Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2023 Dealer of the Year: Action Camera

Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2023 Dealer of the Year: Action Camera

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Growth Keeps on Coming for This Expanding Imaging Retailer

One of the larger camera stores in the country is under construction just 30 minutes northeast of Sacramento. Covering 15,000 square feet, the new store is a tribute to Charlie Landefeld and his team at Action Camera. The retailer also has stores in Roseville, California, and Reno, Nevada.

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Charlie Landefeld at the Roseville store, located at 1000 Sunrise Avenue, Roseville, California
Building on Imagination: New Mega Store

The new mega store will open in an area growing in higher income population while California is losing population. Rocklin, in Placer County, is on Interstate 80, midway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. The semirural area to the east provides homes to high-tech hybrid workers who love outdoor activities.

“Charlie showed me the new location shortly after the lease agreement was signed,” commented Sony Account Manager Sarah Regnier. “His enthusiasm for the blank canvas with so much potential shone through. He and the team are seizing the opportunity and running with it.”

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The new mega store in Rocklin, California

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In California, rent is high and few affordable studio spaces are available. With a new dedicated studio, Action Camera will offer photographers a safe, convenient location to utilize. The studio will also have roll-up doors, allowing renters to photograph larger items, including vehicles. The only limit will be the photographer’s imagination.

What’s more, it’s almost four times the space of Action Camera’s current store at only twice the rent. The ground floor is 10,000 square feet; the upstairs is another 5,000 square feet. Plus, the camera wall is going from 20 to 56 feet long.

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Melinda Walsh, Action Camera’s general manager

Melinda Walsh, Action Camera’s general manager, says, “I can’t wait for the new store. We’ll have the space to do what we and our customers have always wanted. It’ll also have freeway visibility to 120,000 cars daily. Drivers will remember us when they need camera equipment and either buy from us online or visit the new store.

“This is a great time to be a photographer. Outstanding quality products are available at great prices from a wide variety of manufacturers,” Melinda continues. “We offer our customers products from major brands, along with a curated selection of smaller niche brands that deliver super value.”

Action Camera: The Old and the New

The new store will also have a dedicated section for content creators. More members will join its sales team. Those employees will be educated so the store can open with a well-trained staff.

The current Roseville store uses the same room for classes and the rental studio, making studio rental more difficult. However, the new store will have both a dedicated rental studio and dedicated classroom. Furthermore, the Roseville store is in a 40-year-old outdated, semi-vacant shopping center. The new location is a more modern building that reflects where Action Camera and its customers are headed. Action-Camera-Logo-2023

The future of retail demands product availability as well as positive customer experiences. Thus, the new space will allow model shoots, demos, classes, networking and displays. Roseville events have proven very successful. Canon had a “flying dress” model shoot. Tamron had exotic animal shoots. Nikon ambassadors did classes and coaching. Those activities will increase at the new location. Charlie believes, “Knowledge and one-on-one connections are key to today’s customer’s desired experience.”

In Roseville, large trade shows and events must be off-site, which makes product sales problematic. The new store will easily absorb temporary shows, vendor tables, classes, demonstrations, product sales as well as deliveries. And Charlie is thrilled with vendor partners’ responses to the new store. The offerings of signage, fixtures, display support and event cohosting will make the store an important component of Northern California’s photo community.

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The ground floor of the Rocklin store is 10,000 square feet; the upstairs is 5,000 square feet.

Further, the Reno store opened using only company funds. The plan looked great on paper, but there should have been the cushion of a launch loan. The store couldn’t generate profit dollars quickly enough to invest in inventory as sales rose. This time, Charlie will secure a loan to alleviate some of the financial burden.

The Charlie Landefeld Story

In his youth, Charlie played high school football near Sacramento, but his football plans changed when his knee blew out. Charlie also loved photography, and while in school, he worked for Dale Zicarelli, owner of the local camera store—Action Camera. After graduating from the University of California at Davis with a degree in economics, Charlie worked five years for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He learned accounting; how to read a balance sheet; as well as how to manage people, both those working alongside him and remote employees. However, as Charlie became more successful, Enterprise repeatedly changed the commission rules, thus lowering his income. He left vowing if he ever owned a business, he would never do that.

