Strategy Session: Ricoh Rebuilds a Camera Brand

Strategy Session: Ricoh Rebuilds a Camera Brand


When Ricoh purchased the Pentax brand back in 2011, there was much skepticism. What was a company known primarily for office products going to do with a storied photography brand?

And a storied brand it was. The Pentax K-1000 was at the heart of the student photography market for decades. It was the mechanical camera of choice for a generation of budding photojournalists learning the art and science of photography.
Through the years, Pentax survived as a small but confident brand—with high-styled DSLRs, a strong compact camera line and the rugged WG line of products. But the Ricoh acquisition, and the subsequent hiring of Sony veteran Jim Malcolm, changed their focus.

Jim Malcolm
Jim Malcolm

“Ricoh’s strategy was laser focused,” said Malcolm, president of Ricoh Imaging Americas. “We wanted to stabilize the core market, reduce our low performing SKUs, rethink our role in the compact market, and determine which innovations we could bring that would contribute profits to the dealer channel.”

What the company ended up with was a core base of three product lines that were destined to reenergize the brand among the pro and prosumer base. These lines are exemplified by the medium-format Pentax 645Z, the Theta S, and the recently introduced Pentax K-1 full-frame DSLR.

“Pentax has always enjoyed a reputation as a pro and prosumer product—back to the medium-format Pentax 67,” said Malcolm. “Almost every fashion photographer in the world shot with it, and we had more magazine covers than any other camera. So we were confident that by going after the medium-format customer with a high-performance, high-value product, we could reclaim our strong position in medium format, and significantly grow the opportunity with our dealers.”

Pentax 645Z

The strategy Ricoh pursued was to deliver the high-quality Pentax 645Z medium-format camera at less than half the price of existing products in the medium-format market. It was a price point that allowed pros to reconsider medium format, and benefit from the many advantages it delivered, at a reasonable price.

“Medium format presented a significant opportunity for our dealers,” explained Malcolm. “It offered them a whole new revenue stream, because the ecosystem is huge. The 645Z customer may need a new tripod, new light modifiers and a new filter pack. Those savvy dealers who got behind the product are cleaning up now because they realize they can generate additional revenue. And we’re now leading the market by a large margin.”

The Theta is another success story that married Ricoh technology with the Pentax heritage of delivering high-end niche products.

Ricoh Theta S

The genesis of the camera came from 190º lens cameras that sat on the front bumpers of cars. “I suggested to Ricoh designers that if they put two of the lenses together, they could create a complete 360º spherical camera,” said Malcolm.

That notion led to the Pentax Theta, the first single-shot, 360º spherical camera. The second generation added video at 15 frames per second, and the most recent model, the Theta S, now offers higher resolution sensors that create 14 megapixel still images and Full HD 360º spherical video.

The Theta’s unique design is clearly catching on worldwide, and Ricoh’s greatest challenge is keeping up with the demand of the product. “Our dealers are clamoring for more product, but we just can’t keep them supplied, despite twice doubling our production for Theta,” said Malcolm. “It seems we’re a victim of our own success, but Theta is a true testament to Ricoh’s commitment to raising the bar and seeking new opportunities in the market.”

Most recently, Ricoh introduced the Pentax K-1, its foray into the full-frame DSLR market. With the K-1, Ricoh sees an opportunity to switch consumers from entry-level competitive brands with APS-C-format sensors to the Pentax full-frame camera at a price point much lower than those of other brands.

Pentax K-1

“We thought that introducing a full-frame, high-quality product at a lower price point would offer customers the opportunity to brand shift from their current DSLR,” said Malcolm. “Our strategy was to deliver a sub-$2,000, full-frame product to entice entry-level DSLR customers who weren’t fully committed to another brand to step up, at a reasonable price, before they went beyond their two-lens entry-level kits. And from our early feedback, we seem to have clearly disrupted the full-frame market,” he added.

So, with Ricoh Imaging now clearly establishing beachheads on the medium-format, spherical and full-frame front, what happens to the storied Pentax brand?

“Pentax has such a rich heritage, there is no reason to upset the loyal and passionate Pentax user base by fading out the brand,” said Malcolm. “Our strategy will be to continue to offer more value at certain price points than competing brands and deliver it to the demanding consumer. The Pentax brand will live on as a strong sub-brand to the Ricoh name, and it will continue its legacy of delivering groundbreaking products for years to come.”

The roadmap appears to be coming together at just the right time.