Does the imaging industry have a leading economic indicator? Reports from the 60th Anniversary Convention of the PRO Group may be a reliable signal for a phenomenal fourth quarter and early 2019.
“I haven’t seen optimism and enthusiasm like that in years,” reported John Bruehl, vice president, Imaging Specialty Group, Sony. Bruehl got spontaneous cheers when he recognized the PRO community as a key vehicle for Sony’s market share growth. To enthusiastic applause, he reminded retailers Sony no longer competes with their customers.
PRO, a cooperative of photo specialty stores, reported the year just ended was its best year ever. It paid out record patronage dividends to members that exceeded $1.6 million. Its ProMaster brand sales also broke records. Most vendors reported record results with the group.
Neither PRO nor vendors released sales numbers from the trade show. In theory, the event is for highest level meetings between vendors and retailers. PRO provides various services to vendor partners beyond just bulk orders. The value of these services is reflected in the prices PRO members pay.
Most vendors, seeing this as a leading indicator for a great season ahead, also wrote a record amount of business on-site with significant future commitments. In addition, vendors recognize the value of working with PRO, creating One Day Only (ODO) specials for orders placed during the show. Originally, the ODO program ensured retailers had cash savings to pay their travel costs. When the vendor is serious about writing business at the show, order volume is significant.
When asked if they wrote more business this year, one major vendor’s senior executive said, “Who’s had time to total the orders? We just weighed them, knew it was a great day and went off to Topgolf.” PRO took over a floor of the local Topgolf recreational facility. Vendors and retailers relaxed, enjoying food and games together. It was a grand finale to a superb convention.
Furthermore, PRO brings the brightest minds possible to share their perspectives with retailers.
This year’s program included a range of presenters (partial listing): Brenda DiVincenzo, IPI – Member Network, Henderson, NV; Cindy Brooke, Brooke International, Hansville, WA; Emily Yankush, HR Professional, Youngstown, OH; Gregg Maniaci, Tamron USA, Commack, NY; James Tian, ikan International, Houston, TX; Jerry Grossman, executive director, Imaging Alliance, Woodbury, NY; Liz Cutting, executive director, NPD Group, Port Washington, NY; and Marco Vidali, Vitec Imaging Distribution, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Overall, vendors and retailers were very enthused and upbeat. Here are a few of the comments gathered from the convention.
Bing Liem, vice president/general manager, Imaging Division, Fujifilm, explained his company’s future vision. He also thanked PRO members for their industry leadership and support in building marketplace acceptance of Fujifilm’s new camera systems.
Full-frame Canon and Nikon cameras have given passionate photographers the green light to invest in mirrorless cameras. One retailer said, “Our sales shot up now that fence-sitters see the introductions from Canon and Nikon. We’re selling or taking preorders, while also delivering Sony . . . and Fujifilm X-T3 preorders make up our biggest category. The market is strong for all brands. Consumers with money are researching, asking questions to find the best for their needs. Store traffic and enthusiasm are welcome. With our add-on classes as well as accessories, it’ll be a successful fall carrying into 2019.”
Jim Wilson, of Milford Photo (Milford, CT), summarized the show: “The sky isn’t falling. PRO members have figured out how to survive and thrive in the changing marketplace. For some the negative cash flow from selling cameras at less than replacement cost inhibits sales, forcing brand realignment. Milford is fortunate. We have the capital to stock everything.
“Customers are buying higher priced products. We bought more at this show, both in terms of quantity and breadth of products. The environment was upbeat, positive and full of new ideas! Our leadership team—Jesse Thompson, Rich Bright and I—had a mini-retreat in Phoenix.
“Moreover, we identified eight new key initiatives for 2019,” Wilson added. “Rich started on a plan to make February, usually our weakest month, our best February on record. Listening to what the industry’s best were doing challenged us to say, ‘We’re doing good, but we can do better. And we will.’”
Charlie Landefeld, of Action Camera (Roseville, CA and Reno, NV), was celebrating the first anniversary of his Reno store. He brought four team members who spent a very full day scouring the booths of new and old vendors. As a result, they added hundreds of SKUs to their inventory, especially from new video vendors like ikan and Rhino Camera Gear.
“A benefit I didn’t expect was the understanding the team got from listening to the operational issues of our industry. They better understood the challenges I have as an owner, like cash flow, HR issues, governmental regulations, vendor relations, etc. All four definitely want to return to the next PRO convention. Now they better understand an owner’s frustration. In addition, they asked how they could take some burdens off my back. It was a tremendous experience for us all.”
Upcoming PRO Group Convention
PRO’s spring 2019 show will be held in Lincolnshire, Illinois, March 14–15, 2019. The fall (Big Show) convention will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, September 23–26, 2019.