Next, he worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative covering the Sacramento and northern Nevada areas. Charlie reflects: “I really didn’t enjoy that job. There was no room for creativity or ‘thinking outside the box,’ two of the many things I love working in the camera industry.”

Action Camera’s History

Dale Zicarelli had been running a small camera repair business out of his house. In 1984, Dale’s business grew, so he opened Action Camera, which also did repairs. The store was “at the end of the road to nowhere,” on the edge of Roseville, California. Roseville was a sleepy agricultural town that became a major Sacramento suburb.

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Action Camera at 5890 S. Virginia Street in Reno, Nevada

Charlie loved working at Action Camera. And mainly because of his love of photography, he had some discussions with Dale about the possibility of taking over the business. Dale wanted to retire but couldn’t find a buyer. Then in December 2009, Charlie was laid off. One of his first calls was to Dale to see if his previous offer still stood. As a result, Charlie worked for Dale for a year at $10/hour before they finalized a deal for Charlie to buy the store.

Charlie secured an SBA loan utilizing the severance from the pharmaceutical job, savings as well as his 401K. Finally, he bought Action Camera on January 1, 2011. Sales instantly took off. Furthermore, by 2013, Action Camera had outgrown the 1,200-square-foot space it had occupied since 1984 and expanded into an adjacent space. Thus, Charlie tripled its space while adding a classroom/rental studio.

Enter Reno

In addition, Charlie constantly analyzed where his customers were coming from. He found that in one day, six people had driven from Reno, 120 miles away, to buy cameras in Roseville. Charlie had covered Reno as part of his pharmaceutical sales territory. He knew the area’s growth trend. He also learned the owner of an established Reno camera store wanted to sell. Charlie talked to him, but they couldn’t make the numbers work.

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Action Camera, Reno, Nevada

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At the time, the store was focused on film processing with no new camera sales. Charlie looked at the cost to start from scratch and decided it was better to “build it” than to “buy it,” thereby avoiding the ghosts of the old business. This allowed him to pick the best location, design the space for current market conditions as well as hire a fresh team trained in the Action Camera way of customer care. Charlie believed Reno would do more business than Roseville, which has proven accurate. Reno now processes C-41 and B/W film for both stores.

To gather the right team for the remote Reno store, interviews were longer and more in-depth than with Roseville. Charlie and Melinda each spent more one-on-one time with every Reno employee. They wanted to ensure the employees understood Action Camera’s values and culture.

Sony’s Sarah Regnier knows the Reno market well. “Reno was hungry for a fresh approach to contemporary photographic equipment and advice. Charlie filled the store by focusing on different product areas than other Reno camera stores. Customers are attracted by the products on the shelves. Unique talent behind the counter brings content creators and videographers, plus the traditional still photographer.”

It’s the People. Really!

Lew Held, owner of Nor-Cal Photo Supply, has been calling on Action Camera since before Charlie bought it. Lew had these observations:

  • “Charlie hires good people who feel they can do what they think best, and he lets them do it. They know he won’t blame them if things don’t go perfectly. The employees see Action Camera as their own, not ‘just a job.’
  •  “Charlie has great people skills. Those who work for him reflect his personality. New employees immediately pick up the vibe and adopt a positive can-do attitude to customers.
  •  “Their social media reflects the fun at Action Camera. As a sales rep, I enjoy going into the stores because of the people. The employees are fun to talk to, and they all have ideas.”

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    A longtime employee, Katie Dickenson loves photography. Her attention to detail and organizational skills earned her the role of office manager at Reno.

Further, Katie Dickinson, the office manager at Reno, says: “Everyone on our team is passionate about photography and we all get along well. Our work environment is fun. The enthusiasm is also evident to our customers, which helps create community. We encourage people to ask questions. We love seeing the images they’ve made. We’ve also created a community board to showcase local photographers.

“We all work hard to keep everyone on the same page using Gmail Calendare keep in touch, both professionally and on a personal level. We frequently communicate scheduling, special events as well as days off. Occasionally, someone just needs some space. We try to accommodate by swapping schedules with each other or doing whatever can help our coworker.”

A Focus on Detail
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Eight-year veteran Chris Wright is the Roseville store manager. He excels in overseeing operations, teaching classes, organizing events and managing rentals.

