There are any number of industries that benefit from having large conglomerates as their chief model. It would be difficult to think of petroleum retailers all being independent producers of their products with an oil well and a cracking plant in the back of the commercial lot. I’m led to believe it may have been almost as simple as this in the early days of oil production in Pennsylvania but that might just be rumour.
In any case photo retailing and photo taking both have the opposing business models of the large group or the single operator and it is sometimes difficult to see which one is best – or perhaps we should say that they can be best for different situations.
Here in Australia we have a large conglomerate called Camera House. It has a number of branches in each state – indeed sometimes multiple outlets in many towns and cities, and pursues a policy of group buying, stocking, sale promotion and advertising. The shops affiliated with it have a largely similar decor and business style, though I daresay they are owned separate individuals and families. The shops are bright, well stocked, and sometimes have very competitive prices for photo products.
Yet, there are areas of photography they never seem to approach. Anhey draw stock from suppliers that sometimes raises the wondering eyebrow. And they, to some extent, are all toeing a corporate line.
The independent retailers draw from pretty much the same wholesale stock as the Camera House people, but then sometimes go a deal further in specialist, professional, or esoteric supplies. They sometimes cannot match a low-ball price on common low-end stock, but in their turn can supply high-end merchandise that the Camera House group do not deal with.
Both sorts of shop do well when they treat their customers well, but as the customers approaching them may be of different sort, they need to have individual approaches. I think it is perfectly true to say that the large-group customers purchasing lower-end merchandise need somewhat of a simpler approach from the sales people. I know that sounds elitist and unpleasant, but you need to shoot low if they are riding Shetlands.
At the same time, it must also be said that the customer for the singleton shop may be coming in for higher-end gear but may also be coming in with a more difficult set of attitudes and expectations than the Camera House one. Noses in the air, if you will.
Which business model serves the client best? Well, which client, and what are their needs? Which business model serves the shopkeeper best? Again, how willing are they to take a financial and management risk?
I can go into either establishment and get what I need, depending on how I think it through. There is a place for both in the trade.