Kiwi retailers are doing it for themselves! We spoke to Stephen Feldon (pictured below) who via his business, Retail Coach NZ, administers the independent – and growing – Photo Specialty Stores (PSS) group.
Can you give us a little background on PSS: When it started; the reasons for forming the group?
The group is now nearly four years old, as I understand it came about due to a vacuum left from the big companies leaving their groups alone. The duo that started it, Paul Wardlaw and Graham Hall, saw the need for independent photo specialty stores to stick together to combat vigorous activity in the market from the Big Box retailers.
Were you involved from the outset, and what is your current role?
I previously owned a Kodak Express store in Levin while being a member of PSS, and enjoyed the strength and camaraderie that the group provided me then. Since selling my store in November, 2014 I’ve been keeping in touch with the drivers of PSS and consequently facilitated a discussion session at their conference in May this year. My company, Retail Coach NZ, is now contracted to the group in a coordinating administration capacity.
As a buying group, which suppliers do you work closely with – and who do you see offering the best support?
We have a very good relationship with Canon and Olympus (Dictation Distributors NZ) for our camera range. Both are seeing good things come out of PSS. We also enjoy good ties with IPS NZ, Photo Direct, Brands, Harrison Frames, UR1, Cellnet, CR Kennedy and Southern Approach (GoPro).
How do PSS members communicate?
We use a (relatively secure) free service with Yahoogroups and their collective email service. Via this we share stock wants, and help others offload surplus stock when applicable. Also used is Mailchimps free service for providing stores with a content rich newsletter.
Do you have regular meetings or a conference?
Currently we have an annual conference which is held centrally in Wellington, making sure the travel cost is fair to all. This conference is well-supported by our preferred suppliers who all contribute to a trade show at our conference venue. We would also encourage members to attend any supplier-related events and product launches.
What are your goals for PSS over next, say, 12 months?
As a group I’d like to see us grow in membership to 25 stores by Christmas. We have some very good interest from great stores throughout NZ, and we’re keen to talk to more – blatant advert here! I also would like to see our focus adapt in take into account smartphone photography, and ultimately be the go-to destination for anything related to smartphone photography which would attract more margin for the stores over just a hardware focus. We have other focusses, but they remain our primary ones.
In your understanding, are wholesale price differences to the various channels – and especially the large players – over the odds compared to other countries?
In terms of price parity globally, we are slowly getting closer as suppliers and distributors work closely to ensure they are minimising the advantage customers have when shopping overseas, and undermining the benefits offered by the parallel importers. We have a way to go, but we’re getting closer. Having a group enables stores that wouldn’t normally have a voice to be heard by our suppliers/distributors.
‘Together everyone achieves more’ is the acronym for TEAM, and that’s the benefit of our PSS buying group. Singularly we don’t have much leverage with our suppliers, but when you start talking to supplier with 17 stores behind you, we start to get listened to.
One KEx retailer here in Australia was recently almost begging for someone to come in and fill the gap Kodak Alaris seems to have left on the marketing side – what would you advise?
Nike it! Just do it! – Form your own group. Talk to the guys here in NZ that started ours and start. Talk to IPS, here in NZ they are very supportive. Waiting on primary suppliers to fullfil the answer is no longer going to happen due to diminished resources. Fortune favours the brave. It’s important that independent retailers talk to each other and form a common goal and push forward.
You are branching into marketing and promotional support – can you fill me in on the sort of things you are doing with marketing?
As I’ve only been in the role a couple of months marketing is evolving. My main focus is on providing stores with promotional material and tools in order to do things smarter. Marketing push is our next focus and will be in some way resource-dependant. To date we have produced flyers at Christmas with great participation from our suppliers, and we’re looking at expanding that into a quarterly flyer. Our online and social media presence will follow.
Do you see PSS as a retail brand?
This is an interesting point and has been discussed in passing at our conference. Currently the PSS brand features on just a few stores frontages, but mainly it’s an industry based brand to separate us from our competitors. Watch us to see how things evolve around this as we gather momentum.
Photo specialists have been having a tough time in Australia and New Zealand. What do you think are the three or four main challenges they are confronting?
Lack of foot traffic – people just don’t browse a photo store like the did in the past.
Customer loyalty is divided – we have to compete with so many channels for the customer’s attention.
Diminishing margins – which reinforces the importance of independent stores forming a group to ensure the best buying power is achieved.
Do you feel that sometimes specialist retailers are their own worst enemy? (One of the comments made following our recent store closures story was that a lot of those closed stores didn’t have much in the way of a website or online ordering.)
Yes, I totally agree. I think that comment came from Phil Gresham. If you look for negativity you’ll find it for sure, but the opposite is also true. Look for opportunity and growth and you will find that too. Elsewhere in my Retail Coach experience I remind retailers that you have to fish where the fish are, and once you’ve established that, make sure you’re using the right bait to win the catch. This means being in that digital space, in the customers’ eyeballs on Facebook, popping up on the first page of a search, owning your local proximity keywords, etc. We are a visually related industry so we must ensure that we are visually stimulating and inspiring everywhere we are, online and in our bricks and mortar stores.
I’m happy to talk with any retailer wanting more info, both in Australia and here in NZ. Whether it’s starting your own group in Australia or wanting to be part of the surge here in NZ.
This is a great industry we are in, filled with great people, and presenting us with fantastic opportunities. Last word – Together we stand, divided we fall.
Stephen Feldon can be contacted at [email protected]
or ph +64 27 368 7456.