Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2018 Dealer of the Year: Art’s Cameras Plus

Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2018 Dealer of the Year: Art’s Cameras Plus

This two-store photo retailer fosters growth by understanding the need for optimum customer and employee experiences.

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Don’t worry about the future of specialty photoDIR-DOY-2018-Trophy retailing. Art’s Cameras Plus understands the need for optimum customer and employee experiences to foster their continued growth. Tony Miresse, supported significantly by his wife, Geneen, is CEO of Art’s. The two-store retailer has locations in Greenfield and Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Having learned from his father, Art—who founded the company—Tony Miresse has a solid reputation among vendors. His expos and tent sales are well known for bringing traffic to vendor booths. Because Miresse establishes his event schedule a year or more in advance, and consistently produces above average traffic for events of Art’s size, sales reps love to participate. Their time and investment are respected, and robust sales are the typical result.

The Greenfield Art’s Cameras Plus store at 4981 S 76th Street holds a tent sale

How does Miresse do this? “We start the morning with a line outside and an opening bell rush. This excitement gets adrenaline flowing in the sales reps manning the booths,” he says. “I steal every idea I can. At one PRO convention, Gregg Burger of Precision Camera told us door prizes weren’t effective to get customers to the front door. Door prizes are a chance to win something. Instead Gregg gave away money—gift cards that could be used that day. We copied his idea and got more people than ever before. We quit asking manufacturers for less effective door prizes.”

The Greenfield sales floor. Geneen worked with architects on the stores’ design to make them bright and inviting, with an underlying appeal to female shoppers.

The Miresses looked at the PRO buying group back in the 1980s but didn’t join. “We were good negotiators, so why did we need PRO? How little we understood what we were missing,” he recalls. Art’s finally joined in 1998. Moreover, Tony Miresse was elected to the board of directors in 2000. He quickly became secretary and today is a vice president and the nominating committee chair for the international buying group.

Geneen and Tony Miresse in the print suite at the Greenfield store

Rather than cherry-picking a multitude of vendors, Miresse fully utilizes the talent of the PRO buying group.

“The people at PRO are very sharp, knowing what’s selling today and what will be selling tomorrow,” he explains. “If I could buy as smart and as sharp as they do, could I buy it for less? Not a chance! I prefer to sell proven products from our brand (ProMaster). But if PRO doesn’t have a particular product, I always try to buy it from a PRO-approved vendor before going outside the PRO network.”

The Waukesha sales floor, at 2130 Silvernail Road

Miresse is quick to give credit to others for the success of Art’s. “Pete Koenig and Dan Flynn have our rental departments booming. The strategic ideas and systems we use were pioneered by PRO members. George’s Camera gave us the idea and economic formula for taking new inventory and renting it when demanded. B&C Camera pioneered 24/7 online rental reservations using Checkfront software. This doubled the reservations of some PRO members while halving their personnel costs.” In addition, the Camera Company in Madison displays available rental equipment in front door showcases to increase awareness of Art’s rental offerings.

Greenfield’s rental showcase. Exotic pieces cause customers to stop, sometimes booking rentals on the spot.

The new rental software does “suggest and sell.” Rent lighting and you’re prompted to add MagMod equipment. Checkfront also gives management reports that can identify underused rental assets, as well as areas where more gear is needed. It also tracks no-charge employee or other rentals, so management can quantify these fringe benefits.

Art’s also has a self-funded rental equipment damage waiver, prompted online. For only 15% of the rental price, the customer is covered for 90% of any damage, regardless of cause. There’s also a 10% co-pay to ensure customers use their best efforts to protect the equipment. Pete Koenig says, “If we don’t tell the customer about the damage waiver, we’re doing them a disservice.”

Art’s longtime management team (L-R): Dan Flynn, Greenfield’s store manager; Tony Miresse; and Ray Llanas, Waukesha’s manager

Art’s Cameras Plus: The Kit King

Moreover, at Art’s they feel obligated to make sure customers have the essentials to get maximum enjoyment from each purchase. So they offer multiple kit options to simplify the process for both the customer and the salesperson.

They’ve sold so many kits over the decades that Tony Miresse is called the “Kit King.” A customer considering a camera purchase is advised there’s a basic essentials kit as well as a premium essentials kit. There’s a different kit for compact cameras, another for DSLRs—four kits in all. Depending on the camera purchased, each kit allows substitution of bags, filters, batteries, etc.

Art’s deep inventory includes major manufacturers, with equipment meticulously displayed.

