PRO Convention Celebrates a WHOLE Lot of Progress in a HALF Century

PRO Convention Celebrates a WHOLE Lot of Progress in a HALF Century


And they said it would never last.

The Photo Research Organization celebrated their 50th anniversary last month down in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and the theme was certainly easy to find – “Let’s be successful together.” Well over 100 PRO members assembled for the event and shared, among other things, ideas about what is working in their stores despite the tough economic climate.

The event even attracted PRO members from outside the U.S. as Phil Gresham from Fotofast in Brisbane, Australia offered up a few tips and tricks that have them reaching for their wallets down under. “It’s important to understand that these new creative products are bringing entirely new customers into your stores. These people love choices. Make sure they are aware of all the new ones they have today with regard to their images. The margins on some of this stuff are as high as 80%,” he told the crowd.

The general message from those that spoke to the gathering was, “You can either wallow in despair about the current state of affairs or do something about it.” Certainly no one in the room had had more to wallow about than Lakeside Camera Photoworks’ David Guidry, what with the devastation Hurricane Katrina tossed his way. “What I have seen since we have had to basically start over the business is that we have a communication problem in this industry, not a product problem,” he explained. “The reaction from consumers to these lifestyle products is that they are way more excited than they ever were over a 4×6-inch print, but we aren’t communicating exactly what these products are and how easy they are to do.”

Guidry added that he feels the industry, as well as he himself, have been guilty of “over-complicating” some of the newer products and services and likened his new approach to more of a “restaurant menu” marketing scheme. “The customer simply needs to see all they can do in a simple, easy to understand form and then help them pick the product that is perfect for them,” he said.

Another common theme of the event was centered on improving the “in-store experience” for your customers through well thought out classes and special themed “nights out” for specific customer groups. “Education remains a key for this industry. Consumers are starved for it and they are willing to pay for it. We are getting 60-70 people for some of our events,” explained Frank Calagaz, Calagaz Photo, Mobile, Ala.

Others like Lenonah Krumanocker of two-store chain, Shewmaker’s in Colorado Springs, CO., spoke of how today’s consumer wants service. “The personal touch is something that stretches across all demographics. People want quality service and we make sure we provide that,” she said. Krumanocker credited the sense of team and open idea exchange she gets from PRO as a main reason she is doing well today. “The intimacy of this event and the sense of family that PRO has is a big reason I’m still in business today. Her retail philosophy is a simple one, “Let’s have fun and sell some toys.”

The event also included myriad retail sessions, one on in-store design hosted by Adam Newman and Geoff Coats of Zande+Newman Design, the team credited with the Lakeside Camera turnaround. One of the many interesting design concepts they tossed out to the retailers gathered was, “Your products are generally small and the world is huge. Consider this issue of scale with your window and in-store graphics,” Newman explained. Customers entering Lakeside’s interior are immediately greeted with oversized signage and graphics that push the store’s mantra of “share your vision.” This theme is also carried out on all marketing material as well as on the store’s Web site.

Other creative ideas came from Lori Rupp of Kohne’s Camera & Photo in Ohio and her location’s hysterically funny hold messages that, she claimed, actually have customers asking her, “to go back on hold.” She added that this kind of “unusual and creative thinking” keeps her location top-of-mind with her customers and, she added, “the ideas come from staffers who change the messages when they come up with another good one.” If the few they played at the PRO Convention are any indication of the comedic-quality the staff can produce, she may start losing employees to late night television jobs.

Author and frequent contributor to this publication, Laura Oles hosted a couple of sessions as well, one on the emerging use of E-Mail Marketing as a promotional tool. She urged those in attendance to, “Think about the e-mail messages that work for you, that you actually read, and ask yourself why they work.”

By the end of the event it was clear the message from PRO to their membership remains clear – “We’re in this together and the capturing, sharing and preserving of memories is still important to consumers.” yy