If you’re looking for someone who not only sees the ‘big picture’ when it comes to the photo industry but has also ‘been there, forecasted that,’ spend a little time with Don Franz. Franz, who entered the photo industry in the early 1970s as the executive director of the Studio Suppliers Association, is now at the helm of a full service market research, communications and consulting firm with offices in the United States and China. His firm, Photofinishing News International Consulting Group, has developed a reputation for its keen insight into market trends and its dedication to “putting the stats in context.” He doesn’t take the numbers at face value; he likes to dig deeper to understand other factors that may come into play. He also has a reputation for telling it like he sees it, a refreshing departure from the standard corporate talking points.
We recently spoke with Franz and asked him to share a bit of his view regarding where the industry has been, where it’s going, and retailers in photo imaging would be well-served to expand our view of opportunities outside our country’s borders.
Franz travels multiple times per year around the world, visiting companies and industry gatherings in Asia and Europe, in addition to his travel in the United States. “I need to substantiate the statistics and information I receive from different world regions,” explains Franz, “and the only way I can do that is by visiting these countries, talking with people, seeing what is happening and getting an understanding of the cultural influences of the issues I’m covering.”
PB: What are the most critical issues you see retailers struggling with today
Franz: One of the challenges we have today in our industry is that retailers aren’t getting the education they used to receive from manufacturers. They used to receive information and education from the large consumable suppliers, and this information helped retailers better serve their customers and make decisions. This has really disappeared over the last five years or so and many retailers aren’t sure where to turn. Retailers don’t know where to turn now for information about the market and how to choose which products are going to be of interest to their customers and why these products matter to them.
Traditional equipment suppliers might receive general product information—technical specifications and such—but they aren’t getting very much related to the larger trends the photo industry is experiencing, what to consider for the future and how to respond for the betterment of their business. Some retailers still have a thirst for this ‘larger view’ information but don’t have companies they can rely upon to provide that insight any longer.
I also see troubling issues with some of the larger retail organizations. Many of them are being run by financial people due to financial issues and they aren’t being educated on what’s actually going on in the industry or where the industry has been over the last several years. Some of these companies are making purchasing decisions for the wrong reasons. They’re buying equipment for competitive reasons—because their perceived competition has the same equipment—and not because the equipment fits with a vision of where the company is going and how the equipment plays a role in that vision.
I’m also concerned that retailers seem much less willing to experiment today than they did years ago. Many don’t seem interested in trying new things, and this is an important part of learning what works and what doesn’t. There are really so many opportunities available to retailers today but we need to broaden our view and be open to trying new things.
Read more of this interview in the December issue of Picture Business magazine.