Horn Photo: Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2019 Dealer of the Year

Horn Photo: Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2019 Dealer of the Year

Horn Photo succeeds through inventive marketing and a dedication to not only their customers but the art and craft of photography.

When the flight attendant said our flight was to “FresYES,” I knew I’d just heard the secret of Horn Photo. In Fresno, the Horn Photo team doesn’t say “No.” They say “Yes” to every customer.

Horn Photo: 7899 N. Blackstone Avenue, Fresno, California

When Stan and Shelly Grosz bought Horn Photo in 1991, it was the smallest of Fresno’s five camera stores. Serving 1.1 million people, today they are the only specialty camera store in Fresno. Moreover, Horn Photo currently employs more people than the five 1991 Fresno camera stores combined.

Why did Horn Photo survive when others closed? With zero hesitation, Shelly says, “It’s Stan’s marketing ingenuity. He does crazy stuff. He puts himself out there.”

Horn Photo, in the Villaggio Shopping Center, features a modern, spacious interior.

HP2A-InteriorVendors and retailers agree Horn Photo is a promotion powerhouse. Stan is always trying different things. People who don’t know Stan assume he’s over the top in everything he does. However, he’s more personally reserved than his marketing style indicates. He’s very quick to give credit to others, especially to wife Shelly.

“Shelly lets me be free to do my crazy things. She’s an enabler for me. She also does all the things I’m not good at, like bookkeeping. If you own a business and you’re not married to a Shelly, you have to go out to find and hire one. You have to employ somebody to complement the areas you’re not good at,” explains Stan.

Horn Photo’s Customer Service Department (L-R): Shelly Grosz, Alejandro Martinez, Suzanne Khamvilaytong, Ashley Lucero, Linda Biggers, Fran Waggoner and Stan Grosz

He then goes on to credit each of the Horn Photo team members by name as well as details what they contribute to the organization.

Stan: A Man of Action

One example of Stan’s marketing genius involved eating a packing peanut. PRO has used biodegradable peanuts for years. In a 25-second video about the things PRO and Horn Photo do to be green, Stan ate one of the peanuts on camera. Over the top? Classic Stan Grosz! It got the point across that Horn Photo cares about the environment.

In addition, Stan is a man of action. “I’m too extemporaneous for a normal marketing agency. I can’t lay out a year’s marketing calendar.” Another example: Stan was riding his dirt bike down the mountain, thinking about the upcoming weekend’s traffic. He “could feel the pulse” of what weekend traffic would be. Subsequently, he found a fall seasonal image, took a photo of Shelly with the store coffeepot and shot a quick gif inviting people in for coffee. The e-mail tagline was to come in for coffee, then let’s talk about photography and celebrate autumn. No purchase necessary.

The Horn Photo Lab Team (L-R): Greg Light, Jonathan Alexander, Casey Henderson, Adam Deis, Ryan McGrail, Jonathan Rockwell, and Stan and Shelly Grosz.
The Camera Department (L-R): Shelly Grosz, Daniel Garza, Dylan Hardcastle, Ryan Watamura, Aaron Rogers, Reynaldo Rodriquez and Stan Grosz

With Stan’s policy of everything having a subplot, the gif also showed the new Horn Photo metal camp cup. When customers came in, the coffee was served in the new cups. As a result, it gave the employees a chance to mention the new cup as one more thing Horn Photo can print your images on. A couple of customers remarked it was great for younger kids, as it was easy for little hands to grasp. When talking to customers, Stan’s mind always asks how many seeds Horn can plant with each message—without saying so much the customer hears nothing.

Guerrilla Marketing at Horn Photo

When Stan wanted to show the hardened optical glass of ProMaster HGX filters to his customers via YouTube, he ran over filters with his Hummer. Stan’s justification: “I can’t do things part way. I have to go all out, over the top. Running over filters with a Hummer, that’s out there. It makes the point and people remember that ProMaster HGX filters are tough and stand up!”

Stan’s marketing ingenuity creates fun and unusual messaging. Stan entertaining traffic in front of the shopping center.

HP12-Clown-Stan-2Stan’s a believer in guerrilla marketing, especially the idea of reusing and repurposing everything you do. He hires professional models; shoots myriad pictures; gets full releases; and uses those stills and videos in a variety of situations. The DVDs and CDs used to deliver customer orders are printed with different models’ pictures on the CD than on the DVD. This alerts the lab personnel what they have in their hand and what they’re delivering to the customer; in addition, it reinforces the Horn brand.

Furthermore, every video shot generates accompanying stills. Thus, the customer repeatedly sees the same models. When they’re seen on TV, the customer recognizes the models’ “star appeal.” Their images are around the store, in e-mails and on the website, making them “famous” to customers who, in turn, respond to Horn’s advertising message.

Paving Their Own Road

Stan once approached a camera manufacturer about co-op for billboards on the highway from Yosemite National Park into Fresno. Stan wanted to capture tourists arriving into Fresno. He shot a model holding the branded camera. At the last minute, the manufacturer changed its mind. Someone ruled the co-op could only be used if the billboard were facing the traffic going into Yosemite, away from Fresno, making zero sense to Stan.

