The Death of Brick & Mortar Photo Shops…

The Death of Brick & Mortar Photo Shops

This morning I awoke, planned on posting a guest article, and then head out to shoot the Sony NEX mount 28 2.8 from SLR Magic so I can get the review started. I checked my e-mail, and as I sat and read them I found one in particular that caught my attention. Some of you may remember that for a while I used to do “Question & Answer Wednesday”, and I have been thinking about bringing it back as I get so many comments and questions every day. I thought this e-mail would make for a good post this morning as it always seems like a highly debated topic when I see it on forums, sites, etc.

The e-mail that got me this morning was not so much a question though, it was about physical Photography Stores that are going out of business due to the mass amounts of online sales these days.

Here is the e-mail…

“I just read your post about the Think Tank roller bag. And something

caught my attention after listening to a recent story on the radio

about photographic retailers.

 

Quote: “I did just order a new camera flight bag from Think Tank.” “I

checked it out in a shop and the quality was fantastic.”

 

I’m sure we’re all guilty, and this is in no way meant to be an

attack. (Which is why I didn’t post it in the comments.) But just food

for thought and interesting piece regarding the competition

traditional retailers are facing online. As I’m sure they will all

need to think about changing their strategy in order to survive.

 

Have a listen to this radio interview with a photographic business

that’s had to close its doors after 46 years in business.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00zf9gh/You_and_Yours_14_03_2011/

Fast forward to 25.50 to get to the interview.

 

Anyway, if you decide to post anything about it. No need to quote /

reference me. Rather stay anonymous. Just thought you might find the

story interesting.”

and here is my response/thoughts on this topic:

I agree about this as my local camera shop just went out of business. The oldest photo store in Pheonix. But, IMO, they deserved to go out of business! Why? I used to shop there religiously. Then about 3 years ago they started jacking up prices as they were losing money to online shops. I would go in and a camera would be $200-$500 more than online shops such as B&H Photo. When I asked if they would match the price, they said “No, and if you order from B&H you will get grey market goods“. That was a lie (and I knew it but many would take that as fact)  as B&H does not ship out grey market unless you specifically order grey market (and they tell you this, for example with their Canon and Nikon lenses).

Last year I went in to the shop to buy a Domke bag as they were a Domke dealer. I figured I would pay the extra $50 to get it now, and support the shop. I went in to buy an F-803, which they usually had on hand, and they had not a one. Their reason was that “No one buys Domke anymore” and then they tried to sell me some cheap overpriced off brand. That was an early sign of their troubles as I noticed they were stocking less and less of the good stuff.

Then there was the time they were selling the Nikon D3x at full retail, plus tax of course. I said if they cut off $200 I would buy from them (online I would have saved hundreds of dollars). Their reply was “Sorry, we can sell these all day at full price”. I kindly declined.

The store NEVER tried to compete with any kind of online shop/site, so I knew it was only a matter of time before they would be out of business. There are shops that managed to thrive by creating an online presence and are doing well, but those who did not were lazy and did not prepare for what was obviously the future of shopping. If I owned a long standing shop, I would have hired some guru to create a killer website where I could sell online at competitive prices. I would have taken a small loss the first two years to be competitive with the big guys and offer amazing personal service. That would have been the only chance to survive.

One guy that comes to mind when I think of this is Ken Hansen (email here). He used to have a huge store in New York and he felt the Squeeze years ago from B&H. Today he is semi-retired and works from his home selling only Leica and used gear, and he does quite well. He has amazing service, and stays competitive with pricing even though his profit margins are small. He has a reputation online and off. He does not have a website, but does have an online presence.

Then there are shops like Dale Photo. They created a great online website presence, and David Farkas who is the goto guy at Dale, runs a blog where he talks about gear. He created an online presence and seems to do well. Of course you have the huge B&H Photo which EVERYONE knows about! Why is this exactly? They were smart from the get go with creating their online mega site and it’s the best in the business as far as I am concerned. I’ve been buying online from them for YEARS.

Yes, I have seen many small shops change their future doom by creating a great online site and online buzz. Those who did not were lazy IMO and basically hoped things would get better, when the future is indeed online shopping.

With devices like the ipad, iphone, etc…online is the future. Period.

Also, I have to mention this… when I checked out the Think Tank bag at another local shop, it was $319 plus tax. Online I can get it for $279 and free shipping. Saving over $50. I’m not rich, nor can I afford to throw money away. The shop would not budge on the price so I ordered online. I predict they will be the next shop to go down, maybe not this year but soon.

So I can not feel sorry for the owners of long standing shops who failed to recognize the importance of creating an online presence as THIS IS the future, like it or not. Another thing I dislike about local shops was if I had to return something they acted like you were a bad person and gave you grief about it. Online is simple. Print a form and ship it back. No hassles or guilt. No restock fee (which is another problem with physical shops).

Anyway, sorry if I got on a small rant! Just feel strongly on this and when others tell me to buy in the shop, believe me, I try! The shops that are hurting just cant seem to give any deals or breaks, and paying extra so they can stay in business a few months or year longer doesn’t seem like a smart strategy. They need the strategy with an online website and if they failed to do that then it is only a matter of time. Running any business is tough, and you have to stay up with the times if you want to future proof. To those who do, it can save their business. To those who don’t then sadly they stand no chance. The shops who have yet to create an online presence, it may be too late. Sad but true.

