During CES 2017, DIR writers covered the vast show floor, gathering feedback from show attendees. They spoke with everyone from photo specialty retailers to manufacturer executives. Here is the second installment of our series of CES 2017 interviews.
Paul’s Photo, Torrance, California
Paul’s Photo is an attractive, well-organized, 35,000-square-foot, single location photo specialty store located in a middle-class-to-affluent suburb of Torrance, California. It has an additional 3,000-square-foot area devoted to educational classes, a photo lab and inventory storage. Mark Comon’s father, Paul, founded Paul’s Camera back in 1961. The spry 86 year old still comes in every day. Like the store itself, Paul’s customer base covers a wide range—from casual and family photographers to serious enthusiasts.
“I am happy to see that the Canon, Sony and Nikon booths here at CES 2017 are very busy. The Panasonic and Sony photo sections are also packed,” notes Mark Comon. “We’re trying to focus our business on cameras and photo accessories and reduce the number of SKUs, so we really aren’t looking for additional products at the show.
“There’s now a lot more interest in photography as a hobby. Low-quality phone images and blurry camera pictures are no longer satisfying. Many also want to get back to basics, learning about f/stops and shutter speeds, and investing in better quality gear.
“One camera that has a lot going for it is the new Panasonic GH5,” continues Comon. “It’s got 4K video and 6K photo. It blends still and video capabilities seamlessly, and it has excellent ergonomics and style. The new Nikon D5600 offers Bluetooth plus Wi-Fi connectivity that makes it easier for younger consumers who want to run their whole lives via their smartphones. And this camera also gives you full DSLR control. Canon’s new ultracompact PowerShot G9 X Mark II has improvements in screen and AF tech, and it will entice folks who want control but don’t want a big camera.
“This year will be very exciting for us as we continue to see growth in camera sales, lab work and OTC printing from digital,” Comon observes. “In addition we’re always pushing the frontiers in education and continue to see growth in teaching basic photo techniques—and creative photography, building the picture into what you envision.
“It’s scary to see so many retail stores closing, but those that survive and prosper really know what they’re doing and have good business models. That’s why I’m very bullish on our business. With photography being top of mind for so many people, there are great opportunities for photo specialty retailers, and we’ll continue to grow.”
Tony Miresse, President
Art’s Cameras Plus, Pewaukee and Greenfield, Wisconsin
With two stores in the upper-middle-class suburbs of Milwaukee, Art’s Cameras Plus, founded in 1967 by Tony Miresse’s late father, Art, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“We started out as a store serving primarily serious enthusiasts and pros,” notes Tony Miresse, “and we still do. However, with the ongoing consolidation of camera stores, we now cater to a more well-rounded audience.
“My general impression of CES 2017 is that it is busy and loaded with VR and drones,” says Miresse. “It’s also finally the year that 360º cameras take off, since Nikon has entered the fray with the KeyMission series to move that tech into the mainstream. I also like the new Nikon D5600; it has a nice solid feel and combines Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for enhanced connectivity.
“The Panasonic GH5 is also intriguing. It’s a high-end mirrorless camera that will really appeal to videophiles, especially those who appreciate a more ‘hand-holdable’ form factor with a solid feel. They also added high-speed zooms that will make the mirrorless format more attractive to serious shooters.
“In terms of our business, sales were flat but profits were up significantly in 2016,” Miresse observes. “Looking forward to 2017, I’m cautiously optimistic. I think we can continue to build on the concepts that helped to enhance profitability, namely education, our used department and rentals.
“We’ve found that our emphasis on photo education helps build customer loyalty, and we do a lot more than teach people how to use their cameras. We offer 20 different classes, including a five-session course that starts out with a brand-specific camera orientation, moves on to photography fundamentals and concludes with hands-on practice in the field and a picture review. It scores very high with participants. We’ve also started an Art’s Cameras focus group with scheduled shoots at local venues, and we are now branching out to do overnights and weekend jaunts every month, and sometimes more often.
“This is a classic example of relationship marketing,” concludes Miresse. “They want to buy from us not only because they’re loyal but we’re helping to make them into better photographers. We took 16 customers to Costa Rica in 2016. They each paid $3,750 to attend and they absolutely loved it. Finally, none of this would be possible without our highly motivated, intensely loyal and super-knowledgeable staff. They are simply awesome!”
Mike’s Camera, Boulder, Colorado
Mike’s Camera and is also celebrating its 50th anniversary. It has five stores in Colorado and five in Northern California. The spectacular corporate headquarters and flagship store in Boulder occupies a total of 20,000 square feet, including 8,000 square feet of retail space as well as an enormous warehouse and full lab facilities.
“We cater to a broad spectrum of consumers, from family picture takers and enthusiasts to professionals,” notes Christianian. “Last year we relocated one of our stores and opened it as a bigger, new store in Colorado Springs. We plan to add one additional store this year, and we’re always looking for additional business opportunities.
“While CES 2017 is well attended, I have doubts about its long-term viability and significance. It’s such a broadly based technology show that only 10% appeals to any individual—everything from drones to lava lamps are on display. One clear trend is the explosion of products in the VR space. It will be fascinating to see if virtual reality is going to be viable for our industry, especially retailers.
“As for specific items, the Nikon D5600 is a nice camera with enhanced connectivity and should do well. The Panasonic GH5 offers impressive tech and is a beautiful piece. Canon’s CES 2017 booth is very interesting. It’s showcasing what you can do with the camera rather than focusing on the camera itself. In other words, the camera represents opportunities made available through new technologies. The drone technology is also very impressive. The drones on display at the Yuneec booth are remarkable.
“I’m optimistic about 2017, even though I see it as a challenging year for photo specialty retailers,” concludes Christianian. “I think we’ll do very well as long as we stay on top of our game. I don’t foresee any major changes from last year. The challenge is we rely on manufacturers to come up with exciting products and technology that motivate our customer base.
“However, opportunities are expanding because picture taking is a growing category and more people than ever are interested in our products. Significant trends: the mirrorless category is attracting a wider, younger audience of first-time camera buyers, and enthusiast point-and-shoot cameras are expanding among people who have a DSLR or mirrorless camera but still want a high-end pocket camera.”