In addition, each kit is rung up in the Prophetline POS system. One SKU then explodes to the requisite number of line items. The salesperson is prompted to scan the correct filter, battery, etc. If the selected products aren’t properly scanned, the commission won’t be paid and an error report is generated to correct the data.

“We call them ‘essential’ kits because the contents are really essential for good picture taking. Instead of including junk, like most online kits, we use quality ProMaster products,” Miresse says. “ProMaster has the best warranty in the business, and every employee uses and recommends ProMaster products. The premium kit has ProMaster HGX Prime filters and Rugged memory cards—both are the best products in their category. The kits are a great value for the consumer and also make it easier for the salesperson to deliver everything with a single ‘yes’ buying decision.”

The Educated Customer

Miresse believes educated customers will be more successful photographers and become more loyal shoppers. So they include a class with each kit and encourage customers to attend.

Customers also are shown the money they’ve saved by taking advantage of sales and promotions. The sales team effectively helps customers “spend your savings on things that

With displays on wheels, the stores can be instantly reconfigured for events.

will enhance your picture taking.” Some may say, “Since the camera is on sale with a $200 instant savings, use that $200 to purchase our premium essentials kit.”

In addition, Art’s offers one-on-one training with a twist. For $79, customers get an hour with their choice of instructor. If they buy a certificate for a second hour before finishing the first hour, it’s $69 for the next session, regardless of when it’s taken. At the second session, a third session can be booked for $59. After that, the cost remains $59 for all hourly certificates bought during any session. Salespeople conduct these sessions when they’re off the clock and receive $25/hour, plus commissions from any sales.

Dan Flynn teaches a class in Greenfield. “Expandable” classrooms accommodate 50 people with little disruption to the sales floor.
Art’s 31-year Waukesha location was expanded to fit a classroom, an additional sales area and a secure warehouse.
Classes By Request

Monica Laatsch, head of Art’s Education and Events Department, oversees the wide variety of classes and events. At each class, participants receive an evaluation sheet that lists two dozen topics. Customers check the boxes of classes they are interested in taking. There’s also a blank space where they can add a class not on the list. When those classes are offered, the customer receives a personalized invitation: “The class you asked for is here!” Dan Flynn’s very popular Astro Photography workshop, which consists of a class and a late-night star shoot, was added because people asked for it.

Focused Photo Excursions

Moreover, Art’s FOCUS Group (Fun Opportunities for Capturing Unique Shots) is an idea Miresse stole from the Camera Company. It’s a store-sponsored equivalent of an old-time camera club that morphed into a series of organized picture-taking excursions.

A Sigma-sponsored FOCUS Group event: a nighttime shoot followed by an in-store demo the next day

The first shoot was a nighttime county fair event hosted by Waukesha manager Ray Llanas. The group consisted of only two participants. Art’s shared the amazing time exposures they got of the Ferris wheel and the midway in their newsletter promoting the FOCUS Group. Today, it offers monthly events with an average of 30 members attending. Some events have attracted as many as 70 participants!

“Our FOCUS Group members get 24-hour prenotification before public registration opens,” says Laatsch. “They learn quickly that events often sell out and register promptly. We charge a registration fee to ensure participants show up and to cover out-of-pocket expenses, administrative costs and staffing.”

A popular FOCUS event at Waukesha Floral and Greenhouses

Art’s is also a Buy Local proponent. One of the FOCUS events is a trip to Waukesha Floral and Greenhouses. It’s a winter event to shoot colorful macro photos in a greenhouse. The garden center provides hot coffee/chocolate and munchies. Art’s promotion brings in people who have never visited the garden center. And the garden center promotes it to their customers, introducing people to Art’s.

Another recent FOCUS Group outing was scheduled for Door Bluff County Park on the peninsula separating Lake Michigan from Green Bay. The weather was blustery, even by Wisconsin standards. However, the group agreed to take pictures in the rain. The resulting images were spectacular, giving rise to a new class at Art’s: Why Your Best Pictures Come in Bad Weather.

Employee Experience

Still growing, Art’s has 25 employees. Miresse believes it’s important to pay them above “normal retail.” He’s listened to companies like Bedford Camera & Video on creating compensation programs that reward those who are cost efficient and offer the best customer service.