Melinda is the “Swiss Army Knife” of Action Camera. She can do anything. She was reassigned to general manager where her attention to detail and proactiveness is highly valuable. Reno had a similar situation when Katie moved from the sales floor to being a superb office manager and buyer.

In addition, if the staff has concerns, they know Charlie’s door is always open. He also strongly supports his store managers. Over time, employees grow accustomed to asking their managers.

“When we hire each person, we find many positives. It is up to us to put the employee in a position to maximize those positives. If an employee possesses a quality or trait, we want to utilize them in a way that’s mutually beneficial for both the employee and the store,” Charlie explains.

The Staff at Action Camera Roseville

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Action Camera’s Roseville Team
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Ellie Doyen, Roseville’s social media manager, showcases products, offers tips and informs customers through witty, engaging content.
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Connor Hunt brings expertise in lighting and cinematography. His enthusiasm and laid-back demeanor make him a trusted advisor for photographers at all skill levels.
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Alison Watkins quickly became one of Roseville’s top performers. Her commitment, knowledge and exceptional service make her a trusted counselor for customers.
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Known as the Silver Dragon, Mark Justycky brings years of customer service and sales experience to the Roseville store. His warm nature creates a welcoming atmosphere.
Sales Compensation

The Action Camera sales compensation plan is a base plan plus a share of the gross margin they generate. Charlie wants everyone to make a lot of money, because that means they’ve generated a lot of money for the store. Moreover, there are no limits on commission amounts. One employee broke the record for the highest paycheck and asked, “What do you think of that, Charlie?” Charlie answered, “Awesome!”

Although it is a sales job, Charlie thinks it’s important for employees to understand it isn’t about how many items you can stuff down a customer’s throat. At a store meeting he asked, “Who here uses the strap that came with your camera?” Nobody raised their hand. Next, he asked, “Who buys faster memory cards, extra batteries, tripods, bags, etc.?” Everyone raised their hands. This team isn’t selling customers items they don’t need. They sell them things they personally own and find important.

Melinda adds: “Our team likes our commission system. New employees feel excited about the potential. They start with a higher base pay. Additionally, the team teaches them how to communicate with customers to understand their needs and make suggestions for items that will improve their photography. When they’re ready, we’ll switch them to the normal base plus commission. We’ve hired people with zero sales experience. We teach them how to have conversations so they’re in tune with the customer’s aspirational goals and know how to help customers reach or exceed those goals. The more customers learn, the more they understand the need for various accessories they can buy or rent. Their success encourages them to continue to build their photo hobby or vocation.”

The Staff at Action Camera Reno

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The team at the Reno location
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A key team member for six+ years, Brian White leads the Reno sales team and fosters the growth of fellow photographers.
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Aaron Harris excels as a sales rep, customer service provider and educator at the Reno store. He fosters continuous learning through creative classes and workshops.

 

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With 25+ years of experience as a videographer, George Yamamoto passionately educates customers on video production aspects, like lighting and sound.
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Eduardo Martinez–or Eddy–takes on various roles in Reno, including sales professional and lab technician.
PRO Buying Group Connection

About a year after Charlie bought Action Camera, a vendor said the savings on purchases ordered through PRO would pay the dues. So, Charlie went to an eye-opening orientation at PRO’s Connecticut HQ. When he saw the ProMaster product line’s quality and pricing, he realized they had misunderstood what PRO truly offered.

Action Camera’s first PRO convention was in Portland in 2012. Three employees attended. Charlie and the team expected PRO would be old guys talking about the good old days. They also believed their younger team would teach the good old boys how to run a contemporary camera store. The reality was different. Charlie and team members sat and listened.

Since then, Action Camera has consistently learned from PRO retailers. Now, its pay structure and POS systems are based on the practical experience of PRO members who shared their successes and frustrations. Moreover, Charlie listens at the conventions, texting new ideas to Melinda back at the store. Many of them are operational by the time Charlie gets home. Charlie has also served on PRO’s board of directors.

Melinda also observes: “The staff loves going to the PRO show. They come back excited and eager to do new things. We encourage them to implement those ideas. I never had an employee who didn’t want to go. Once they’ve been, they want to go back. We alternate attendance each year so everyone gets a chance. If they’re on commission, we offset their pay, so they don’t have an economic burden by going to the PRO show.