Steve

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61 Comments

  1. One constant that is brought up is skipping out on sales tax. Buy local, pay tax, buy internet free shipping and no tax. One responser said 10.25% in Chicago? WOW! More to the point, tax should be collected on all sales to be fair to all retailers brick and mortar and online. I really don’t think we are consuming less (reasons local governments give for reduced sales tax revenues), we are just buying out of state, those large ticket items. So a citizen of California goes online and buys from B&H gets free shipping and saves the 8.75% sales tax and likewise a citizen from New York buys from Samy’s and saves 9.75% sales tax. In California, you are supposed to report and pay taxes for goods purchased online and pay the amount owed to the state, it is on the honor system – unless you get audited. How would collecting tax on all online sales level the playing field? Well for starters, the only savings will be the negotiated price that you get from your dealer and what the price is online. You won’t be savings on sales tax so that takes the 10% tax savings right off the top. I hate taxes as much as the next person but in reality a sales tax is truly a just “Use” tax if you did not have the extra income to buy then you would not have to pay it. Much better than a standard income tax that you have to pay even if you do not use the services it supports.

    Ever wonder why the sales clerk is rude to you? Do you walk into his/her shop and ask about the NikCanLeiSony handle it shoot with it take a brochure and leave the store? Only to go back to that store a month later with that exact camera (purchased online) around your neck with a boat load of questions on how to use it? I have stood in my local store and seen this happen many times. Is this cause for a clerk to be rude? No, but don’t waste his/her time and not buy anything and then rub their nose it it later. Like beating a dog as a puppy . . . will only make it mean.

  2. Yes, the death of retail. As someone who worked in and ran retail stores for @25 years I like to watch what is happening in the retail industry. I have seen all the camera stores in Metro Detroit go away as you describe (with a few exceptions). To be competitive these days, you have to have low overhead and sell online too or have a very specific niche. If manufactures cared about having their products available in shops, they need to offer direct ship, so a customer could see the product in the shop, get professional assistance, then order the product for next day delivery – like Amazon Prime. This would solve the problem, but only if the manufacturers support a model such as this.

    My policy for shopping is: Go to the local store to look for the product. If they have it and its within @10 percent of the online price, then buy it from the retailer. If they don’t have it – order it from Amazon with Amazon Prime for next day shipping and get it by noon. I just order it right there and then from my phone. If they have it and its way over priced, Amazon Prime it for next day delivery.

    I will pay extra for good customer service every time though, I will go out of my way to shop that store. Retailers don’t deserve to be in business if they 1. don’t have the product, and 2. treat their customers poorly or indifferently.

  3. My occupation is a web design/developer and everyday I find business that can truly benefit from having a good website. They is still a huge amount of untapped potential on the web and I hope more businesses realise this before its too late.

  4. First, let me be up front about having worked for a large camera chain for several years working to management before I left three years ago. And perhaps I may be able to provide some insight from my experiences.

    There are several problems in the photo retailer industry today. And as a photographer, I am just as furious as everyone else is!

    First and foremost, to understand why local shops are so damned hardheaded, we have to understand their revenue streams.

    Nikon for example sells for X, doesn’t matter if you buy 5 or 5,000, they sell for X. In my experience the incentives for larger companies are availability dates and available initial shipped quantity. Think about it, B&H really doesn’t have a ton of bargaining power, if they don’t carry Nikon, Nikon won’t go out of business, people won’t stop shooting Nikon, they will go elsewhere. Nikon wants them to carry their product because of their wide customer base, but Nikon does not negotiate on pricing, PERIOD. My company was one of the largest national sellers for Nikon, buying 5,000 units at a time was not odd.

    So, the local guys can go no lower than X. X is it. B&H sells well below cost, and makes the differences up in accessories. Does anyone really believe a UV filter costs $20.00? The brand we carried cost $1.97 ea (one time we bought 10,000 52mm uv for .97 ea!).

    B&H can stay afloat with this practice because of a dramatically lower overhead. One camera store clerk makes $12.00+ per hour plus commission and spiffs, and will sell one camera per hour on average. One stockroom clerk will make $7.50 per hour, no commission, and the company will absorb the spiffs and will ship 20 cameras an hour.

    Here is another thing most folks don’t think about. Local shops grew accustomed to revenues from film. Once a camera was sold, there was guaranteed repeat business from that client! Film developing was a huge money maker! That’s why all camera shops had mini-labs! You can charge $5.00 for an 8″x10″ that cost $1.00 in paper and chemicals. 500% markup? Why yes, thank you, I think I will! This has all but disappeared, so most camera shops are desperately trying to make up that, until 5 years ago, very dependable budget line.

    I don’t mind buying from some shops, provided they try and work with me. Maybe they can’t budge on a camera, but filters, lens caps, bags, straps, memory cards, all of these items have a huge mark up and are consumables I need constantly! I loose stuff more than my kids!

    Now, here is where I get pissed. Steve hit it on the head, I don’t need some punk clerk being a dick to me. I buy from camera stores because I can’t keep up with everything, but those guys can. I was one of them! Need to know the part number for a Nikon D70 eyepiece? I used to know it, I knew how much it cost, I knew how long it took to order from Nikon. Not anymore. I buy from camera shops because the clerks are knowledgeable. They see hundreds of camera problems, get asked all the strange questions, test all the gear that the Sales Reps bring in. A good clerk is better than Google any day of the week! But that’s the thing, a GOOD clerk.