Rather than waste his co-op, Stan photoshopped the name off the errant manufacturer’s camera and did his own billboard coming down the hill. It was a good investment for Horn Photo.

Charlie, 18 months old, is a Horn Photo employee. The 150-pound Great Dane is the store greeter. He’s also featured in numerous Horn promotions and social media posts. #HornPhotoMascot

Moreover, this taught Stan to do his own thing. If manufacturers want to enjoy Horn’s sales growth, they can come along and support it. If they’re hung up on forcing Fresno to do what anonymous national marketing people think’s better, Horn Photo will do their thing only with manufacturers who value the store’s success. This lets Stan move consistently and faster. Horn’s sales trends prove the success of his thinking.

One of many Horn promotions featuring Charlie

In addition, every e-mail Stan does has a gif. He wants action in his e-mails, believing it helps his open rate. Customers have expectations and Stan doesn’t disappoint. If you think your e-mails are stuffy or ineffective, subscribe to Horn Photo’s e-mail list. You’ll see what’s effective when done consistently.

Stan’s a believer in failing fast. Try something and if it’s not working, change or dump it. There’s not enough time to list all Stan’s “failures.” He doesn’t dwell on them. He learns from them and keeps trying wacko ideas. His success percentage outweighs the bummers. He embraces the risk with full knowledge more failures mean more successes. They go together. Stan says, “Struggles make you appreciate not having to struggle.”

Frame Job

What’s more, Horn Photo has one of the last mega-frame departments of big camera stores. Shelly takes a different approach.

“We stock a larger frame selection than is justified by the margin dollars generated. From the recent IPIC show, we added USA-made Galassi frames—a high-end frame that increased sales of our midrange priced frames. We spiff frames based on the margin collected.

The Green Wall: Horn has consistent kiosk customers who have favorite locations near or viewing the green wall. There’s evidence that greenery in the workspace increases air quality and lowers blood pressure; one more attribute of Horn Photo.

“We try very hard to send every printed image out the door in a frame. We also frame the image so we know when it gets where it’s going it’ll be displayed. The staff cleans the glass, positions the print in the frame, closes it up and puts our Horn Photo sticker on the back. The advertising of our name on the frame back has a 20-year or longer shelf life. We have a large repeat business of people ordering prints who expect to walk out with them framed. It’s another unique offering from Horn Photo.”

Going with What Works

Shelly and Stan don’t talk about history. They’re proud of what their team’s built and are constantly looking forward. They believe looking back distracts you from what’s coming.

“Don’t fall in love with any one brand or any one technology. You have to be nimble. Recognize that brands and their strategies toward retailers shift. We give first preference to PRO vendors. Beyond that, we have to stock what’s best for our customers and our store. Manufacturers change their policies and products. We consistently evaluate what those changes mean to our relationships. Change is constant.”

Stan and Shelly wanted a round camera bar where customers could sit and talk about photography. The camera carousel was the solution.

In addition, some retailers are surprised about Horn Photo’s continued push of Kodak products. “Kodak has been a very good partner for many decades. Their products are top notch. Their support is second to none. Kodak’s had some tough times, which haven’t impacted us. Kodak has continued to serve Horn Photo well. We have a Kodak store on our website, and we stock every Kodak consumer product. We do what works for Horn Photo, and Kodak definitely works for us and our customers,” explains Stan.

The PRO Connection

“One of the largest mistakes we made was ignoring PRO when we first heard about it,” notes Stan. “Lew Held (independent sales rep) told us we had to join PRO because we were the last independent camera store in his territory on open account that wasn’t a PRO member. ‘PRO members aren’t having trouble paying their bills,’ Lew told me. ‘I need you to stay profitable so I can keep selling to you. I’ll lose half my commission income because you’ll switch many things to ProMaster. That’s okay, because you’ll be here and I can sell you lots of other things, including vendors through PRO.’”

A cart displays photo gifts from mouse pads and mugs to T-shirts and tumblers.

Stan admits, “We went to visit PRO and were blown away by how much we missed by not doing this earlier. It wasn’t just the profit potential, although that was huge. It was the intangibles. We’ve grown about four times the size we were thanks to PRO and our team. Many manufacturers weren’t taking us seriously. When we joined PRO, both PRO vendors as well as non-PRO vendors took us more seriously.”

Stan and Shelly are quick to give credit to others for their success. They constantly make reference to the Horn team, the employees who make it all happen for the customers. Moreover, they mention other industry personalities who have guided them over the years. They include Alex Christianian of Mike’s Camera; Kodak’s Tim Ryugo; Jim Wilson from Milford Photo; Tom Gramegna of Bergen County Camera; Gaby Mullinax of Fullerton Photo; Leo Calagaz of Calagaz Photo; Bob Hansen of Harold’s Photo; as well as many others.

