When You’re the Only Camera Store Around…

1982At Service Photo, we’re an authorized dealer for major camera brands like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, & others. We buy & sell all kinds of new & used camera gear every day. We rent many types of cameras, lenses, & lighting. We have equipment repaired for our customers by factory authorized technicians. We also sell studio lighting, inkjet printers, traditional photo & darkroom supplies, and important accessories like seamless paper, bags, cases, & many other essential products for photographers. So, yea, I consider us to be the only true specialty camera retail store in the entire region.

Many think that the lack of local competition would be a good thing for us, but nothing could be farther from the truth. You see, photographers everywhere have embraced the internet – buying from large suppliers that are not obligated to collect sales tax when shipping across state lines. These suppliers have grown into industry giants, while localized specialty camera retailers that work closely with each individual photographer, dwindle. The simple fact is that maintaining a specialty camera business – one that provides a higher level of personalized service, guidance, & instruction to photographers – is becoming increasingly more difficult every day, and it is a situation that seems lost on many of our customers. I’d like to relate an incident that occurred today, that brought this fact home to me like never before.

Earlier today, I was working the retail counter because we were short staffed and somewhat busy. A somewhat familiar face came into the store to buy an XQD memory card for the new Nikon D500 that he had with him – still in the bag & fresh from his “big box” store purchase. I asked him why he didn’t buy the camera from Service Photo, and explained that we have the same price along with a trained staff of Nikon specialists. He mumbled a lame excuse, and asked me to explain what types of XQD cards that we had. I showed him the cards, & explained his need for a new XQD reader, too. He commented how happy he was that the D500 would take the same battery as his D7000, so I took the opportunity to explain the Nikon USA EN-EL15 battery exchange to him, & why it was important. I knew that the “big box” had not informed him of this. He thanked me, and then did something that amazed me: he started to unpack his camera from the box (still inside the retail plastic bag) and asked me to explain a few of the new features of his brand new D500. I politely explained that we were busy, and that my time & D500 expertise were only available for those who had actually purchased their camera from Service Photo. He got real pissed, real fast – and told me that he had purchased many items from us in the past, and that I should help him with his new D500. I had to diffuse the situation, and politely explain that I would gladly assist him with any products purchased from Service Photo – but that I really wasn’t interested in instructing him on a product that he purchased elsewhere. He just didn’t seem to understand. This all played out in front of other customers and staff, and while it ended up being cordial, it had the potential to become a much larger situation. So, I now feel the need to say a few things out loud that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m not venting, but simply telling it like it is with both confidence & humility:

  • We are the only true specialty brick & mortar camera store in our region, staffed with photographers who are knowledgeable about the equipment & accessories that we provide. We are not perfect, and we may not be able to immediately solve every dilemma that comes our way – but we will persevere & always find a solution for our customers. And, if only by process of elimination, we are the only destination in the region where photographers can receive personalized intelligent instruction, guidance, & assistance for their camera gear purchases while receiving “hands-on” demonstration of all types of equipment & related accessories. I consider Service Photo to be a valuable asset to photographers in our region.
  • Our inventory of camera equipment & accessories is huge, but we only provide high quality items that we know & trust. While some online sellers promote bundles filled with low quality items at an attractive price, we promote quality at a competitive price. Our reputation is at stake with each transaction made, and we try to educate our customers about quality products every day. We think that investment in quality products at competitive prices will serve photographers better in the long haul – and after more than 25 years as Service Photo’s owner, I can assure you that we’re in it for the long haul and that we have our customer’s best interests in mind continuously.
  • Our business model is very different that the giants of our industry – because we want it to be! We want to work closely with each customer & create a relationship, so that we can assist everyone as best possible both today, and in the future. This is time & labor intensive – which means that Service Photo will never become an industry giant. That’s OK – because we’re happy serving photographers in our local region, & offering them what we feel is a higher level of personal service & information.
  • Our prices are the same as legitimate online sellers & big box stores. You don’t have to pay more to receive expert guidance & continued instruction throughout the life of your product! We think that this is a pretty great deal for photographers, and our staff is available to assist those who have purchased products from us, with little or no restriction. However, we may not be able to continue the same level of service for items purchased elsewhere. We’ll always try to help solve any problem quickly, and we are happy to facilitate the repair of camera gear that has been purchased anywhere. But, when it comes to extensive, time consuming troubleshooting & instruction for items that were purchased elsewhere, I foresee the need to change our behavior in the future.   I don’t like to think about it, but since it is my responsibility to keep Service Photo viable for the future, I know that we’ll  have to watch this situation closely as the marketplace changes.
  • Many utilize our staff for information about specific products, and then use that information to make their purchases elsewhere. This has always been part of any retail business, but the internet has made it a constant source of frustration for us. We continue to offer information & guidance to all photographers without prejudice, because that’s what we want to do. We hope that our honesty & expertise will help attract new customers to our business. But as customers become more brazen about their intention to make purchases elsewhere – while still in our store gathering their information – I expect that we’ll be forced to change our behavior in the future. If you don’t buy your products from Service Photo, should we consider you to be our customer? We simply cannot afford the expense of educating photographers, so that they can buy elsewhere. It’s a fine line that we must learn to navigate in the future.

I have no idea if many will read this, or if anyone will care.   But as a small business owner, I work constantly and I’m pretty passionate about what I do.   I can’t be afraid to talk about our challenges, and I’m always looking for constructive ideas to improve as the camera & imaging marketplace changes. So let me end by saying this:

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve photographers, and provide them with products that enhance their creativity & enjoyment of photography. Our industry has changed a lot over the last 25 years, and we’ve survived by changing with it. As our industry continues to change, we will adapt – and do whatever it takes to serve our customers to the best of our ability.  Thanks.

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1 Response to When You’re the Only Camera Store Around…

  1. Sandy says:

    As my recent visit to your store will attest, your photo store/services certainly lived up to my highest of expectations! I’m just getting into photography and wanted just the basics about cameras (DSLR vs. mirrorless), and a most knowledgeable representative patiently taught me the basics and just a bit more. I received absolutely no pressure to buy and I walked away with a better understanding what I should consider when buying, and encouragement to further explore before actually buying. There is no question that I will return to purchase the camera of my choice from you, as I see the value in the service you offer. A very pleased future amateur photographer 🙂

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