The man in the middle is, of course, you, and on both sides are the folks who require your middleman status to bring them together: customers looking for additional protection for, or repairs to, their cameras; and companies that’ll be happy to provide those services and who pledge a no-hassle relationship. Your reward: increased profits and a big boost in go-to-guy standing.
I talked recently with representatives of four companies that have a history of getting the job done. Once again, you’re invited to pull up a chair.
Mark Treadwell, President & CEO
BJ Adams, Sales & Marketing Manager
C.R.I.S. Camera Services, Chandler, AZ
I imagine retailers comprise the majority of your repair customers?
Mark: Yes, if you take out Pentax . . .
BJ: We are the factory service center for Pentax and also represent Ricoh in a similar fashion.
Mark: . . . it’s about 90% retailers. At least 70% of our revenue is retailer generated.
You offer a complete program, which is nicely laid out at the website. The first item mentions you provide advertising for the retail store. What form does that take?
BJ: We have a basic qualifying statement: “Need your camera fixed? We do that. Ask us how.” There’s imagery of a broken digital SLR and a puppy chewing on a point and shoot, that sort of thing. It can be reproduced as a poster, a countertop [graphic] and a lot of retailers use it for a stuffer; they print it from our PDF and put it in with their finishing. We also have a video of actual camera repair work happening. A dealer can put it on an LCD photo frame or a monitor; some put it on monitors at their kiosks when the kiosks are not in use by customers.
At the website the dealer portal is the entry to the system.
BJ: The portal idea came from asking dealers about the things that trip up the repair process. A big issue was the whole routine of taking in a camera, sending it out, having the repair place look at it and then send an estimate a week later. Then the dealer had to track down the customer. Maybe three weeks later the customer gets back to the dealer and says go ahead and fix it. So the consumer’s perception is that camera repair can take two or three months. We wanted the online portal to speed up the process, to get the transaction done quickly. The dealer puts in the model and gets a flat rate price that’s designed to cover our labor and parts for about 90% of the repair.
Ninety percent because . . . ?
BJ: The unseen things. Might be the camera was dropped in a swimming pool.
Mark: We also provide dealers with tools to teach them how to look for that kind of damage. In many cases we’re dealing with people who’ve never taken in repairs before, who are looking for business that hasn’t yet been captured. We’re sensitive to the fact that these dealers may think repairs are a pain.
So you aim to provide a hassle-free way to make a profit—maybe more of a profit than by selling a new point and shoot?
Mark: Maybe in the film days, but the selling price of the latest point and shoot is actually pushing down the ability to repair it. The $150 compact is probably going to cost more than $150 to repair.
BJ: While the cost of a new compact camera has dropped, the cost of the parts and components to repair it hasn’t. We found there’s a threshold. The most common reason for a compact to stop working is the lens won’t retract—somebody knocked into it and it broke the lens actuation. That part might cost us $100, and the camera new was $150.
But that can work for the dealer.
BJ: Sure. Our dealer looks up the cost of the repair while the consumer’s there, and he says, “OK, here’s the deal. For $179.95 I’ve got this brand-new camera; it’s not a 5 megapixel camera, it’s 10MP.” Dealers can use the repair price to sell a new camera. And some dealers take it further; they do a double sell. They’ll say, “You might as well get this one fixed and give it to your kid and get yourself that nice new one.” Now the dealer’s got a margin opportunity of anywhere from 20%–60% on a repair, and 10%, give or take, on a new camera.
How long does a repair take?
BJ: Usually it’s a week to 10-day cycle from time in to time out. But along with quick service, there’s another aspect, and that’s reliability—and not just in the quality of the repair. It also means if you send out a camera for repair, you need to have a predictable experience; once it becomes unpredictable, that’s when problems arise.
Are all the cameras within the categories of point and shoot and DSLR pretty much the same once you remove the covers?
Mark: Oh, no. In compact cameras it’s much less [of a difference] because there’s so much cross manufacturing, but in DSLRs different manufacturers take different approaches. Technologically, they’re all somewhat similar, but how each manufacturer puts them together, oh boy.
And the most common repair?
Mark: At first it was CF card [receiver] pins breaking all the time, but people have gotten more savvy. Now it’s primarily shutter and aperture control mechanism replacement, wear-and-tear issues on internal moving parts. There’s also interchangeable-lens repair and impact damage.