Passionate and Proficient

In addition, vendors and retailers who work with Shelly and Stan Grosz attest to their passion and their competence. When you observe them, you can see the mutual respect they have for each other. They actually complement each other. Moreover, while many couples find it difficult to work together, Stan and Shelly have built a dynamic team based on their respect for each other and for each of their valued team members.

The corner of a restoration work envelope shows three messages. 1) The border reminds staff there are original images inside, so treat with care. 2) Customers get 10% off frames bought with their finishing order. 3) Horn Photo never misses an opportunity to say “buy local!”

The entire Horn Photo team is passionate about what they do. They are engaging with their customer interactions. They are excited to help customers enjoy photography. Shelly says, “Not everyone working here was a photographer, but everyone here is passionate about photography. That’s what keeps them coming to work every day; helping others to live their passion for photography. It has made our recruiting easier. The last two job openings we had, we just told the team what we were looking for and the applications started to roll in.”

Taking Advice Up a Notch

“We listen to PRO speakers and other PRO members,” Stan says. “We learned about online rental reservations systems from B&C Camera; then we followed their advice and doubled our rental volumes in 45 days.

The Horn team is also upgrading the customer’s perception of its rental department. All rentals will go out in a new model ProMaster gadget bag with an oversized Horn Photo luggage tag; the customer’s name and cell phone are written on it with a felt-tip pen, all prepared the night before pickup. When the customer comes in, it’s all seamlessly ready to go in a neat package; and when the rental is returned, the luggage tag can be reused for the next customer.”

Known for social media and electronic marketing, Horn doesn’t ignore traditional media. To promote a visit from Calagaz Photo to buy used gear, they printed 80,000 postcards using USPS Every Door Direct Mail.

Furthermore, at IPIC Stan and Shelly heard Paul Maietta (Fitzgerald Photo Imaging, North Perth, Western Australia) tell how his website added a $10 “Enhance Image” option, which generated significant revenue for his lab. This service provides the lab doing everything practical to enhance each image, short of a full restoration. Stan liked this idea and brought it to his lab. Being in California, he knows the magic—and long lines—at Disneyland. Stan decided to add an additional service beyond Enhance, calling it FastPass. For $10, the order goes “to the head of the line.” The customer is asked to insert a desired completion date. Horn-Photo-Logo-2019

As a result, there are numerous orders where the Enhance and FastPass charges are more than the print costs. These prints were important to the customers, and Stan found a way to cover the cost of handling small orders, plus give customers more control over their orders. (Horn Photo, as a matter of policy, doesn’t impose rush charges on images for funerals.)

The Extra Touch

In addition, Horn Photo recently installed a third film refrigerator. Many new customers are getting into film. However, they don’t know the benefit of refrigeration. It gives Horn something to talk about and demonstrates that they care about their customers’ images. It also begs this important question: Why trust anyone who isn’t refrigerating their film to have the photographer’s best interest at heart?

Charlie placing a photo order

What’s more, at Horn Photo, how to be efficient and take care of customers is a Christmas challenge. The team prepackages kits of many gift-oriented cameras—including exquisite gift wrapping. There’s rarely a debate about what’s in the kit. The salesperson asks, “Would you like this gift-wrapped kit?” And the sale is made. It’s easy, quick, a good deal for the customer—and the box is a beginning outfit to make someone’s Christmas very special. (Each kit has different wrapping paper and serial numbers placed outside on the wrapped package to keep the flow moving in December.)

Horn Photo: A Team Effort

Horn Photo also invests in the team’s professional development. Aaron Rogers and Ryan Watamura went to the Dale Carnegie school at the company’s expense. Horn Photo employees are also frequent attendees at PRO conventions.

Stan states: “We have a wonderful staff. There’s no way we could be where we are, no way we’d even be considered for DIR’s Dealer of the Year, without the vigorous heartfelt support of our entire team. We are honored to work with such great people.”

When talking about why Horn Photo is successful, Stan and Shelly both reflect. “We’re excited about the images our customers take home. We are more in love with the end result than we are with the technology that created it. Also, we get a lift every time a customer leaves the store with a printed image in a frame. That’s because we know if it’s in a frame, it will be on display somewhere, on the wall, the mantle, a table or a desk. This is what we live for, what keeps our passion for the business burning. We’re delivering joy to our customers.”

Charlie poses with the Horn Photo van

What’s the future hold? “If it ever stops being fun, we’re out of here” is Stan’s instant response. Shelly sums it up: “We keep coming to work every day with a smile to provide a place to celebrate what images do for our customers. As long as that continues, we won’t think about retirement.”

It’s exactly those sentiments, along with their innovative marketing and dedication to not only their customers but the art and craft of photography, that earned Horn Photo the title of Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2019 Dealer of the Year.


  1. Thanks for all this information. I can hardly wait until I am able to use your services. I am looking into something that I want to do, but at this time it is still not affordable to me. But I’m hoping I can afford it in time for Christmas.