Local Camera Stores, it’s time to change your business model…

This week I bought a new camera. Having been a Canon SLR user since 2003, I know a thing or two about Canon Digital SLRs and photography in general. I found a smoking deal at Circuit City, buy the camera online, get 10% off instantly and you can pick it up in the store the same day. That means I got the Canon 40D Digital SLR and a 28-175mm IS lens for $1350 instead of $1499. $150 bucks is $150 bucks right?

Shortly after picking it up, I decided I really wanted the grip so I headed up to the local Tall’s Camera store to pick one up. Now first let me say that the price on the grip wasn’t unreasonable. It was $199, and that’s technically under Canon’s retail so no biggie right? When I asked for the grip from behind the counter, the salesperson asked what camera it was going on. Fair question, he was just making sure I was getting the correct grip right? No bigs. The next question was, “Really, where did you get it?”

Now when I said Circuit City, you would have thought I said I traded some kiddy porn to a Nazi for it. The salesperson launches into this “Oh really, and will those zit faced kids be able to teach you how to use it?” routine. I was kind of taken aback. First, why does he assume I would buy a $1,500 camera and have no idea how to use it? Second, who’s business is it where I bought my camera? I just want the grip at a fair price.

The fair price is where the rub comes in. The local camera stores, and honestly all of them in my experience, charge Canon retail for pretty much everything. If you like the feeling of paying too much to support a local business, I can dig that, but the idea that these stores provide some service and support that you can’t get from B&H Camera online is bullshit. Excuse my language, but it’s time to change your business model.

I checked the price of a dozen lenses in three local camera chains, Talls, Kits and Camera West. On average, the store price was at least $100 more than B&H. In many cases it was almost $200 more. Should I expect this local shop to give me $200 worth of training that nobody really needs to know how to work a lens? And if it screws up, do you really expect them to do anything other than send it back to the manufacturers just like you would?

I am looking at outfitting this new camera with a compliment of five lenses for a grand total of about $2,000. If I bought exactly the same lenses at Camera West, the total is almost $3,000. No way, Jose.

So times have changed. Internet businesses are often the first place to look. A small percentage of people develop film and the large majority of those that do, do it at Wal-Mart and Costco. I know there are plenty of people who need help with their equipment, and if you do it in the form of a class or one on one lessons I can totally dig the concept.

This mythical “support and experience” that the mom and pop camera store provides is just not accurate. The really sad part is, it seems like the cheaper the item you are looking for, the more ridiculous the markup. $40 for a UV filter? The same one I can buy for $12.99 on Amazon.com?

It’s time to take a hard look at your approach. If your business exists on the premise of screwing your customer in the name of small town goodness, it’s time to lock your doors and and get a job developing film at Wal-Mart.

13 Comments

  1. Amazing that he gave you a hard time for buying the camera elsewhere. A pretty shortsighted approach to customer service. Most camera store salespersons earn on commissions which doesn’t make any sense when you can buy online and get support and training online for free. What they don’t understand is that younger generations, for the most part, prefer the online route for purchase and support. Paying more for person to person training is of little value to them and not worth the extra associated cost. The traditional photography industry at retail is very tired and slow to change. If they continue under the status quo they’ll go the way of the dinasaur.

  2. I gave up on local camera stores a long time ago just for this reason. I buy almost exclusively from B&H (reliable and reasonably priced). If I do go into a local shop it is only because 1) I am really bored and need to kill some time 2) I am having a hard time deciding between two or more items and want to play with them before buying them from B&H or another online vendor.

    No matter how much I wanted a grip, after his comments I would have told him off and walked out to but it online.

  3. As a Generation-X’er, I practically _never_ do my shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores anymore, only occasionally buying there. I much prefer to do my research online, on my own time, in the comfort of my house where there’s no pressure, and I don’t feel rushed to compute everything that was “said” to me by some salesperson who may or may not have their facts straight. I want to see it all written down, and not just assume that I’m not getting screwed.

    I’m not a big fan of sales tax either.

  4. Talls camera is one of the WORST camera stores around. Staffed by grumpy old guys who think they know everything about cameras. Far from it. The Talls in downtown Seattle is a joke and needs to go away. They sell stuff at retail prices plus markup. I once made the mistake of buying a Canon flash there because I needed it last minute. I ended up not using it and went to return it. The idiot salesperson asked why, had me fill out a ridiculously long return form, and then proceeded to test it out to be sure it worked. He said it did not, as he tried to make the flash zoom in and out. I told him it was brand new, purchased the day before, and that if it did not work it was not my problem. After arguing with the idiot, I bailed on the hassle of the return. Of course it worked, he just didn’t know how to work the zoom correctly. I ended up selling the damn thing on ebay. Talls camera: you guys suck and need to go away. B&H, Adorama, and others online are SO much better than you could ever be.

  5. Sadly, I must agree with you. I have been buying cameras and other photographic equipment, in many cities in America, since the 1970s. In the U.S., many camera stores treat individual and amateur purchasers — anyone who is not a pro who going to be spending a few thousand dollars a month at their shops — as marks, persons whom it is OK to cheat. I cannot think of one time in nearly forty years when I have talked to a salesman about purchasing equipment, who had not said or done something deceitful in attempts to raise the price, or to lower the value of a trade-in. It’s disgraceful. Photographic retailing has only itself to blame — the industry could have chosen to regulate itself, and to clean up its practices, but it has not. Now, customers are abandoning these pirates, and with good reason.

