The future of the photo industry has arrived; we’ve never been better equipped to evolve alongside the technology that’s radically reinventing photography. There are brick-and-mortar camera stores nationwide that survived due to sheer dedication to customer service, community outreach and carrying the highest quality merchandise.
However, in many ways we’ve been working against the grain in a market optimized for the digital age. For the first time, we’re running businesses in the heart of a perfect storm that allows us to forecast and fortify a strategy of success not afforded to previous generations.
Over the next five years, major changes to the photo industry will unfold that should influence our mindset now.
The first part of my vision is a response to what is happening before our eyes: the mirrorless revolution. As mirrorless cameras take over, “Newer, Smaller, Lighter” are the words that will become our clientele’s mantra.
While change is often scary, this is a welcomed change. With a new technology of this magnitude, with such consumer appeal, we’ll see positive things for customers and stores alike.
Firstly, new equipment means new shoppers. People thinking about getting into photography will gravitate to our art form and craft because the advent of mirrorless cameras feels like such a momentous occasion. Just as transitioning from film to digital brought curious customers in droves, so too will mirrorless attract consumers who want the newest and best.
Secondly, for the preexisting clientele, new tech means new gear. Redesigned lenses, adapters, accessories. An entirely new system with the 1,000 add-ons generally needed in photography can fill our stores and help create a modern experience for modern customers.
It’s not easy to predict the future, but the mirrorless revolution gives us a roadmap to gaze with clarity toward where we’re headed.
Taxing Changes, or Not
In addition to this exciting development, there are two major supplementary changes that give us an edge while heading forward. The first is the product of the fluctuating tides of our political landscape; something that supersedes ideology or affiliation but is more concerned with the logistics and practicality of running a business.
Due to the rewriting of our tax code, organizations small and large will pay less and, as a result, save more. This allows us to reinvest that money into proactive expenditures so vital to not only keeping our heads above water but also reaching our goal of exponential growth. This is a fundamental and far-reaching alteration that has an unequivocal benefit for the characteristic that unites us all: entrepreneurism.
The final leg to this metaphorical tripod of change (pardon the pun) is perhaps one of the most important. It finally levels the playing field against our greatest competitor: online commerce.
I speak of the abolishment of the “Tax-Free” Internet policy that for so long held us at a disadvantage. Yes, the Internet could never provide the kind of customer service and hands-on care that our stores do. However, far too often the general public turned to the convenient allure of saving a buck. Now with this monumental equality, where everyone must pay their respective sales tax, we no longer face an obstacle that sometimes prevailed even before the customer entered our stores.
The Time for Reinvestment
These three seismic shifts usher in a new age for the photo retail industry. Now how do we apply them to guarantee greater success? I believe we must first dedicate ourselves to investing in our stores.
The customer experience does not begin and end at the register; it is an all-inclusive impression that begins the moment they walk through the door. The elements of atmosphere, cleanliness, layout and “shopability,” employee interaction and overarching style play crucial roles in how customers interpret their experience. An unspoken trust is established between consumer and proprietor when a sense of pride is expressed and a harmonious balance is struck between being welcoming and being aesthetically dazzling.
However, there is also a more nuts-and-bolts aspect that requires an appropriation of funds. Simply put, our stores must stock everything. In a time where most purchases are a click away, a plentiful inventory is of paramount importance. Providing our clientele the same selection and competitive pricing as the most well-known online warehouse and adding a friendly, personalized over-the-counter experience is the mixture that builds lifelong relationships. The kind where a customer will gladly drive across town so they can buy from you.
Seize the Opportunity—and the Future
This is a special time with unique opportunities. We must not miss our chance to unite as an industry and rise to meet the occasion. We’re being afforded head starts so often out of our control. So let’s seize them.
Smaller cameras can reclaim some of the market that was lost to cell phones and reach far, far beyond. We can continue to form those all-important bonds; not only with our customer base but also with our camera manufacturers and vendors, who want to do steady business with us.
I see a bright future, a future where the camera store will transform into a specialty destination; a place where people come not to buy the vague “electronic” but to purchase cameras. Similar to how once upon a time people didn’t go to a megastore inside a mini mall to purchase a loaf of bread. They went to a bakery where they knew they were in the careful hands of an artisan.
We, too, can instill that confidence. We’ve already done an incredible job. However, sometimes good fortune affords us certain timely advantages that help us boldly go into the future. And the future is now.
Joe Dumitsch is the president of B&C Camera in Las Vegas, Nevada, and an avid photographer. Serving the greater Las Vegas area, in June 2016 Dumitsch broadened B&C’s services by expanding its retail footprint as well as its inventory and educational offerings.