John Wallace has kept himself busy since closing the door on Foto Riesel several months ago. One of his activities is maintaining an interesting website – Johhnyshoots.com.au – which both promotes his new business as a pro photographer and carries other interesting photo-oriented content. (Most Australian photo retailing websites could well take a leaf of his book!) John has kindly permitted PhotoCounter to reproduce the following opinion piece about the state of the industry:
Ran into and old friend while at a client’s today. This guy was the national pro rep for a major camera brand and had been for some time – he was the contact between the brand and the retailer. I say ‘was’ because today he was given his marching orders as they made him and some others redundant.
(PhotoCounter understands this was a Andre King, from Nikon professional.)
Here is a guy who is good at what he does and for no fault of his own he is out of a job. The industry shrinks, margins are tight, costs go up and people lose jobs.
I guess for those people who rely on stores to support their tools of trade, having little or no contact with the supplier of those tools is going to leave your average salesperson in a pickle. No more demos of new product or help when a customer has a curly question. No more support at pro events. Who to blame? Is it just the way the market is evolving? Will our local suppliers devolve into a tiny local team with all other support moving to somewhere in Asia? In a global market is this such a bad thing? One thing is for sure – get to know the guys behind the counter who know their stuff, because the call centre in Manila won’t be able to help you work out how to program your Speedlight.
Is this an opportunity for specialty stores? Your average large chain store person won’t be able to help you, so where do you go? The problem is that there is now so little margin on the hardware and service is valued at next to nothing that the small guy is doomed from the start.
Good service and product knowledge won’t help you when it comes to price, nine out of 10 customers will take the cheaper deal and use your customer service to research their product; online or big chain store, it doesn’t matter as the result is still the same. Online is even more insidious as once the customer gets used to transacting this way it becomes habit.
How do we stop it? One way is to offer unique services and products, but you can’t really succeed without the big brands to draw the customers in. Another is to cut costs to the bare minimum, low rent, small staff – but customer service suffers. Maybe go online? Don’t even try to compete on price, but again you have to be there. The answer, as usual is a combination of all of these plus more and the unfortunate truth is that there will be casualties as the market restructures itself.
Whats the point of the rant? I guess if we don’t support our local specialists stores then there will be no one left to support us. Sometimes this means we will have to pay a little more or perhaps wait a little longer, but when you need something fixed or a loan to get you out of trouble I can guarantee B&H won’t help you.
Good luck major brand pro rep, I am positive you will go onto bigger things but I guarantee it will be outside the industry we know.
John Wallace (ex-Foto Riesel)