  6. I guess I’m lucky and haven’t really had any horrible experiences at local camera stores. If I find a really good one I tend to buy from them. Yes it costs more but the customer service I have gotten is far superior to B&H, Calmuets, or any other online retailer could ever offer. Have they ever given you a tripod to borrow while yours is on order (And not a cheap one but a Gitzo)? Or how about when my 70-200 2.8 was damaged they let me borrow one for free until mine was returned Canon? And my favorite – Letting me borrow a 1DMkIII for a week for no charge.

    I agree some places have very poor attitudes behind the counter and should be avoided. But buying things online after spending time in someones store asking questions and testing the gear out is just wrong.

  7. In fairness the local camera shop where I’m located (Newtonville Camera in Newton, MA) does a great job. There prices are higher than the online shops, but they have a great range of used items and will let you test whatever you want. They also do a good job developing film, which keeps me coming back.

  8. Just had another bad experience today at a large local LA chain. Canon 5d on the store’s website for mail order $1899. At the physical brick and mortar store $2099.

    I mean, a $200 difference, same company? Gimme a friggin break.

    To make it even better and show this particular store’s incompetence.. the other large LA camera shop, also part of a large chain, is selling in-store for $1899. I really don’t see how the management can think that this is helping business…

  9. @Ryan G: I wish I had a bad experience getting a 5D instead of a good experience getting a 40D. haha.

  10. You should work at a camera store! I did for years. Now, i’ve asked where people got it and I’ve asked what they paid but only because I was interested Never bitched out a customer because of their choice or stores.

    What sucks is pricing and in fact, the worst people for it are Canon and Sigma. Sigma has a lens, it costs the customer $500 what do you think it costs the dealer? $400? $450? ok so 10% is reasonable and $50 is a decent profit margin when you consider that at least 4 people have to touch the box before it ends up in your hands (shipping and receiving, stock boy, sales clerk) Nope, Sigmas $500 will cost the business $480-$485! Yea, you read that right. Most sigma profit margins are under $20, unless your selling 20 of them a day its not work even stocking the lens. Not to mention you go to a place like Sigmaforless and its selling for $425. hm……Whats up with that? Canon is the same way, B&H can sell lenses for dealer cost or less unless they’re over $2000. It works double for things like filters. Yea you can get that one off amazon for $13 and most dealers WISH They could sell you that for $13 but they’re paying $30 for it. Don’t believe me? ask your local store, someone might be willing to show your their price book.

    Now before you say it, Yes, dealers can buy film, filters, even camera bodies through B&H or Amazon and sell them for $10 profit just to please customers. This is possible. It also can lose you your dealership. The owner buys 30 Rebels from B&H, their Canon Rep comes in, takes an inventory and looks at the sales sheets that say that that dealer has bought 30 in the last 3 months AND has turned in sales records of all of them to Canon. 30 days later a team of Canon guys shows up, takes all the stock off of their shelves, the posters off the walls and LITERALLY the pens out of their hands. If it says Canon on it they can repo it. Amazing right?

    Camera companys are contract nazis but dont want to give the little guy anyways to stay afloat. So, before you bitch. whats YOUR answer?

  11. Samy’s in Los Angeles is usually pretty good. But I had a bad experience there. Came in to buy some film. (Yeah, this was a while ago) They had bargain bins, but the prices weren’t marked anywhere. It took a while to find a clerk who could be bothered to look up what should have been on the boxes. Then there was a huge line, and while in line I noted another employee bullshitting with a friend while the line grew longer and longer. They were bullshitting about a trip one of them had recently gone on. I called over, “Can you open another register, there’s a line here.” The employee said, “In a minute,” and the visitor flipped me the bird. At that point I started yelling, “Why the h..l are you being paid money to stand there flapping your pietrap while customers are waiting. What the hell are you being paid for, to screw Samy and treat customers like crap? You’re a piece of garbage and I’d fire you in a second, and so would Samy if he knew what was going on.”

    Would you believe that the clerk grasped the logic of my argument, and opened up a register? As you can see, soft words can be convincing.

  12. We have two first-rate retail stores in the Phoenix area near us: Tempe Camera Repair and Photomark. Both have competitive prices and professional sales staff. Some of the sales folks we have built a relationships with have worked at the same store for over 20 years. At Tempe Camera we get a ‘profession’ couple % off the marked price on most items. Last fall when we asked Tempe Camera about the hard-to-get Nikkor 18-200 DX zoom they said they call when the next batch (1 to 3) came in. Two weeks later we picked up the lens–$40 less than B&H. Sure, we pay sales tax, but we have always been willing to pay more (and sometimes we don’t) if we can buy from “friends” at a local store. Only once have we had any problem with an item and was able to bring it back and had it swapped for a new replacement right there–no warranty issue with the manufacturer.

    Both locations also do rentals (Tempe Camera more so), used gear (trade & sell), and film & digital processing. Of course Tempe Camera Repair is also famous for its repair shop and support for local students at Arizona State U.

    We’re sorry for folks without a dependable near-by retail store. We do mail order too, but only when we need some esoteric gizmo.

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