Art’s also has an aggressive commission and spiff program. Employees are allowed to receive direct payments from key camera manufacturers. Most ProMaster products have at least a 5% commission. Occasionally, an additional commission is connected to overstock or clearance items. Miresse prefers to give markdown money to the salespeople rather than lower prices. If an item doesn’t sell quickly with the enhanced commission, then he drops the price and reduces or eliminates commissions. Arts-Cameras-Plus-LR-logoFurthermore, new employees have a 90-day test-drive period. They’re paid an hourly rate higher than their eventual rate but no commissions. Miresse doesn’t want inexperienced people attempting to make a sale just for the commission before they’re properly trained.

“Our sales team’s income is part hourly, part commission and spiffs,” he explains. “We publish everyone’s commissions, so employees can see how they measure up to their peers. At year-end, we get 1099 income reports of spiff dollars paid by vendors. We combine these figures with what we paid out and show that the top producers make more than $9/hour in total commissions. The information is shared with seasoned salespeople as well as new hires. This makes clear the actual income salespeople can earn at Art’s.”

After 90 days, the employee sits down with a manager to determine if there’s a future at Art’s and if they feel they’ve found a home. Most times the quality of the fit is evident before 90 days. Miresse tries to be “slow to hire, quick to fire,” so the team is cohesive and focused.

Team Training at Art’s

Team training is critical. “ProMaster’s PRO Insider online training is optional,” Miresse explains. “If you want to participate in the spiff program, you must complete every module.” The training is so beneficial he’s never had to enforce that rule.

The free product salespeople earn from the ProMaster program doesn’t hurt. Employees also give Sony’s Cyber Scholar program and Tamron’s online training high reviews.

Dan Flynn, Greenfield’s manager, runs Art’s weekly sales meeting. Sometimes, without warning, someone is asked to explain the benefits of a product. Everyone is motivated to be up to date on every product. Most weeks employees share a sales tip or information about products in their AOR (Area of Responsibility). “It’s critical the entire team hears the message and gets any questions answered,” Flynn asserts.

The Waukesha sales team celebrates Hawaiian Shirt Saturday. L-R, back: Dave Draper, Claire Kotlowski, Ray Llanas, Danny Ardellini. Front: Elise Steingraeber, Meg Burkette with Baby (Rosalie) Burkette, Seija Bast and Claire Kopperud
Greenfield sales team. Back: Dan Flynn, Kevin Hiller, Sergio Espino, Julie Betts, Hannah Hetzel. Front: Josie Steinfort, Rick Wright, Monica Laatsch, Pete Koenig

Meeting notes are also e-mailed to the team. Everyon must “Reply All” with at least one thing they learned from the meeting. The vendors Flynn brings in are coached ahead of time with outlines to ensure they’ll have meaningful content. His favorite request to reps is: “Tell us something we don’t know that we can use to sell your product.”

For smaller vendors, Skype training worked flawlessly. WANDRD’s bag designers explained why their bags shouldn’t be seen as expensive but as a necessary investment for the serious outdoor person. Once the team understood the product’s uniqueness, they wanted to own one. This led to WANDRD establishing a generous “Sell Five Own One” promotion for retail salespeople.

Monitoring Sales Metrics

In addition, sales trainer Rick Wright suggests, “Upon clocking in for a shift, employees should: (1) check their e-mail for any urgent issues; (2) walk through the back room to see what’s in stock and what’s out of stock, so they don’t sell what they can’t deliver; (3) work on their AOR when customer flow is slow.”

Miresse also learned the benefits of monitoring sales metrics from Dan’s Camera City and Lakeside Camera Photoworks. He sets acceptable standards for the attachment rate of key product categories, then tracks and publishes each sales associate’s success in reaching these goals. This identifies when an associate needs further training in certain areas. It also creates a good-natured competition among team members and increases the entire team’s success.

Promotions & Marketing

Art’s does well with Canon printer promotions, including larger models. Miresse feels they could do better with paper and ink sales. He believes most customers would print more if they knew how to take full advantage of their printer’s features.

So with Canon’s support, they contacted customers who purchased a Canon printer and invited them to a Get to Know Your Printer class. Registration was $10, which included a $10 gift card. More than 20 people participated.

Art’s Cameras Plus Picture of the Day airs on TMJ4’s Morning Blend daily talk show; 15-second ads get a better response per dollar than 30-second spots.

Furthermore, Art’s web strategy is to use its Big Commerce website like the Yellow Pages was used decades ago. Convince customers it’s worthwhile to come into the store. Online sales are mostly gift cards, classes, used equipment as well as rental reservations. Walk-in customers often mention they saw what they wanted on Art’s website.

