Repairs Revisited: Thinking Outside (and Inside) the Box

Repairs Revisited: Thinking Outside (and Inside) the Box


Three years ago I spoke with owners and operators of warranty and repair companies about their services and how retailers might profit by offering customers the extended warranties and repairs these companies provide. The Reporter published the “Supplier Roundtable” story in the November 2010 issue (and you can find it online if you Google Mr. FixIt Digital Imaging Reporter).

Given today’s ongoing news about consumers’ love of smartphones for picture taking, as manufacturers scramble to regain market share for their point-and-shoot lines, I checked in with a few of the people I spoke with in 2010 to see how this situation was affecting the way they do business.

“On the repair side, we used to have 10 or 12 technicians working on point and shoots,” says Mark Treadwell, president and CEO of C.R.I.S. Camera Services in Chandler, Arizona. “Now I have one.”

The main cause is a price point so low it’s not worth it to fix a camera. “If the selling price of the camera is over $300, usually it makes sense to repair it,” Treadwell says. The other reason is lower sales of point-and-shoot models. “Some manufacturers are down 20% to 25% from forecasts, and that comes down to the smartphone.”

Adding smartphones to the repair product mix is something he’s thinking about. “It’s similar technology, and it’s not that hard to do, but right now it’s just a consideration.”

One relatively new product category that’s starting to work well for him is compact system, or mirrorless, cameras. “If dealers are selling those cameras, they’re adding on extended warranties that we’re fulfilling; or they’re high enough ticket items that customers want them repaired. I’d say it’s a growing part of the business, though not a significant percentage yet.”

What is significant is the conventional DSLR business, which is growing—and lens repair. C.R.I.S. handles data recovery from memory cards but outsources repair and data rescue from hard drives. It’s not a large part of the business, but it is steady.

Over the past three years, C.R.I.S. has had to deal with the loss of the warranty and repair business they once got from Ritz Camera. They haven’t replaced it all, but they have added some retailers. And they benefited from the fact that Nikon no longer sells parts to unauthorized service centers; as a completely authorized center for Nikon, C.R.I.S.’s business grew around 25% in less than a year. 

The company has done its share of prospecting as well. “Most people who fix cameras think about fixing the camera that comes in the front door,” Treadwell says, “but I have to think outside that box.”

He doesn’t see his business as a repair shop, but rather a business whose product is repair, and that thinking has led him to accounts for the repair of DSLRs used as stoplight cameras and repairing “fleet cameras” used by companies specializing in event photography, school photography and youth sports.

“The key is, do you make money with the image? How do you take the image? I find out what cameras they use, and that’s a possible market. I recently got a cruise line ad in the mail, and now I’m thinking of all the cameras Norwegian Cruise Line uses to take all those pictures on their cruises.”

Treadwell also sees business from production and rental companies out of New York and Los Angeles, and he continues to offer outreach programs and campaigns to dealers all over the country. “We have campaigns available for them to use and personalize any way they want,” he says. “There are significantly more dealers using us now than three years ago, but I wish they would do more.”   

At Kurt’s Camera Repair in San Diego, California, owner Mike Parsell’s business is still the healthy mix of walk-in traffic, cameras sent to him by consumers, photo retailers who outsource their repairs to him and accounts with the Navy and local corporations.

From consumers he’s seeing more and more compact system cameras, though his feelings about them probably mirror their manufacturers’ attitude: “Overall they’re not as popular as we’d like them to be,” Parsell says. “It’s still sort of a small niche-type market. I don’t see it as out in the mainstream yet.”

The business in feature-laden, high-end point-and-shoot cameras is growing, though, with the shop seeing models like those in the Canon G and Nikon P series. “And we still do a lot of lower end cameras—$88 repairs for cameras in the $200 price range.” 

Kurt’s benefits from its location. “San Diego has three million people or close to it,” Parsell says, “So it’s a pretty big customer base.” He’s expanded the base considerably by shifting from the Yellow Pages to the white screens. “We’re seeing a lot more people coming to us from the Internet. We have a lot of online advertising with AT&T, and they’ve got us in a number of regions all the way up past LA, so when someone looks online for a camera repair store, we’ll come up as a repair facility.”

Image recovery from damaged cards and accidentally deleted files comes in cycles, sometimes four or five a week, then some weeks nothing at all. They’ve done some smartphone repairs, replacing a touch screen here and there for friends or associates, but otherwise they’re only talking about whether they should get involved with it.

Parsell’s thoughts are opposite Mark Treadwell’s when it comes to the ease, or difficulty, of working with the phones, with Parsell finding it “kind of tricky” to take the cases apart, and kind of difficult to get parts for the phones. It’s something for the future—“maybe”—but not now.

Business from outside the area did pick up, with “some of it coming because Nikon stopped selling parts to non-authorized service centers. We got a lot of stores sending us their Nikon cameras.” He still elicits business from other local stores, but finds many are perhaps understandably more concerned with selling cameras than offering repairs. “But,” he says, “some of the stores around here who are really good with their customers will refer them to us.”