Action Camera Marketing Strategies

Here’s an example of “Get good people, get on the same page as to what your goals are and then get out of their way.” Almost immediately after the Covid shutdown, Melinda created a significant online e-commerce presence. “We have a great relationship with Dakis. They manage our Google Shopping ads and available inventory,” she explains. “These ads are pay per click. If the customer clicks on the ad, we pay whether or not they buy it. Google ads (not keywords) work for us. They drive traffic to our website, and we get local visits or online orders from it.”

Brian White, a team member in Reno for six years, phones customers who buy major hardware online to make sure they’re aware of the need for current batteries, filters, cards, etc. Brian can also sniff out potentially fraudulent purchases if the person on the phone doesn’t understand photography.

Swap Meets & Cash for Cameras

What’s more, Action Camera’s well-known Swap Meet has free tables. It opens Sunday at 8 a.m. However, people show up as early as 6 a.m. Everyone wants to get first claim on whatever is new or whomever the newest participants are. It builds community by not charging for tables. The store also alerts the nearby donut shop and restaurants. Consequently, they know to expect earlier and bigger Sunday crowds.

“We have some of our vendors on tables in the store,” says Melinda. “We don’t heavily promote it to all vendors. Those vendors who’re already working closely with us know about the Swap Meet and ask for a specific table location. Those who aren’t tuned in to what we do may find out about it and then ask to come, even if prime table spots are full.” Action-Camera-Facebook-Moving-Post

In addition, Cash for Cameras, run by UsedPhotoPro, has been great for Action Camera. Facebook ads, run in a radius of about 30 miles around the store, always get a good response. UsedPhotoPro comes to Reno for cash buying for two days. Then they go to Roseville for two days. The second day is the Action Camera Swap Meet. The market for reselling DSLRs has gone soft, but Action Camera still takes them. They often sell any overstock to UsedPhotoPro.

An Array of Store Services

Furthermore, beyond its used equipment business, Action Camera offers a complete array of store services. For instance, repairs drive store traffic. Plus, the retailer can sell customers a new or used replacement if their item is beyond economical repair.

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Action Camera also offers sensor cleaning; passport photos packages; a deep rental selection; and a wide variety of both in-store and virtual classes. Of course, the photo specialty retailer provides customers with a varied set of print offerings. Just a sample comprises fine art prints and wood wall art; custom framing; canvas and metal prints; custom photo merchandise like mugs, calendars, apparel and photo books; as well as large-format prints and photo cards. Mail-in photofinishing services also include film processing as well as slide, negative and video transfer.

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In this Facebook post, Alison Watkins shows off the store’s canvas services with one of her own.
Social Media Success

Moreover, Action Camera has separate social media accounts for the Reno and Roseville stores. “Each is directed by employees from that region. It’s always fresh and authentic,” says Sarah. “Charlie lets the staff run with fun ideas. One posting was about an 1800s family photo an employee restored and gave to family members for Christmas. The personal connection between the store, the employees as well as viewers builds community.”

Action Camera uses its own voice to find fun solutions to technical answers. They have authenticity. They serve as experts in their communities and a place for photographers to go for answers. The quality of their social media content reflects their position as experts, coaches, teachers and influencers. The Action Camera team is passionate. That’s what sets independent camera stores apart from all other retailers.

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This Tipsy Tuesday Facebook post from Ellie Doyen covers all-in-one light reflectors.

Melinda’s perspective: “Ellie Doyen took over our social media in Roseville. I’m very grateful. She’s more engaged with people-watching, seeing what they need, teaching, sharing ideas and techniques in a fun way. She started Tipsy Tuesday on Facebook. She talks about her favorite adult beverages and photography. Customers are engaged and have lots of comments. Furthermore, in Reno, Aaron Harris gets images submitted for Monday Monochrome or Wednesday Waterfalls. Aaron recently held an online portrait contest that generated 100 entries from customers.

Charlie sees their social media as evolving. “We attempt to balance between informative and fun. There’s manufacturer information everywhere. People come to our social media to learn and be entertained.” Charlie’s not in the social media posts. “The people who star on social media are the people customers see when they come into the stores. They’re who deserve fame. They’re the stars of Action Camera.”