BJ: Most of the repairs have nothing to do with the camera not being built properly. It has to do with the consumer dropping it. criscam.com
Dave Marsh, Director,
Sales & Marketing, Precision Camera, Enfield, CT
We work with extended warranty companies and retailers. We have multiple programs: For large retailers, it’d be custom, dedicated programs tied into their systems; for everyone else, down to the boutique retailer, we have a partner program. For that we’ve developed a tool to make the process seamless and automatic. There’s an online portal, and we set up pricing that displays their cost for the repair. They tell us what they’d like to make, their retail margin, and our systems are set up to literally dial that in, so they can log in and see not only what their cost is but what they’re going to charge. It’s a program I developed from my experience running my photo retail and minilab business. I know when a customer walks in he wants a solution; he doesn’t want to find out what the price is two weeks from now. He wants to make a decision then and there: have his camera fixed or buy a new one.
And the dealer knows the situation right there and then?
He’ll know the most cost-effective, profitable solution. It’s a service that retailers can sell in-store that has no upfront cost to them, no ramp-up time. They can start doing it the next day and make a good profit. I think our customizable program plays out with good margins for both the repair and the extended warranty ends of the business.
Your turnaround time is?
Our system is designed around a turn time of three to five business days. The bottom line is fix it quickly, fix it right and keep the customer informed.
How closely do you work with manufacturers on the training of your technicians?
Very closely, and very early—sometimes as early as the original manufacturing process of a camera model. We are tightly integrated with the manufacturers.
And with retailers, as far as helping them promote to their customers and getting the most from the program?
We put together a marketing kit for them. We have signage, training programs, additional services that can help build their business.
We have a program to convert a customer’s existing camera or a new camera to infrared photography. We have a training program to educate the retailer about IR and how it works.
There’s a lot of interest in that?
It’s a great value-added service. The retailer becomes the local expert on IR photography, the go-to place for it—and the place for IR prints, too, if they offer printing. We train the retailers on how to sell the service, and we’ll send a rep to put on an IR class for customers. And, of course, we do the conversions. It’s a very big thing, perfect for the small retailer. There are three great tools here: the repair business; the extended warranty business (both great profit centers); and the IR conversion service. What makes the whole thing work is that we assign an account manager to the retailer—not a sales account manager but a person who looks into every repair the retailer sends us; someone who manages those repairs. There’s always someone who is the retailer’s single point of contact. And we constantly monitor the process. precisioncamera.com
Jennifer Monasterio, President
Mack Camera & Video Service, Springfield, NJ
We are a B-to-B business. We sell warranties directly to businesses so they can generate profits by selling to the end user. And aside from administrating our own product—the warranty—we also do the fulfillment—the repairs. We have over 25 in-house technicians for repairs for the products we offer warranties on.
In the photo area, you handle point and shoots and DSLRs from all the majors?
All of them. We pretty much do everything in the consumer electronics field now, but we began with photo. That’s where our name came from. We started off as camera repair, then evolved into camera repair plus a photo retail store, and then into warranties and repairs.
Has the product mix evolved?
Point-and-shoot cameras were probably one of the highest repairs we did until two years ago; now DSLRs, in all price ranges, are the ones we’re getting. Our business changes with the buying trends.
What’s the most popular warranty you offer?
Probably our number one seller is the Diamond warranty; it covers everything except fire, theft and loss. You drop it, there’s liquid damage, it’s covered.
Back the car over it?
As long as we can decipher that it’s a camera, and we can get the serial number, it’s covered. The Diamond warranty is for three years from date of purchase; and it covers units that range from $250 to $40,000.
So you deal with some pretty sophisticated pro gear. Do you get a lot of pros who are, in effect, insuring their cameras with you?
Yes, and that’s changed, too. In the past, with insurance premiums being low and business being high, a lot of professionals didn’t use a warranty; they carried insurance. But those things have reversed and professionals now need to have the warranty. They’re not paying a monthly premium; they pay for the warranty up front and there’s no additional out-of-pocket expense . . . and there’s no manufacturer warranty instances of “this is not covered.”
How are the warranties offered to dealers?
