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…
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 .
That 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.
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