    At one point, if you liked shooting, but hated the thought of doing photography for a living, working at a camera store wasn’t a bad deal, you got gear at well below cost from the manufacturer, plus spiffs! One year between Nikon, Sony, and Pentax, I added $10,000 to my salary! That did not include commission! Not anymore, sales are down, because of that, spiffs and commissions are as well, it’s not a good 8-5 job anymore. The guys that know stuff are leaving! They must be replaced, right? So instead of “Steve” who is a semi-pro, 35, and has a photography degree. You get “Timmy” who is an idiot, 19, and used to work at Burger King.

    Sorry for the long drawn out rant, I can think of at least a dozen other points that could be made, but long is long enough!

  5. I think I’m lucky having a good local shop nearby. They do have a good site, but they are a tad pricier than online chains. However, what I value them most for is the ability to rent out and test equipment cheaply. Occasionally, I’ll take advantage of some of the workshops and seminars they offer as well. Their repair services are great as well. I think there are still opportunities for local shops in the business of renting (particularly for Leica) out of production lenses. I rented a 90mm elmarit-m recently for $35 for Memorial day weekend. The margins might be considerably smaller for secondhand equipment, but for photography, I think this is an area that small businesses could still take advantage of.

  6. Regarding sales tax, my salary is largely derived from sales tax revenue, and much of the local infrastructure I use, and even many of the subjects I photograph, are supported by sales taxes, so I reckon I am investing in myself, to some extent.

    • As a small business person, this is a very interesting read. My take is that the vast majority of shoppers do not care about the people who run the camera shops. Price and selection seem to be far more important than a knowledgable person taking the time to help you make the right purchase. Many of you are even angry with the mom and pops because they can not offer the same prices. Others could care less if the owner has hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars invested in a business that offers them a service. I keep reading that they should adapt or die. And I’d be willing to bet that those who write this do not own nor ever would want to run their own business. ie worker drones or trustafaries. Okay, that is my rant.
      At 60, and having started and sold 2 successful businesses, I still have one more business in mind to start up. You can be damn sure that it will be an online business. So thanks for sharing.

  7. I gladly support two independent brick&mortar shops in Houston, Texas, and also order some things on-line. I have found that the local shops are fairly competitive with on-line dealers, I must pay the state and local sales taxes, but then, I need not worry about the thieves who will sometimes shadow the big brown UPS trucks, snatching packages from the front porch.

    I especially prefer to buy lenses in person, trying the lens on my camera, because lenses are like people, individual in nature, not always compatible. I was glad to pay about $100 more for a four-figure L lens, knowing the individual lens worked well, plus the nearly half-hour of advice and coaching was great. Plus, I had the lens for sure, for an assignment, rather than having to arrange, and pay for, expedited delivery. My next L lens, from the other local shop, was priced equivalent to on-line sources, and as it was the Canon 50mm 1.2L USM, I certainly wanted to try before buying.

    Local shops also offer opportunities, such the sweet, as-new pre-owned Canon 7D I recently acquired.

    I got to handle an X100 yesterday, and learned this camera s probably just not my cup of tea, mostly due to handling qualities, in my individual hands. The price was MSRP, which is quite fair at this moment in time. I had handled a Leica X1 at the same shop, finding it did handle well in my
    hands. Just reading on-line, I would have just been guessing, and would have thought the X100 better for me. I may never buy an X1, but now I know, thanks to an independent brick&mortar shop.

  8. I did not have the time to read it all but the web is hurting or helping shops in most areas. I kite surf and a lot of the selling takes place over the web. I think the concept of Boutique should flare back up but with no or little selling going on. There should be let’s say Canon, Nikon, Leica boutiques where you can see the actual product, touch it, snap a few frames. These would not be owned by local owners but companies themselves. Or they could be owned by an owner who gets subsidized by companies to show their products. I bought my first Leica over the net but I went to see how an Rf worked at the local Leica boutique. Anyways I think those who hire qualified, knowledgeable people to answer your questions or provide helpfull suggestions should have a way to survive other than just have to match the price.

  9. Shopping online globally makes even bigger savings possible for those of us who live in smaller, more expensive, and more heavily taxed markets. This is despite the inflated shipping rates, customs, and taxes. We certainly haven’t seen the end of all this.

  10. It’s not so much the online presence more than the fact that many stores don’t have good supply chains. Even online shops can be bad if they are “Drop Shippers” which is common.

    The real fact here is that business, labour markets and customers are global and technology has changed how business interact with suppliers and their clients. And some have refused (or are unable) to adjust.

    I would have thought that in the USA at least they could survive longer due to your massive supply of cheap labour.

  11. The core reason for retail camera stores was film processing and prints. When you came in for your prints, you might get a picture frame, a camera bag, and some filters. They are now on their way out, no real fault on their part but their time has gone. A few have transitioned to a web presence, but we really only need ten or so competitive web sellers, not ten thousand.

  12. i’m glad to say in SF there are plenty of camera stores to go to. i like to support local too and am willing to drop a few bucks more. to my surprise, the place i frequent often drops prices BELOW what it would cost online and give additional discounts if i bought a few items at once. this is the key to success in my opinion. it’s not about trying to make a quick buck it’s about gaining loyal customers who will come back to you. sometimes you gotta lose to gain.