We have three ways they can sell it. The first is an actual warranty card; the dealer purchases the warranties from us, we bill him, send them to him and he sells them to his customers.
He hands over the card to the customer and that’s it?
Right. The second way we sell the warranties is through our dealer portal. With some of our smaller dealers, stocking and managing the cards can eat into their profits because they have to carry inventory, so we created the portal. Retailers go into the dealer portal section of our website and right then and there purchase and print any of the warranties from our line. A dealer has a customer who walks into the store, he can sell a three-year Diamond warranty, go to the computer, input the customer’s information, purchase the warranty and the customer walks out with the contract.
And the third way is through a data transfer file. That method is designed for a larger dealer with multiple locations who doesn’t want to stock cards but can’t tie up a person at a computer to print contract after contract. On a daily basis they send us a data file that provides the information we need in order to assign warranties, and we e-mail the warranty contract directly to the end user.
Pretty neat system. How do you help dealers promote the warranties?
We provide training to the sales staff; we believe an educated sales staff is our best ally. For our bigger stores, we do training seminars with their salespeople, give them pointers on selling and pitching the warranty. We provide signage, brochures, anything and everything we can do.
And the dealers decide how much profit they want to make on the warranties?
Yes, that’s what’s great about it. We provide them with an accessory to generate profit they’re not going to generate from the hardware. They can decide based on their clientele what they’d like to sell the warranty for. We provide MSRPs, what we recommend, but ultimately it’s up to the dealer. mackcam.com
Mike Parsell, Owner
Kurt’s Camera Repair, San Diego, CA
From your website, I can tell you deal with a lot of consumers.
We get a lot of their business, both from walk-in traffic and cameras sent to us, but we do have a number of camera stores that use us—a few local and others around the country. I’d say probably 10 to 15% of our business is from retailers. They’re billed on a monthly basis for the work they send us, and we give them up to a 33% discount on over-the-counter repair prices. We want to encourage them because frankly we want them to make a little money off repairs. If they do, they’re inclined to send more cameras to us.
Also at your website is a list of rules-of-thumb to assist consumers in making repair decisions, things like, “If the cost of repair is less than half the cost of replacement, repair it,”and “If you have more than one lens for your camera, repair it.” That list might be helpful if dealers displayed it for their customers—or used it as talking points.
We have that list because we feel being honest with people makes them feel at ease with our service and confident in our ability to repair cameras. I don’t want people to feel repair is a secondary thing for us.
What’s it like keeping up with the technology of repair?
There’s a lot of training—we have seven techs here—but a lot of it can be transferred from one brand to another. Once you know a camera system, they’re very similar. When you know the theory and operation of one camera, that knowledge can be applied to different ones. With many cameras, you can call me up and describe the problem over the phone and I’ll probably be able to tell you exactly what’s going on.
What’s the most common repair?
Bent receiver pins from CF cards being put in incorrectly. People will insert them backwards—but most of the time we think they stick them in sideways—and they’ll bend the pins. Once in a while we see on cameras with SD cards that the push and release mechanism stops working because the plastic ridges on the cards break and get stuck inside the card reader assembly. The other main repair we do is on cameras that were dropped, especially the little point and shoots. Or they bump the lens into something when it’s extended. Less common is a camera that has an electronic issue, and most of the time that’s caused by operator error, too.
Are most of the cameras you repair point-and-shoot models?
We probably see them a little more than we do DSLRs.
And your average turnaround time?
Seven to 10 days. We try to keep the repairs for retailers in a separate workflow and put more of a priority on them. We do the repairs on the cameras used for the Disneyland PhotoPass operation—they have about 200 DSLRs, and 30 or 40 people roam around and take pictures of visitors, and the photos go to a website.
That’s a pretty good endorsement, the Disney business.
It is. Those guys are hard on the cameras; they go through a lot of cycles, day after day.
Do you provide anything to your retailers to help them promote repairs?
No, nothing officially. A lot of dealers have stopped being involved with repairs—they just don’t take them in. We provide our business cards to a dealer in town who doesn’t take repairs so he can recommend us to his customers.
Seems like missed profits.
That’s what we think, but we hear that the shipping is something they don’t want to get involved in—and we ship back to dealers free regardless of where they are. kurtscamerarepair.com