Sharp-Dressed Shooters

Sharp-Dressed Shooters

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Glenn Omura, a professor of marketing and supply chain management, looked out on a small room of retailers taking furious notes during the recent “PMA Night School,” a nuts & bolts business workshop held after-hours during the Photo Marketing Association’s annual trade show, and raised a question mankind has struggled with for centuries: Do you know what really pleases a woman?

No hands went shooting up.

He elaborated with more specific inquiries: What’s her “psychographic profile”? Do you know how to get her attention? What does she need each day? What does she read each day? Can you make her want you?

What had begun to sound like an Internet dating strategy session was actually a crash course on marketing imaging products to the most potentially profitable customers in America today. Pulling data from recent research on who’s really buying cameras, digital frames and all manner of printed gift-products, Omura concluded that females ages 25-44 are far and away the best customers a camera shop can hope for. Retailers have known this for years, but what’s changed recently is that the women in question are behaving like the Gen X and Y consumers they are, with tastes and habits quite different from the 40- and 50-somethings most of those retailers originally learned to charm.

Nightschooler Lee Barnhart, owner of Lasting Memories just north of Seattle, described his encounters with this new crop of shoppers with some exasperation: “They want it all, they want it now, and they want it cheap!”

Dr. Omura says the Gen X woman, 36.5 percent more likely to own a point-and-shoot camera than anyone else in the U.S. and 80% more likely to actually print some of her captured images, is indeed into speed and convenience. “This is the generation who came of age during Tivo, and who are comfortable with time-shifting,” he says. “Gen X consumers were latch-key kids, with very little sense of security…today, they like comfortable store environments and non-threatening store clerks.”

They’re also, according to Dr. Omura, recently becoming adopters of much more sophisticated cameras. Though shoppers under age 25 and men all ages say (in consumer surveys) that they want a new D-SLR, it’s the women who are coughing up the cash. And they’re doing so in record numbers.

The PMA ‘08 showfloor was buzzing with new amateur-friendly D-SLR’s, most now under $800, to meet the demand. Canon announced an upgrade to its top-selling entry-level D-SLR, the Rebel XTi, with the new 12.2 megapixel XSi, due out in April at $799. Nikon’s is the game with the D60, a consumer D-SLR with onboard editing and a “Stop Motion Movie” feature, available now for $750. Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Pentax and Olympus have sub-$1000 contenders too. “We’re seeing very powerful products and great prices,” says Nikon’s Senior Technical Manager, Steve Heiner. “These products don’t sit on shelves.”

Indeed, shipments and sales of D-SLR’s outpaced most analyst predictions in 2007. According to a recent CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Associations) report, 7.5 million D-SLR’s shipped in 2007 and over 9 million are expected to go out in ‘08, an increase of 22.3 percent.

“The market is becoming saturated with compact point-and-shoots,” says Chris Pound, a national sales product coordinator for Pentax. “But people are realizing they can jump a tier creatively. The D-SLR is the next big thing, and these new cameras with auto picture modes help consumers make the transition.”

Once a consumer gets D-SLR fever, exhibitors say higher-margin tripods, zoom or macro lenses, flashes, memory cards and image-editing software are natural add-ons. Manufacturers at PMA were even suggesting point-and-shoots as a D-SLR accessory, noting that enthusiasts sometimes want a break from equipment-lugging. “We’re seeing a lot of households with a D-SLR and a bunch of Coolpix too,” says Nikon’s Heiner. “You don’t just sell one ‘family camera’ anymore. Now, everybody in the house has one.”

Retailers like Jack Williams, owner of Hooper Camera in Chatsworth, California, was scouting PMA for accessories, especially photo gift items, which would appeal to his target market, the young women of the San Fernando Valley. He eyed products such as photo-towels and photo-blankets, but he felt most comfortable putting orders in for what he considered a sure-sell: handbags. Vendors of female-targeted camera cases like jill-e designs, who’s hottest item this year is a bright red leather shoulder bag, were most appealing to Williams. Surveying the whimsical Crumpler booth, he said, “I can sell any kind of bag, as long as I have a big display with plenty of variety. When you have all the choices right there before them, they sell. The women, they buy the colors.”

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