    • Steven,
      What is the name of the store? I’ve never been able to find a good one in SF. I live in San Diego but travel there often, and once I went to a store in the city that looked decent. They had Leica products and accessories (not sure if they were an “official dealer”), but when I asked some guy if they carried UV/IR filters for the M8 I had just bought, they had no idea what I was talking about and said, “you want to put INFARED filters on a DIGITAL camera? are you crazy??!” The only other store that knew exactly what I was talking about was all the way in Palo Alto, but they were out of stock unfortunately.

      There was also another one I tried to go to in the Castro (I think) that looked really “closed,” wasn’t sure if they were in business, and was locked when I tried to go inside during the middle of the day. Might have been a Sunday though, I can’t remember..

      • http://www.yelp.com/biz/camera-zone-and-art-gallery-san-francisco#hrid:t0FuPTrZYqGhmkRyQDQUnw/src:self

        there’s the yelp page for them, the reviews speak for themselves. i usually email Dar (the dad won’t give me the good discounts) and he can usually hook it up to about 10% off retail depending what i get. i’m not sure if they know much about leica however. i’ve never bought anything from them that wasn’t for canon/nikon/sony. from my personal experience, if he says something is $300, it’s $300. no hidden fees or tax to dump on top.

        you might have gone to calumet? i stopped going there. they charge just as much as online except you have to put up with the “better than you attitude”.

  13. Could not agree more with Steve, amazing how many shops still do not see how important it is to be online. I order online out of choice, not because of price or stock range, although those are factors.

    Mostly I order online because I’d rather have my purchase waiting for me on my desk at work than battle through London crowds to the shops. Also, if I need a refund, the likes of Amazon have always been faultless, often walk-in shops will give you the third degree about why you want to take it back. In the UK, legally, customers are protected by the Distance Selling Act, but less protected if we buy in-store.

    Then there is the range, online, I can buy any film I like, even Japanese-only stuff like Natura.

    Steve is right, online is the future, that is inescapable, whether you like it or not. Personally I like it, I tend to get better customer service online, better prices, more choice, it’s more convenient, I can do it any time of night or day, compare prices in seconds.

    I like the walk-in shops, and there are a couple in London that I’d be sad to see go, but oddly enough, these are the ones who compete on price with online dealers, hell, Aperture Photographic in London can sometimes beat an eBay price!

    We should support our local shops because they are good, not because they have some sort of right to exist.

  14. As said, It’s the economy stupid… Online or not everyone is feeling the pinch in a big way period. Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! and the majority will be just fine!

  15. Amen on this article, this is just as much a problem here too with all independent stores. Dumb short sighted owners chasing the easy buck that will end up driving them out of business. I live near SF where many people are workaholics who typically only have time to shop when the lazy specialist stores are closed, and if they are open their stock is non existent and their prices atrocious for what little is there; not $20, $50 or $100 overpriced, we are talking $200+ overcharges on sub-$1k cameras/kit. There are some stores further south who are trying, but most places in the city are actively trying to fail it seems.

    Bad hours, bad stock and bad prices; all point at a complete disconnect from the customer.

  16. There used to be 5 good camera stores within easy driving distance of my house. Now there’s only one. I’ll call them “Fred’s Cameras”, which is not their real name. They’re the “last man standing” so for now they do a pretty good business, but I think I see the seeds of their downfall. For the most part, they only carry one brand of accessories; if you want a filter, a memory card, a lens cleaning cloth, they’re all the same brand, which I won’t mention. It’s a distributor brand that you’ve never seen an advertisement for, and the store charges like they were Sandisk cards and Nikon filters. Their camera prices are 10 to 25 percent higher than the big on-line stores.

    Their customers seem to be mostly relatively wealthy people from the suburb where they are located, or folks who either don’t own, or don’t like, computers.

    I really miss the old stores that carried an interesting assortment of merchandise and had knowledgeable salespeople who liked to talk about cameras, but sadly, their time is gone.

    When Fred’s goes, I won’t miss them at all.

  17. My local shop closed 6 years ago. The owner was great but dumb. He essentially wanted to run the same business his dad ran before him. No web presence, old stock. Want something? I will order it for you, come back in a week when it gets in.

    He said that he had some Canon 10Ds coming in (years ago) and when they arrived he would be able to sell them on EBAY — “we will sell every one of them within minutes of listing” …I asked him why he didn’t 10x his order with Canon so he could drive down his price, create a web presence, and sell all the cameras he could purchase……. He looked at me like I had two heads…..

    Within a year he was gone…..

    I just bought some Leica gear from Dales…. I have never been to their store. The web made me a customer….. My local store owner was too naive to see that…..

    • Oh, and let’s not forget……
      B&H has a huge RETAIL store in the MOST EXPENSIVE city in the country…… They are winning because they use ALL channels available to them to move product.

      Far too may “local”stores try to survive by acting “local” despite the fact that every consumer in the WORLD is a mouse click away (if they bothered to invest in a web site)

      • It’s true, Dave. The Mom & Pop mentality is gone, and the new age of storefronts with websites is here. Stores can have both.

        Remember when Barnes & Noble took away from the smaller bookstores? I couldn’t go into my small, local bookstore and say the words Barnes & Noble without the owners making rude comments. I’m all for supporting small businesses, but I won’t go broke doing it, because the less money you make, the more you have to find a reduced price on the item. If that means I don’t have to spend gas money to drive physically to a shop, and then spend less money on an item, then so be it.