How Charlie Landefeld Manages

Charlie shared his favorite interview question with us: “What’s your hobby?” If, for example, the person says playing guitar, Charlie asks how she would respond if friends asked her what guitar they should buy.

When Charlie interviews, he only looks for basic photographic knowledge. “We’ll teach them everything else they need to know about photography. The two things we can’t teach are passion and enthusiasm. Working in the store is so much more than knowing what the camera buttons do. Salespeople must have passion, and they need to demonstrate that passion to the customer.”

Melinda adds: “Women are more than half our customers. We love working with women who love photography. And we try to have a diverse cross-section of employees so every customer can find someone they’re comfortable with. We want customers to see our team as their friends. When we’re friends, they’ll always be our customers.”  DIR-DOY-2023-Trophy-w-Action-Camera-logo

Additionally, the team tends to stick around. They’re like a family, laid back, comfortable, feeling like they’re home. They must love what they do and the people around them. Managers make sure everyone wants to come to work. There’s never a “no show/no call” issue with people not showing up. That doesn’t happen at Action Camera.

Growing a Retail Culture

What’s more, Charlie’s open-minded, flexible and supportive management style encourages the staff’s creativity. Katie, Reno store’s office manager, explains: “Charlie is a great boss. He’s always available if I have a question. He’s supportive and also open to new ideas from the staff. In addition, he’s always encouraging our creativity, whether it’s for marketing, class and event ideas, or displays around the store. Melinda is a great boss, too.”

“Charlie lets me run with any new idea,” adds Melinda. “He’s open to anything. He’s very supportive and encouraging of the entire staff. He always recognizes each person’s contributions to the organization and makes sure they feel appreciated.”

Stephen, from Venus Optics Laowa, also lauds Charlie’s management style. “Charlie doesn’t do things differently. He does what other successful camera store owners do. However, he does them consistently and at a higher standard. He develops a team of independent thinkers and continually upgrades all aspects of their job.”

Sony’s Sarah Regnier adds, “Charlie stands in the present as to what’s going on, while he has one foot in the future. He’s constantly looking at what’s best for the customers, employees and the company. Charlie will try anything once. He’ll then continue with it or pivot to something based on what he learned.”

Snippets of Retail Wisdom

Here are some snippets of Charlie’s retail philosophy:

  • “I do what I think is right with as much common sense as I can muster.”
  • “A camera store must be more than ‘we’ve got gear.’ There must be entertainment and education.”
  •  “Do not pigeonhole employees who can do lots of stuff. Keep flexible. No two days are the same in retail. Retail is never monotonous.”
  •  “Big camera companies can take a year or more to launch a new product or marketing plan. We’re small and nimble. We respond immediately and adapt on the fly.”
  •  “I tell new employees there’s a bias that suggests women aren’t as techno-savvy as men. Our staff proves that theory dead wrong.”
  • “I want our staff to represent our market and our customers. For instance, if you’re traveling in a different country and see a menu in English, you’re instantly comfortable and gravitate toward what it offers.”
  •  “I’m constantly trying to have managers make decisions without involving me. I believe in them. They need to believe in themselves. I can’t imagine a bad decision that would bring the store down. They’re learning decision-making skills. It’s a long-term growth issue, and we’re making positive progress.”
  •  “For sales training, role playing can’t be beaten. Most employees hate it but soon realize that acting out how to communicate with customers through tough conversations gives them confidence and skills they won’t learn in a passive educational environment.”
  •  “In the olden days, reps used to bring in coffee, donuts or take the owner to lunch. I ask them to bring lunch for the staff and educate them. It’s more important the staff knows everything about the products.”
Action Camera: DIR’s Dealer of the Year

When we consider our Dealer of the Year each year, we look for certain traits and assets that translate into a successful business formula. When we looked at Action Camera, there was plenty to admire. Perhaps, Sony’s Sarah Regnier explains it best: “The media says camera stores are dead, but that’s not the case. With foresight and capability, you can make it in this industry. Charlie adopted every tailwind he could from social media to Shop Local to Small Business Saturday. He was also an early adopter of fostering community. Charlie’s not stuck in a rut. His most common question is, ‘How can we improve?’”

It will be exciting to watch Action Camera continue growing into the future as our 2023 Dealer of the Year’s team takes their improvements to even higher levels.

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