Strategy Session: Do You Have an Effective Website or an Online Strategy?

Strategy Session: Do You Have an Effective Website or an Online Strategy?

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We’re proud to name Hunt’s Photo & Video as our first annual E-tailer of the Year, and they could not be more deserving.

As we mulled over our choices for this award, we had to ask ourselves what the measure of an e-tailer’s success is. Is it sales? Is it the best looking website? Is it the most sophisticated customer tracking software?

After having a long talk with Scott Farber, the president of Hunt’s Photo & Video, it became clear that it was really more about recognizing the potential of the web to drive business. And not necessarily online business—just business.

Hunt’s Photo & Video has a rich and storied history. The franchise began in 1889, when William B. Hunt opened up a pharmacy in the Boston area. In 1900, he got a Kodak franchise, and so began their first entry into the photo business.

Fifty-two years later, one of their prized pharmacists, Solomon Farber, Scott’s grandfather, bought their Malden, Massachusetts, location and continued to sell Brownie cameras along with Kodak processing. As the years passed, the pharmacy gave way to more and more camera equipment. When Scott’s father, Jack Farber, joined the family business in the mid-seventies (as a pharmacist/photo enthusiast), the transition continued.

Even when they moved into their current location at 100 Main Street in Melrose, with a beautiful, 10,000-square-foot retail space, they continued to sell health and beauty aids and rent wheelchairs. But finally, in 1990, they dropped the Hunt Drug name and acquiesced to the fact they were indeed a camera store—and Hunt’s Photo & Video became their brand.

What struck me most about Scott’s story was that the family always had a plan. Their transition from pharmacy to photo was a long but consistent vision. Their move away from their famed Boston Trade Center Photo Show in 2000, where they would sell more product in three days than most camera stores would sell in a year, was because they recognized the consumer show business model was no longer working. Their move away from their wholesale and distribution business to concentrate on retail expansion (they now have eight stores) was a clearly defined strategy to take advantage of the new market conditions.

And, their move online did not just entail building a website like everyone else. Their multifaceted online approach resulted in a new way of doing business.
Hunt’s e-tailing success cannot be measured in dollars. Sure, there are incremental online sales to go along with their in-store sales. But Farber said that Hunt’s is not there to compete with the B&Hs of the world; it’s there to drive business into their own retail stores.

“We know that we’re not as big as Amazon, but a website is a great equalizer—and I want our website to seem like we’re doing a billion dollars in business. It’s a site that can appeal to photo enthusiasts. We update our product specs as soon as products are available. We make sure announcements of rebates and pricing specials are online at 12:01 a.m. of the day they are available. We have online photo galleries that brand us as a true camera store. But all of this is meant to bring people into our stores—to touch and feel and buy.”
    That’s not to say that Hunt’s web strategy is local. In fact, it’s very national, because their Internet strategy is not just about a great website that sells product. It encompasses all of the tools and opportunities that the web and social networks provide. Facebook. E-blasts. Twitter. Amazon. eBay.

“We go to over 50 trade shows across the country. My brother, Gary, does an amazing job managing that business. They are mostly local or regional camera clubs or organizations. And everywhere we go, we collect e-mail addresses. Our list now encompasses well over 25,000 names, and more than 30% of them open our e-mails. They receive our e-blasts on a bimonthly basis with offers tailored specifically for the photo enthusiast.”

And of course, there’s Facebook. Hunt’s doesn’t necessarily sell product on Facebook, but they brand themselves there as a true, enthusiast camera store. They update on a daily basis, and doing things like holding camera trivia contests and photo contests with significant prizes (photo safaris) keep people involved with their brand.     “It allows us to interact with our customers on a daily basis, and it gives us a personality,” Scott explained.

Along with their store on Amazon, they also offer used merchandise on eBay. Equipment that would otherwise sit on the shelf or in a warehouse for days, months or years is auctioned off on a regular basis. The result—extra profits to their bottom line.

What impressed me also is how Scott and his team recognize the importance of customer service—both online and in-store.

“If I don’t offer my customers what Amazon offers them online, then there’s no reason for them to shop with me. But my true advantage is that I can also offer that same customer service in my store; we take great pride in how we treat our customers.”

So, what does this all mean? Scott Farber and his team recognize that an e-strategy goes well beyond their company website. Their family history of seeing a business opening and taking advantage of the full opportunity has traveled from the Kodak franchise in their original pharmacy all the way to their well-defined online strategy today. And for this reason, we’re proud to name Hunt’s Photo & Video DIR’s 2013 E-tailer of the Year.

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