        Small businesses used to scream about “loyalty”, but they were doing it while charging much higher prices. Meanwhile the smaller stores either adapted by getting websites going along with more services and better customer service or they went out of business. At first I was saddened, but then I realize that it takes two to tango. Shops need to stay competitive in price and we need to shop locally for the relationship to work. We should be able to haggle prices with local vendors, and they need to have better customer service. Back when there was no internet, these shops charged whatever they pleased, and some of the owners and managers weren’t the nicest to deal with and they had the attitude that if we didn’t like it, we could leave. Well, that attitude has to change now.

        Also, Barnes & Noble may have taken over the small local bookstore, but Amazon has given them some competition too. If B&N didn’t get a web store, they’d be tanking too. Another thing, all these Nooks, iPads and such, that may put a B&N out of business as a local store. As we buy less and less books in favor of a PDF book file, the bookstore will lose it’s ground like the record and video/DVD stores. Everything is a file now. We don’t need a physical store for that. B&N is smart that they have the little coffee shop/cafe, good customer service, and a variety of products. They keep re-inventing themselves, like Starbucks.

        As for Photo stores, I’m saddened by it as I would really like a shop that deals with all types of photography mediums, film, digital, large, medium, 35mm, and more. I would also like them to develop, print, scan black and white & color films/slides. I want all the accessories to be available, like camera bags, tripods, and more. Well, you get the idea. The only way we have that now is with B&H type stores. They’ve become the Home Depots. Luckily, there is still one small photo shop or two in my area, about 1 hour away. One photo shop sells gear, but they are more into the developing and printing side of things. The other shop is more into the gear. They’ve stayed in business due to photographers who still use film, and their customer service. It’s tough for them though, I’m sure.

        • Agreed. If a small business “acts local” in the days of the Internet, they will die as sure as a Monarch Butterfly. The key for local photography stores is to increase their inventory turn (true for all stores actually). The Internet is one channel that can help them do that by opening up a world of customers to them.

          I WANT to shop local. I would LOVE to shop local. But seriously, if you have little inventory, MUCH higher prices, and essentially no service, WHY should I support you?

          Ever been to B&H’s store? TONS of service. An amazing conveyor belt system (read: “expensive”), computers, inventory contol and EVERYTHING in stock. What is the rent on a building that takes up a CITY BLOCK in the most expensive city for retail space in the country? Hint: it ain’t cheap. Yet, because they embraced the Internet (and mail order before that) a husband and wife team of owners (who also close on every Jewish holiday) have been able to grow and thrive. THEY ARE a LOCAL RETAIL STORE. They think globally. Game over.

          • I’ve never been to B&H Photo store, but would love to see it. I’ve been to NYC in many photo stores that were loaded with gear. That was many years ago, before the B&H take over. I love B&H catalogs though, and shop online with them. I recall Lechmere stores having a lovely camera department too. That chain closed so long ago as well.

  18. I live in central N.J. …and I have always found local camera dealers to be arrogant, overpriced and less-than in the info dept.
    After I gained a little “photo maturity” I have researched on my own and bought in NYC by mail order, in-person or online for the last 38 years. I never looked back. (I now sometimes buy at Amazon as well).
    With the internet a motivated, curious person can find ANY info that he or she wants in minutes, ask questions on blogs like this one and get lots of great and helpful answers. The web is the future…music and DVD brick and mortar stores are long gone…books are next…and so on and so on.
    It is just the way that it is…God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change……
    um…yeah.

  19. I found this post to be overly reductive. You treat online as though it’s a silver bullet; it’s not. The physical stores that succeeded online already had economies of scale advantages or they had niches in which they were well-established. What physical shops need to do is offer things that are more difficult to achieve online: community, great service, knowledge, and good product selection. B&H has been a competitor for decades now with their mail order business preceding their online presence. However, I find B&H completely useless unless I know exactly what I want and they have a better price on it than the one I could get locally. I don’t think local stores should try to compete with B&H. They don’t need to stock everything, and they shouldn’t try to because they’ll go broke. In fact, they’re better off if they develop a particular focus for which they’ll be known. Cf. Kurland Photo and Photo Village in New York. Their websites are not particularly interesting–in Kurland’s case, I don’t think it’s ever been updated–but their staff and products are world class.

  20. Hi Steve,

    I can tell you the same thing is happening here in Australia, though the situation is perhaps even worse. When our dollar was low value we expected to pay a lot more in-store. In fact getting things online with AUD wasn’t much cheaper after the exchange rate and shipping.

    For the last year or so our dollar has been quite high compared to usual which means that online sales are more accessible to us than ever, a D7000 can cost us $1300 with shipping online whereas many brick and mortar stores are still trying to hock them off at $2000 or more. Would you pay an extra $100 or so per $1000 spent to get something in-store then and there? I would. Would you pay almost double the price though?

    It’s beyond greed at this point. How can they compete if they don’t even try, and instead just prey on those that don’t know any better.

  21. I could say the same thing about record stores. Thank god Best Buy and Amazon started selling vinyl because I was getting pretty sick of paying 25-30 dollars for an album. Now I buy MORE vinyl because Amazon and Best Buy can charge prices that music fans can stomach. Vinyl is, It think the only physical music media size that makes sense in my opinion, which is why there is a comeback for it. Especially since a lot of them now come with MP3s of the album. And I should mention that the fact that I just bought the new Beastie Boys record on brand new vinyl is exactly why I’m not worried that there might come a day where I can’t buy film. If records can survive, so can film.