Miresse also promotes used equipment. It’s an important category for Art’s. Miresse says he’s been tutored by the best, including Calagaz Photo, National Camera Exchange, Roberts and Biggs Camera. The most important lesson is: “If a customer wants to sell you used gear, you can’t say ‘come back when the manager’s here.’ If you’re open for business, you must have associates trained and empowered to take trades and buy used equipment on the spot.”

He also likes self-liquidating promotions. ProMaster sells a wide-angle lens for smartphones. At one expo, the first 50 people got a free wide-angle lens. Miresse then offered them the opportunity to trade it in for the four-lens kit at a substantial discount. They sold enough of the kits to turn what would have been a promotional cost into a profit.

Services & Seminars

Services also are an important part of Art’s business plan. “We used to offer express print services for a higher price, but few customers selected that option. Now the kiosks default to express

The night before a tent sale, VIP customers attend a Customer Appreciation Party, moving from vendor table to table gathering door prize tickets.

services at a slightly lower price than previously offered. The customer gets a discount if they switch it to three-day service. It’s an attitudinal shift, not more money for express but a discount for using three-day. About 60% of retail consumers now use the express service,” Miresse reports.

Moreover, Art’s loves to give deals. Join the Learn and Shoot Club for $49 and you get 25% off every program and the opportunity for early registration for classes and events. Sometimes club members get unannounced gifts. On one trip, every club member got a free monopod to use and keep.

Tracy Kruser, of Tracy’s Photography, has been coming to Art’s in Waukesha for 10+ years for her photo business.

Free Seminar Saturdays are also big hits, another idea “borrowed” from the Camera Company and Dan’s Camera City. Each store holds them twice a year. These four 30-minute sessions start every hour. Many customers come for all four sessions, others for just a specific one. The half-hour between seminars lets them see (and buy) the products discussed in the class.

24/7 Social Media

Claire Kopperud runs social media for Art’s. You can find her handiwork at #OnlyAtArts and on Art’s Facebook page. Kopperud produces short (under three minutes) videos. When appropriate, she includes the bloopers to build more authentic relationships with viewers. She believes you have to be “there”—authentic, ready and prepared—to deliver instantly with information or products.

It’s a 24/7 world and that’s hard for retailers. Art’s has a half-dozen management people on the social media response team. So usually messages are answered within an hour. Many of Art’s customers prefer to communicate through Facebook than by phone or e-mail.

In addition, team members are encouraged to have their own “personal” company Facebook page. These are the only pages where they should interact with Facebook customers as Art’s employees.

Kopperud is also responsible for Art’s Ambassador program. They include Zak Gruber, who shoots with Nikons, and Nick Swanson, who shoots with Canon equipment. They’re both passionate about the imaging industry and eager to help people enjoy photography. The ambassadors are loaned equipment at no charge. In addition, they usually post reviews and share positive thoughts about Art’s, which is better than advertising.

Breaking the stereotypical perception of a millennial, Kopperud says, “The cool thing about working at Art’s is everyone is multifaceted. It’s fun to dip into everything. The variety of jobs Art’s requires is great. The people are fantastic. We’re very busy here, and that makes it even more fun to work at Art’s.”

Corporate Culture

“We have a close-knit group, many of whom frequently get together outside of business hours,” Tony Miresse adds. “We run our company on traditional Christian values. I truly believe God has put very smart people in my path and has blessed me with the wisdom to listen and learn from them.”

Leaving Art’s was difficult for us, because there’s so much more to report on this extraordinary retailer. These are great people, doing a superb job, making sure the imaging industry is always shown in its best light. It is a genuinely happy place—well staffed and well run—a beacon for us all. Art’s Cameras Plus truly reflects the values, ideals and business acumen worthy of Digital Imaging Reporter’s Dealer of the Year!

The Team at Art’s Cameras Plus

Art’s instructors. Back row: Claire Kopperud, Andy Brown, Jennell Jenney, Dan Flynn, Cassie Wolffersdorff. Front row: Meg Burkette, Monica Laatsch, Pete Koenig
With 20 years of service each, these three are integral to Art’s success: Glenn Uitz, warehouse manager; Carol Pfaff, office manager; and Matt Wichmann, IT specialist.
Art’s lab staff (L-R): Claire Kopperud, Becky Eimer, Matt Wichmann, Kristin Johanneck, and Andy Brown, lab manager
Art’s video team: Dan Flynn and Sergio Espino
Pete Koenig and Dan Flynn run the rental department.