It is always interesting to take a look at what is happening in the professional photography market as much of what is going on there has an eventual impact on the rest of the imaging industry. Picture Business recently sat down with the relatively new Sinar Bron Imaging President, Cathy Conner Strobel to get a sense for what is currently happening in the professional market and what the industry can expect from a company that has always been held to such a high standard. Cathy Conner Strobel was appointed President of Sinar Bron Imaging in October 2005.
The company was founded in 1980 by Sinar AG, Bron Electronik AG, and Foba AG for the purpose of distributing the Swiss-made photographic products in the U.S. market. The Swiss principals felt that a combination of the brands — “precision view cameras, superlative lighting products, and premier studio equipment” — was a powerful offering that could be better marketed, the company felt, as a total holistic solution. SBI has stayed true to its roots of offering Sinar, broncolor and Foba products through a professional reseller network to provide, as they tell us, “better coverage across the US.”
PB: The Sinar Bron brand is legendary in the photographic industry. But how has the company overcome the challenges of remaining competitive in a digital world?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Our factories have been able to stay competitive by continuing to provide high quality, innovative and totally integrated solutions. Our high-end broncolor Fashion Solution is one example. It consists of the new Verso A4 studio and location power pack, the Para FB large focusing umbrellas and the Ringflash C and P with built in modeling lights, fans and a unique grid system. As digital capture has become the mainstay in fashion, photographers have needed more control than power in a strobe power pack. This solution gives them a 7 f-stop control range with a 2400 w/s battery power pack and the latest look in light modifiers. Another example is the Sinar P3, M Camera and Sinarback eVolution studio outfit. It combines the ultimate in an integrated high-end studio solution. With the geared movements of the Sinar P3, the computer controlled automation of the M Camera and the extreme quality of the eVolution 33mp multiple shot back, it is the preferred solution for many of our premier customers.
PB: You have been with the company for a little more than one year. What were the immediate challenges you felt needed to be addressed as the company’s new President?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Our legacy in the market is both an advantage and a disadvantage. My challenge has been to blend the legacy with a more contemporary image. We have a good mix of up-and-coming photographers whom we are featuring in various marketing and advertising initiatives. We have also conducted a number of seminars around the country to educate and energize the next generation of professional photographers who want to elevate themselves to the next level.
PB: Your background, at least in part, was in the photo reselling business. Have you been able to apply that experience to Sinar Bron as it relates to the company’s distribution and dealer networks?
Cathy Conner Strobel: I don’t think I could be effective in the job if I hadn’t come from a reseller background. No one understands the challenges facing resellers better than I, and the key to our success is helping them capitalize on the opportunities to offer a fully integrated solution to their customers.
PB: How has the dealer network changed for Sinar Bron as digital imaging became more prominent in the industry?
Cathy Conner Strobel: There are fewer resellers capable of representing our products than before. The commitment in terms of resources, intellectual property, and money are much greater with digital products, and this has resulted in a smaller dealer network.
PB: Can you give us a better idea of your current retail distribution channels? Currently, who are some of your largest retailers?
Cathy Conner Strobel: I would call our resellers “integrators” instead of retailers, even our resellers who have multiple retail locations. We have resellers located all over the country and we list them on our Website so customers can find them easily.
PB: Obviously with high quality comes a high price, especially with your new eVolution 75H digital camera back and Broncolor Verso A2 and A4 studio strobe systems. Has this changed the retail dynamic for Sinar Bron in terms of working closer with rental houses than the company had in the past?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Our products are premium products in terms of price and quality, but our total cost of ownership is much less over the lifetime of the product. Rental houses look at the low incidence of repair as a cost savings in addition to being a revenue opportunity. The less equipment goes in for repair, the more it can be rented.
PB: Does the company offer financing through its retail partners?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Yes, we have multiple options.
PB: The Foba brand consisting of tripods, rail systems and camera stands is also under the Sinar Bron umbrella. Is the company’s strategy for distribution of this product line different from Sinar and Broncolor? If so, how?
Cathy Conner Strobel: No, all our products are distributed similarly and through the same reseller network. Foba is a premium studio line of products as are Sinar and Broncolor, so it is a natural combination.
PB: Sinar Bron recently announced an annual student scholarship presented to an exceptional student pursuing an undergraduate degree in photography. What inspired the company to establish this scholarship program?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Carl Koch was a professional photographer who combined the freedom of the creative effort with the scientific effort of precision engineering. It’s an unusual marriage of talents that don’t normally coexist in a person. We want to promote photography to the next generation as being a multi-dimensional pursuit.
PB: There are several studio lighting manufacturers with good reputations in the industry. What differentiates Broncolor from the rest of the pack?
Cathy Conner Strobel: That is very easy. Broncolor lighting equipment allows the photographer to do things he can do with no other lighting equipment. Period. They do their research and understand what the photographer wants and needs. But that’s not enough…they have the ability to marry the creative requirement with the engineering requirement. That is the hard part and it is what they have done so well for 50 years.
PB: What can professional photographers expect to see from Sinar Bron Imaging over the next several years?
Cathy Conner Strobel: Even more integrated and unique products.
PB: As President of Sinar Bron Imaging, what do you hope to accomplish over the next five years?
Cathy Conner Strobel: I have always had a love affair with our brands, even more so now that I am the “keeper of the flame”. I hope that everyone I come in contact with over the next 5 years ends up with the same feeling I have about them. They are wonderful products and our customers are the most successful in the industry as a result of using them.
PB: Lastly, digital imaging technology has changed this industry dramatically in the last decade. Can the next decade possibly see change continue at such a rapid rate?
Cathy Conner Strobel: I think we will see technology advancements that allow for faster introduction to market. The purpose of product and brand advertising is to let your customers know as quickly as possible what you have to offer. I expect the advancements will be software-driven, combined with greater options for connectivity to accelerate the delivery of content to its final destination.