    Also here in NYC, sometimes going to a store can be a drag. Huge crowds and lines can be a problem here. I’ll happily wait a day or two for somebody to bring it up to my apartment.

  22. Decentralization and globalization work both ways I guess. While American corporations like to take advantage of countries that are tax havens with no workers right, child labor laws, or any other sort of decency, and would be stupid not to, likewise the American consumer is sustaining themselves on a living wage based on international tax-free “slave” labor and has no choice but to always find the cheapest deal form overseas or at least avoid tax on an interstate purchase. I for one have and do support local businesses (our neighbors) when I have extra cash. I consider the extra amount a payment for good karma, a better community, and my city parks, roads, etc.

  23. Great subject and great article, Steve! I totally agree with you. One has to stay in sync with the times. After all, business is about action and adjustment. If one wants to be lazy, he will soon be presented with plenty of such opportunity.

    Cheers,
    Greg

    • I have really mixed feelings about this subject. Living in a remote location (I’m about a $500 trip away from the nearest serious camera store), I buy 90% of my gear on line. This has forced me to do a lot of research before I purchase a lens or camera. Most of the time I make the right decision but sometimes I get stuck with gear that I never would have purchased if only I had a chance to see it in person. Sure, I can always send it back but that gets expensive with scanners and printers. So, for me, it would be worth an extra 10% or even 20%, to see something in person.
      As for the mixed part, well I’ve been forced into a niche market by the arrival of a big box competitor. They sell for less than my cost. I’ve managed to hold on to 70% of my business by offering critical color matching on prints and excellent customer service. But I’ve lost my low end customer base who only care about price. The difference is I offer a custom product vs. the big box offering an off-the-shelf commodity.
      If I were selling cameras that cost me $100 for $120, I’d be upset if an online or big box was selling them for $90. Customer service might allow me to charge $110 but the question then becomes “Can I make a living on 10%?” Probably not. If I worked out of my house and sold online then probably yes. But you can not touch the goods.
      My point is that we should support the local guys whenever we can – if they are knowledgeable and provide good service at a fair price. You can only fondle stuff in a brick and mortar place. How heavy is the latest Canon 85L compared to the latest Leica 90? The specs just do not tell the whole story.
      But if we don’t think the stores are worth a little extra, one day soon we’ll find ourselves buying directly from the manufacturer’s website. One price. One store. Take it or leave it.

  24. The big chain store killed the local shop 10 years ago, now the online shop are killing chocking everybody. It’s true. Heard of Best Buy story, now lot of potential shoppers go to best buy the look at the product they want to buy, and feel it, then use their displace computers, ipads to search amazon for a better price, and buy there. That’s why best buy are thinking about shrink the store size. Now if you go to best buy shop with a better on line price, most likely they will match it, because they don’t want to lose your business. Store owners who don’t realize this, TROUBLE!!!

  25. Was it Photomark that went out of business? If not, they will be soon. It’s a shame, but there are reasons..lack of customer service is one. I actually mentioned it at the leica workshop not realizing their manager was next to me…were I in her shoes hearing that, I would have to think long and hard.

    Anyway, if it wasn’t them, who was it (save me a wasted trip!)

    Tempe camera is even more expensive it seems. :/

  26. So I have mixed feelings about this as well. These are not limited to local camera shops, but local anything shops. I personally fell like if you go into a store and try something out and their price is reasonable, you should get it there. If you want to buy online, buy from someone with a good return policy, try it out for a couple of weeks and if you don’t like it send it back. You really won’t find out much about a camera from shooting in the store for 5 min (even 30 min) anyway.

  27. Traditional brick and mortar shops have been good at advise and service, and that’s what you pay for. A camera is explained and demonstrated, a salesman often took time to help the customer decide on what he wanted, or a tv when delivered would be attached to the wall and the channels were set. That’s what for most people made the extra money worth it. I still hate to see people using these shops for the information and advise part, only to go home and order the camera then online for cheaper. But if you already know what you want, don’t need help and advise, there’s nothing wrong with ordering online. I see these as seperate retail worlds, like they always existed with real shops and postorder shops. I think that for most brick and mortar shops the problem is in the information availability online. Customers can do their own research, and salesmen’s knowledge is much less needed. When I walk into my photoshop, I ask for the 49mm Hoya UV filter, not so much for a lecture on UV filters any more.

  28. Dear old Kingsleys, R.I.P..

    I was in there a week before they closed ..I bought chemicals there (..you know; film developer, fixer, wetting agent, etc..) and magnetic clip-on wide-angle adaptors for compact cameras, bought my (second- or third-hand) Epson R-D1 there, lenses, an Olympus OM-to-Four-Thirds adaptor, plenty more..

    They’d order all kinds of outlandish things for you (..things which no-one else had ever heard of..) and I’m looking thro’ my pics now to show you what their shop looked like ..but the pics are on another Mac.

    They were helpful, knowledgeable, still sold enlargers (remember those?) as well as modern film scanners,m and knew film and digital products backwards and inside out.

    But – even though they had a website – they couldn’t turn over the volume which megastores and primarily-online retailers could. So they couldn’t get the discount. So they went out of business. Volume is all in photo retailing (..I know; I’ve worked in camera retail).

