Stu Appelbaum was a pretty tough act to follow. According to his son Moishe, it wasn’t unusual for his dad to have phones on each ear, carrying on two conversations at one time. “He was extremely bubbly, an exciting personality. And while I’m much more introverted than he ever was, he taught me the value of engaging with people. I was interested in communications, and just watching how dad interacted with Midwest Photo customers was very intriguing to me. It really contributed to how I learned to interact with the world,” Moishe Appelbaum reflects.
Moishe was interested in cameras and photography at a very young age. “My dad took me into the darkroom and taught me the ins and outs of cameras, which I was drawn to. But probably more than that, I was intrigued by him as a business person and the way he wasn’t afraid to take risks.”
Moishe bought Midwest Photo from Stu around four years ago, and he is certainly changing the way the business has been run over the years in order to succeed in today’s retail environment—partly out of necessity and primarily because the world around him has changed. But the one tenet that has been clearly passed down from one generation to the next is that change and diversity are critical to success.
“My dad and I both understood that the way we were doing business five years ago does not work today—not for us anyway,” says Moishe Appelbaum. “The other part of that is, if you go back five years before that, it didn’t work five years later. There is this constant evolution of changing and adapting to market forces. There are changes in the world, in philosophy and, of course, new technologies that have to be learned and absorbed.
“My dad instilled in me the value of change and diversity—in looking as far ahead as possible and continuing to build for the future. I’m working on things today that aren’t making money right now. But I believe they will be profit centers two to five years from now. I’m willing to take the hit today if I see a future in them. That’s a tradition that we at Midwest Photo will always continue.”
And the world has certainly changed—especially with the Internet always looking over your shoulder. “Customers coming into our store today often do not ask things like what they need in order to take great pictures of their kids,” Appelbaum adds. “They come armed with the knowledge of the two or three products they’re interested in—along with the best price they can get. We have to engage them and have them look beyond the price (which we will almost certainly meet) and show them the value of being a Midwest Photo customer.
“Consumers are looking for experience, service and a personal touch, and we recognize that,” he adds. “My dad understood better than anyone the value of the customer experience: what happens when they walk in the door. Today you have to pay attention to the complete experience, with every touch point you have with the customer. What happens when they visit our website? Or speak with our salespeople? Or engage on our social media platforms?”
But to Moishe Appelbaum, it’s not just simply about providing an experience. “It’s how do we provide value in the experience, from handwritten thank you notes and following up with them to having a genuine interest in what they’re creating. We understand the value of helping them along their journey. And customers really appreciate it,” he says.
At Midwest, they also take customer engagement very seriously. “Anything from what we’re doing on social media and how we handle our e-mail blasts to our classes. All of the things you can’t get by shopping online, we have to do really well,” Appelbaum explains.
Dealer of the Year Quality
So with all of the success of Midwest Photo, I asked him a simple question. “How would your dad describe you right now?”
“I know he’s really proud of me. He lets me know that,” he replies. “I think that he sees me carrying on the tradition of changing and diversifying. It’s what links our two generations together. That’s a big part of our family and business tradition. The changes he made were very different than the ones I’m making today. But we both recognize that the business environment has changed and our customers have changed. We’re adapting to the world as it is today, just as he did so many years ago.”
Here at Digital Imaging Reporter, we’re proud to continue our own tradition of presenting the best and brightest dealers who continue to inspire us. Congratulations to Moishe Appelbaum and Midwest Photo for being named our 2017 Dealer of the Year.