Make it classy!

Make it classy!

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If you want an hour alone with Greg LeMar, one of the personal photography tutors at The Camera Shop in Bryn Mawr, PA, it’s going to cost you 70 bucks. For an efficient working mom wanting to hit the ground running with her first DSLR, though, that’s a reasonable price point. Who’s got time for a three to six week “Intro to Digital Photography” class or a whole soccer-free spring Saturday for a day-long seminar? For that $70, she can walk in with her own agenda, her specific questions, and get LeMar’s straight-shooting advice about which features will serve her best.

And LeMar isn’t shy with the advice.

What do you think of the Tv (time value) setting, Greg? “It’s the one feature that could disappear from every camera.”

Should I keep my DSLR in manual? “Only if you’re a glutton for punishment.”

Auto white balance? “The kiss of death.”

LeMar is one of Camera Shop owner Kathy Bogosian’s most adept salespeople, and conducting that hour-long tutoring class does take him off the sales floor, but Bogosian says it’s worth it for a number of reasons. She’s made a better profit on that hour of service than on the sale of a few reasonably-priced point-and-shoots. She now has a more informed customer who’s going to be hot for some DSLR accessories. And she’s given that new photography student an ally in LeMar, and thus, engendered store loyalty. The mom-turned-photo-enthusiast is going to talk to her friends and tell them where she learned to take such excellent action shots.

Win/Win Scenario

Bogosian, intrepid about making her retail strategies win-win, has found a way to make personal tutoring good for LeMar and her other salespeople-turned-teachers too. “Certainly, our salespeople do a certain amount of tutoring when they sell the camera and teaching classes is part of their salary,” says Bogosian. “But I add a spiff based on the sell. So if they sell a tutoring class for $70, they get $17.50 in addition to their hourly. It’s like a commission. On a class, they get 25% of the gate after expenses like handouts or books.” And that still leaves Bogosian with a profit margin that’s more akin to accessories than to the 10% or less a dealer tends to make on cameras.

“Wake up and smell the cash, kids!” says industry consultant Bill McCurry of McCurry Associates. “A lot of people have cursed the fact that photo is part of the CE industry. Don’t fight it, join it. The CE industry is used to charging for information. Don’t be shy, charge for it! Promote it! Be in the education business.”

It’s become an increasingly easy venture for retailers to become educators. More teaching materials are available online, at very reasonable prices, than ever before, and manufacturers are themselves pouring resources into developing a new generation of product seminars they hope to offer in partnership with dealers.

“We’re seeing an overwhelming demand for product-based information right now,” says Peter Tvarkunas, a Canon marketing director who’s recently taken on the company’s consumer training programs, including a 3-hour seminar called “EOS Discovery Day” which will be offered in small and large markets. “We have such a large install base now with products like the Rebel, the 20D and the 30D. These people are hungry to enhance their photography experience….our sales managers are asking dealers, ‘Who’s interested in doing this?’”

An Easy Sell

Nikon’s National Training Manager, Scott Diussa has seen the same hunger, from both the newly-minted DSLR crowd and dealers as well. “Demoine, Iowa, (Christian Photo) had 230 people show up for a ‘Snapshots to Photographs’ seminar we did in January,” says Duissa, who adds that Nikon’s 6-year-old training program has averaged about 13,000 attendees a year, typically about 70 people per class. And those numbers don’t include a separate education effort Nikon does just for Ritz Camera. “These consumers are a major commitment on Nikon’s part to support our dealers,” says Duissa.

Allentown dealer Mike Woodland, CEO of Dan’s Camera City, likes to host the manufacturer trainers, but he says Dan’s has had great success with in-house educational programs, selling over 700 seats in the first quarter of 2007 alone.

“We love classes and we don’t give any away. We make a profit on every class we run,” says Woodland. “I know some dealers use them as loss-leaders, but we went for a robust experience and it shows. We have many customers, alumni if you will, who take multiple classes from us.”

Woodland charges anywhere from $10 for a basic seminar class up to $130 for advanced programs in DSLR techniques, studio lighting, Photoshop Elements and digital scrapbooking. He’s recently begun a series called “DPU Pro” (Dan’s Photo University Professionals), classes taught by the best professional photographers in his market area aimed at budding artists who might like to start charging for their work.

Woodland used in-house talent, his own sales staff, to develop class materials, including handouts, Power Point presentations and instructor notes. “We’ve had a lot of dealers ask if we would sell them the content for our programs,” says Woodland, “so we put together a webpage (www.danscamera.com/learning/dpu/course_materials) and we sell the whole course set on a DVD for $349.”

Space for Rent

Dan’s has a dedicated space just for education, as does The Camera Shop in Berwyn. In fact, a number of photo-specialty retailers who’ve expanded recently have added classrooms to their footprint, keeping the students close to the sales floor full of accessories that will suddenly seem like a must-have after a seminar.

PMA Education Director Stephanie Fisher says she’s seen dealers across the country have profitable “good luck” with a variety of promotional techniques for classes. “People give out coupons for a free class to everyone who purchases a camera,” says Fisher. “They get people right back in!”

Other promotional ideas include advertising seminars online or in local newspapers, sending out targeted e-mail pitching classes to favored customers, giving out discount coupons for accessories at the end of class, and offering to give the class fee back as a photofinishing credit. “I’ve seen dealers even offer to double the photofinishing credit,” says Nikon’s Diussa. “Success comes down to follow up. Follow up, follow up, follow up.” yy

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