    I could’ve got cheaper prices – for some things – elsewhere, but I reckoned it was worth paying for the accumulated knowledge which was available at the independent retailer. I never “tested at the store, bought on the web” ..where I test a camera, that’s where I buy it ..if I do buy it.

    It’s a shame, but it’s survival – and adaptation – of the fittest. Before Kingsleys it was Brunnings, just down the road. If you do want to keep knowledgeable independents going you have to pay for that expertise; when you buy from a “box shifter” you kill-off knowledge, expertise, help and history.

    • I totally agree. Steve, it’s certainly not the case that brick and mortar shops don’t WANT to sell to you at a discount. It’s just that they don’t do the volume that the big shops like B&H and Adorama do, and so their wholesale costs are higher. If they tried to match the prices of the big box stores, they’d make little to no profit on the sale. As mentioned above, Wal-Mart is the perfect example. They buy in huge quantities, sell for less, and put all of the smaller community retailers out of business.

      Your courtesy and knowledgeability complaints are in a different category entirely, however. A small camera shop should realize that, just by being friendly and informed, they offer something to their customers that no online, big box retailer can match. They have the opportunity to offer a personal touch, and if they fail in that, then they deserve whatever fate awaits them.

    • Still a few good shops within a few streets from where Kingsleys were though David, RG Lewis & Aperture being real gems for me. Aperture are usually very competitive on price too. And long may they remain, there is no substitute and never will be for hands on use before buying!

  29. One of the reasons I like to shop locally is to pay sales tax. I know, it sounds stupid but countless government’s around me are in fiscally dire straits and I count on them to provide good roads to travel on, timely response from emergency services, and reliable water and sanitation services. Without my sales tax dollars all of that is at risk. However, when the local shop is generally rude to me when I walk in, won’t negotiate their price below MSRP, and looks down on my when I say I don’t “need” the latest in every photo gadget there is I happily take my business online. Just like all those governments struggling through financial crisis so to am I and in order to get myself out I must spend my money wisely. If that means sending it several thousand miles away then so be it. I’m willing to pay a little more to a good, friendly local shop but haven’t found one of those in years.

    Growing up in a small town I watched this same phenomenaon happen with the arrival of Wal-Mart. The front end of the print shop I worked at was a stationary store. Not long after the big box store moved in I realized they were selling your everyday office supplies for a lower price than we were getting them from our supplier. I suggested that we start buying them at Wal-Mart to both increase our profit margin and lower our price to hopefully increase sales a little. This was at the dawn of the computer era so paper ledgers and such were still our mainstay in the stationary world, things like pens and such were purchased as an afterthought or out of convenience. It didn’t take long before our customers figured out what I had and soon enough they were no longer getting their pens and paper clips from us. They would pick up their printing and a new ledger then head over to the big guy to save a few cents on their other office supplies. Needless to say, that stationary store is no longer in existence. It failed to change. It failed to innovate. In a “free” economy failure to adapt, change, or innovate means imminent death. It is the cycle of life of a free economy.

  30. I would agree for the most part, but I just purchased a Fuji X100 from a brick and mortar store. With tax it cost me $1400, but included a case, 16 GB card, and LCD screen protectors. I love the store, it is basically the only professional photo source in the city. It’s where I buy my Tri-X and Velvia. It’s where I bought my first real camera when I was 19 (Nikon N90s). I love going there to actually look and touch the things I’m going to buy before I buy them. I don’t buy everything there, things like filters, lenses, memory cards, etc. come from Adorama or B&H, but I buy my cameras, bags, film, in person. I love the smell of all the Japanese wonder in the display cases. I love looking at the Planet of a lens called the Canon 85mm 1.2. I love looking at the used equipment case filled with superstars of the past. You can’t do these things on the B&H website. It is truely a store for professionals or for people who truely love photography and the tools of the trade.

  31. The trouble is the bricks and mortar shops can no longer compete on knowledge, price or convenience.

    In terms of knowledge, people can and do look up anything they need to know beforehand on the internet, so go in knowing exactly what they want. Consumers have never been so educated or opinionated before.

    In terms of price – well that’s the obvious one.

    And in terms of convenience, almost everything is available with next day delivery online. The chances of your local shop having exactly what you want is slim to none, and because we’ve researched beforehand and decided exactly what we want, we aren’t willing to take the shop’s alternatives (rightly or wrongly).

    Steve mentions going in to buy a Domke bag. He knew what he wanted beforehand, and when they didn’t have it, he bought it online. In the past, many people would have gone in just wanting a camera bag, and ended up with the most suitable one in the shop. Now people can research in advance, and end up with what they believe to be the most suitable one in the world!

  32. everyone has a point here.. and if I may add one more thing, in addition to giving huge discounts to major resellers, the manufacturers, to a fault, are sometimes also churning out more products than there is demand.. and in this day and age, it’s like every 6mos-1yr there’s already a newer & more updated product..

    put it simply, your regular small time retailers are having trouble selling and recovering their investment.. overhead cost to keep their employees and pay bills coupled with low sales are causing decline in brick & mortar stores.. closing their physical shop and moving online would dramatically decrease their overhead employee salary (only paying a webmaster and stockman at the least) while still maintaining the amount of stock they have..

