Brendan Waites has been swimming against the tide over the last seven years, leaving a secure position as store manager with Camera House in Geelong to open a new camera store in Ocean Grove, a growing coastal town on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
In living memory, Ocean Grove had not had a specialist photo store, so to successfully establish one in a climate where many others were closing down was no mean feat. (Our headline at the time was Man opens photo store!!)
Then in 2018 he repeated the trick in Torquay, about 20 minutes drive west from Ocean Grove. Once again, this was an all-new venture in a town which had previously had no dedicated photo shop.
We asked Brendan how he was faring through the Coronavirus lockdown:
So it looks like you intend to trade on in both outlets?
Yes, at this stage we have been able to run both stores under very strict social distancing guidelines. We have now limited our retail space to just 2 customers at a time. Our website – cameraandphoto.com.au – is seeing more traffic than ever, so I am leveraging off that. Online print sales have clearly increased. I am hand-delivering a lot of prints locally, and using Aussie Post for many others Australia-wide. We are experiencing heavy delays with Australia Post, but we are finding most folks are pretty patient.
One downside for me is I am continuing to see a lot of older people in store. Unfortunately what we offer on the most part are non-essential items. But we are still seeing people come in to print a photo of their cat, or dog, or flowers in the garden. How is that essential? It’s frustrating because we are in Stage 3 out here and do not have to close the doors. It creates a moral dilemma. I have considered closing the shops to face-to-face traffic, however I am trying to protect my image of having fantastic customer service. It feels counter-intuitive to the cause to remain open at times. So we just keep enforcing the strict distancing and hygiene guidelines.
Have you been able to take advantage of the JobKeeper program?
We sure have. This is where I count my lucky stars that I operate a business in a country that will look after its workers as much as possible. All four of my staff are receiving JK. We are comfortably more than 30 percent down against last year, so it looks like JK will stay for us until March 2021.
How are things on the supply side – is product getting through?
We are only seeing very slight delays on stock arriving. But generally everything we have needed to date has arrived.
Has your landlord(s) been helpful?
Yes. My landlords for both the Ocean Grove Store and Torquay Store have been very helpful by either suspending rental payments or reducing the rental amount. I am am a little concerned as to how I will cover the deferred amounts, but it has gone a long way to me being able to continue to trade.
Any bright spots we can look at? Do you think people are using the spare time to attend to their photo collections?
We’ve definitely seen an upturn in web traffic, which allows me to promote more services and products. I’ve also been forced to promote more on Social Media, which definitely works.
How about your prints from Brendan Waites Photography – are people looking at wall decor?
Yes, due to increased traffic at cameraandphoto.com.au, I have had more people browsing my landscape photography pages, leading to more sales.