suppliers are competing directly, and at times unfairly (and at other times secretly), with the very retail stores that assisted in their rise to commercial prominence over the years .

Canon_ad1That  highly successful commercial partnership between photo specialists and the larger suppliers is now either broken or seriously damaged due to what many see as the greed, lack of vision and poor long-term planning on the part of many suppliers; they have taken the easy way out.

Whether, like the almost tragic fall of the giant Kodak organisation, competing with one’s customers leads to a similar outcome for some of today’s suppliers will be a matter for
history to record.

For whoever the bell tolls, there is some pain on the horizon.

What is certain is that the industry will deeply regret the loss of its specialised camera stores, and that loss will be felt to an even greater extent by the very clients who think  there is no price to be paid for changing the face of the industry by purchasing as cheaply as possible, whether it be at the huge chains, or online. But everyone knows there is a premium to pay eventually in saving money at the cost of service, advice and ongoing support.

Eventually, the larger firms may need as many as 40 extra people just to answer the phone enquiries from harried and frustrated customers who can’t get answers from the big chains or online sellers.

Canonad2That huge cost – approaching like a speeding truck – may make the idea of supporting the local friendly photo specialist, seem like a very good idea. But by then it may be too late.

An American woman came into our store recently with a small problem which we solved very quickly for her.

She beamed in gratitude and said:  ‘My god – a real photo specialist. Does this town know how lucky it is? It’s a retail desert in the States. It’s a tragedy.’ She smiled broadly and said: ‘Would you consider moving to the mid-west of the US? All we’ve got is Walmart and chainstores. Hopeless!’

Is that a statement of just how life is developing for us all, or is there a clue to the future
of photo retailing contained in these simple statements?

There is a valuable clue there to save specialised retailing from extinction. There is not room in this article to list all the details, but it will come down this retailing concept: The customer experience.
– Alan Small 



  1. Chris Chris January 17, 2014

    We now charge a bench fee of $10 because of the volume of stuck up people wanting help with their cameras but not wanting to buy anything from us, & demanding we look at their camera then & there.

  2. Stan kessanis Stan kessanis January 17, 2014

    As an industry “stalwart” that has been heavily involved in the marketing of the photographic product from the late 1980’s through to the current time, I guess we can all lament the loss of those business values, but I fear that the trend is set and will not “re-set”. Once the big retail brands started pushing their mantra of low prices as being paramount, they conditioned the consumer to shop primarily on price. If you dominate the airwaves with mass advertising that shouts… BUNNINGS Lowest Prices Are Just The Beginning! Big W We Sell for less TARGET Get More. Pay less. K-MART We make low prices irresistable. It goes on and on. My wife closed her gift shop when the Xmas rush was all about customers looking for something to buy under $10. They didn’t have enough budget to buy decent gifts,

    I still have many camera catalogues in my office from the 1990’s with $2,000 4MP cameras that gave the retailer $400+ margin and the supplier something similar. Good Video cameras were $3000+! We were happy to explain how it all worked, because the reward was there at the end of the process. Now the transaction is fast and often online. The purchase is not for a lifetime product, just an interim purchase until the next piece of high spec technology comes along. Lots of info and reviews online. Late nights spent analysing the product and then Shopbot for the best deals.
    It’s sad.
    Caringbah Camera House close this weekend. Another retail icon gone.
    The camera clubs are full of our ideal customer, mostly older citizens who are passionate about photography and old enough to remember the core values of taking an image. However, they have been conditioned to buy the lovely gear at the best price possible.

    Whilst everything we say is quite valid, is the consumer really listening?

  3. PG PG January 20, 2014

    In the UK the demise of the Jessops chain from a 187 stores this time last year had a huge impact on the UK market.

    In the US the good independent camera stores are doing well. With a long time online website, a huge range of services, huge range of accessories and camera classes. Add in engaged staff and effective email marketing etc etc

  4. suzanne suzanne January 24, 2014

    I have been in photography since I was 15 1/2 yrs old just when the first Kodak 126 film cameras came out. We thought the changes to cameras back then were huge. C22 color processing changing to C41, etc.Photography was a luxury and one was respected for your help, knowledge and patience, especially when processing also took a week. Now with technology changing so fast, one just starts to understand, then something else appears on the horizon. I hate saying that technology isnt my forte, I do try to keep up but some of it is out of my sight.
    But I believe I still have the same commitment to offer customers my long-term knowledge and am appreciated for it.
    It was certainly a very sad day when the cut-throat pricing on processing and cameras started.
    I’m now in my 45th year of working in photography retail and still love it.
    While enhancement of photos can have lots of advantages ..I believe those who are true photographers don’t ,and have never had the need to “fiddle” with their photos.

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