    I live borderline of three states, to be honest, I try to support my local shops.. but for me location is critical.. even though I want to buy in my own state, convenience of driving 15mins across the border than 45mins “locally” makes for a huge difference in saving gas, time and lower taxes too.. am i still supporting my local shops..? i hope so.. i like to actually see and touch what i want to buy rather than reading the specs online and bringing out a tape measure..

  33. This problem really isn’t new, just accellerated by the web and digital. I helped part-time in a small-town photo shop in college back in the ’60s, and even then most equipment sales would go to the big “mail-order” shops (Remember Altman’s in Chicago? Three floors with escalators!) Our small shop got most income from photo processing. Most film was sent out, but we did custom B&W enlargements also. I heard it closed when digital took over and processing dropped out of sight.
    Back then I also did a mix of equipment from mail-order and from that shop. They were a Leica dealer, and I bought my first Leicas and lenses there, even after moving away. (Still have them.)
    As a small-town shop they couldn’t afford to keep the inventory to cover all the popular brands back then. (A lot more brands than we have now!) I see the same thing today, as the Austin shop dropped Pentax to focus on the big sellers like Nikon & Canon. So I went to the Web to get my K5.

  34. I love my local shop next to work. I don’t believe I will ever buy new heart there, as it seems overpriced to me, but I tried the x100 there. What I love more than anything is that half their window space consists of second hand equipment. On the past half year I got a beautiful Kodak retina, a Hasselblad 500 c/m 80mmm, Nikon extension tubes, and some ancient opera glasses there. All in all well over $1000! 🙂

  35. Sad but true Steve. Personally I’d much rather walk into a friendly, nicely priced shop than buy online. I can buy a roll of FP4 for 6.90 euros from my local guys or order online from an Austrian online store and get it for 2.90!!! As for buying a new body for example I will go online in future. I’m just not willing to pay the extra for something that I will update in a couple of years. I like personal service but not for a couple of hundred extra euros!

  36. i felt sad when some of my favorite camera stores went out of business but it was due to a number of things…digital coming in yes, internet competition, ebay etc etc but alot to do with ever-increasing london rents. So its a number of factors but those stores need to change with the market place otherwise they will be left behind. It’s the most basic economics in the end.

    I still love going into camera stores whenever I can but do feel I made to feel I know nothing about their products….and they want to “see” the money before you try. There are a few I swear I will not spend my hard-earned money in ever because of their attitude. The best Leica-selling shop I have been to is the Leica shop in Bruton Place..as they treated me like a customer, instantly, and liked the fact I knew their product. Also being courteous goes along way when you are about to drop £5k on a camera.

    So Leica or ebay for me….

    • I have been into that Leica shop a couple of times, both times to buy things. I found them to be a bit snooty.

  37. Ten years ago I worked for a privately owned book store. It was in the process of taking over another smaller ‘mom and pop’ store. The smaller store was only getting a 15 to 20% discount from the publishers, we got a 20-40% discount. Then a web site called Amazon opened a Canadian web site and a physical store called Chapters open directly across the street. Chapters are a Canadian equivalent of Barnes and Noble. We got a box of Barnes and Noble books delivered by accident. Inside was the publishers invoice showing a 50% discount. I don’t know if camera stores are the same way with discounts.

    Competition is good. I shop online and at a good local retailer McBain Camera http://www.mcbaincamera.com (I hope it is OK to give them a boost here. I don’t work for them). It is too bad that the manufacturers and distributors give unfair advantages to some retailers. They should realize that they are helping to bankrupt their own distribution channels.

    As a note about the future; the book store never really went online and has relocated to cheaper retail space,downsized, and closed their satellite stores. McBain Camera now has 9 locations in several cities.

    • Not long ago McBain was very bad for pricing and service. Pricing improved once a national competitor showed up in town but service is still sub par. The competitor is not much better for service. Best shopping experience and prices for Albertans – maybe even Canadians – are at thecamerastore.com in Calgary. I live in Edmonton but buy from them even though they are three hours south.

  38. It’s a vicious circle and one that I don’t know how the small shop can get out of. They don’t have the volume and can’t get better pricing from the channel like the huge online dealers can. For now, my local shop is still quite large and doesn’t look like it’ll have problems in the near future.

  39. It’s a bit sad. My local camera shop has been in business under the same family for 111 years. That’s right- 111 years. I wanted to buy my X1 from them, but not only would I have to wait, but it was $2k plus 10.25% Chicago sales tax making it $2225. As a grad student money is tight, and when the Euro tanked last year I got it from an Austrian online retailer leicashop.com for $1300. How could I pass up $925 in savings, even when I enjoy the beautiful city that 10% sales tax goes to?

    I decided to buy the little stuff through the local shop and develop my film there, even though it takes 2 weeks to get prints back. The online presence affects them too, and most of them now seem bitter and jaded. It sucks. But even with their condescending attitude (some of the guys there are super nice, but many aren’t) I try to support them. They are a historic shop that I want to support and keep around, so I try to find excuses to buy something from them that I can afford.

    • Bradley, you should talk to the manager about the attitude. They need to know to improve and live on!

    • I used to shop at this store as well. Several years ago, while they would not match B&H, they would come usually within 5-10%. That was close enough to keep me coming to them and spending my money their. But you are right, the attitude in the store has changed in the last few years, less friendly overall, less selection unless you want Canon or Nikon, and it seems to me, much less in stock. I’ve taken to shopping for a major purchase at the other camera store in Chicago, about a mile or so west on Jackson. 🙂

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