Alan Mais began with the C&C Associates Electronic Film and Digital Camera Repair Course in 2001. His background was in management but also had 10 years repair experience. After a few lessons, his studies were interrupted by deployment in the military. Although he never completed the C&C Course he returned as a Student Member of SPT in 2002, upgraded to a Class A member in 2003 and upgraded again to Class B membership in 2005; indicating steady growth. Alan is also a regular attendee of our C&C / SPT workshops each year.
Growth / The Bottom Line
Camera Doctor has experienced steady growth with a 30% growth in 2004 and a similar or higher growth shaping up for 2005. As a reference; growth of 5% or 6% for a business is considered good to very good, a corporate pay increase of 4% is considered very good. Alan attributes his business growth to three things; using big box retailers as a referral, conducting clinics, teaching operational use camera classes.Marketing
How do you promote your business? “We advertise in church bulletins, specialty publications, some newspaper. Even though we have not been able to track it percentage wise, I’d say we have a very strong response in repeat and new business with stickers we place in the camera’s serviced (including wholesale pieces) and in the free humorous pens we include with every repair exceeding $100.00.”
“I attribute a strong percentage of my increase to the big box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, and Sams. This percentage is going to increase this year as many Super Centers are being built with in a 100 miles of me. I’ve found that by asking my customers where they have their pictures printed or where they purchased their camera gives me an in. Once I’ve found out where they do their photo business I ask them to do me a favor. If they were pleased with my service would they recommend me to this store? I ask this as I hand them a couple of business cards. I keep track of who the stores are (geographic location is necessary). Once I start to receive some referrals from the store I will personally visit the store and introduce myself and give them a stack of cards. I generally will received unsoliced requests from the store when their supply of my cards are running low. I never mail the cards if I can find a way to meet face to face and hand the cards in person. I go through so many cards that my wife schedules at least once a month a printing session of just business cards. Being a friend is what business growth is all about; it works for me anyway.”
Their business is a mixture of wholesale and retail. 79% or their business is retail with a mix of walk in and mail in, 21% of their business is wholesale. Right now the repair spits evenly between film and digital but Alan expects to see a ratio of 65% digital by the end of the year.
On the digital end the overwhelming number are D P/S. He has only seen six D SLR this year but the number of inquires is increasing. “I think that once the word is out that I can repair these and the volume of units sold increases then they will be greater in quantity. Especially with the problems of dust on sensor as most Nebraskan’s are outdoor shooters.”
How were you able to keep your dealers intact? “Three ways:
a. I visit them every three months just to say Hi and also help answer any questions they may have on camera’s on their shelves. I spend time meeting all their sales personnel and get to know them personally.
b. I conduct camera clinics at their facility on a two consecutive day basis. On camera’s that are not repairable I personally get behind the counter and try to move their client into purchasing a camera from the selection available.
c. I conduct operational use camera classes every three month’s at the store. Employee’s are allowed in free and encouraged to attend.”
One of the things we noticed is that Alan moved his business where the cameras are. Not by physical location, but by moving his business model. When you repair cameras you need to be where they sell cameras, process images and with those who enjoy and use photography. Big box retailers (Best Buy, etc.) are now the one number seller of cameras in the US. When Camera Doctor finds a common customer, a connection, they follow the food chain back to their photo sources using that customer as an icebreaker. Then they stimulate their sources business, reaping benefits for both. ... www.cameradr.com
<October 2006> Hello Chuck; I'm swamped but willing to help if I can. …. I'll make the time.” Alan
<June 2007> Camera Doctors moved to a larger location to handle the volume of business.
When Graham Rose was at school, he was one of the founding members of the camera club. After leaving school at age 15 (normal in those days in the UK), he applied for work at the famous London Camera Shop ‘Wallace Heaton’ of Bond Street. That was September of 1963.
He received higher than standard wages, first working the counter and then the workshop of the repair department. In those days standards were very high, there was no personal talking during working hours and you had to dress smartly. High standards of workmanship and pride in his work were among the ethics he developed. The clients of the London Camera Shop were the rich and famous including Queen Elizabeth II. Full restorations were their specialty including optical, chrome and paint work. They were also one of the first companies to include modern testing of equipment.
Over the years Graham worked for three different camera repair companies, the last one for 26 years. At the start of 2000 changes in the photographic trade and poor management caused his last employer to go out of business. Finding himself unemployed, Graham first thought of leaving the CR field but many people asked him to carry on with their repairs so he decided to set up his own full time business.
Many small business in the UK are suffering from high overhead, high rent and taxes. Since Graham had been operating a part time business out of his home for many years, he decided to modify his house and work from home. This reduced his overhead and had a number of tax advantages.
Graham is a forward thinking person. He was the first in the UK that imported the ZTS Tester II (our associated tester R&D business) “which is still giving sterling service”. He could also see the digital revolution and even though his customers are still dominantly film he’s in the digital world.
As he developed his contact list, he was asked to undertake different types of repair jobs. One of these was a large local hospital involved in a twenty year research program that used medical photography to document eyes for a diabetes study. Nineteen and one half years into the study the Ricoh based camera and flash equipment had problems. The manufactures were not the slightest bit interested in helping and the hospital was told to spend about ƒ45,000 ($90,000 US) on new equipment. It wasn’t just the cost. The lack of consistency between the two systems would ruin the nearly complete twenty year project. The hospital asked Graham for help. He repaired the equipment for about ƒ800, the photographic department was delighted, the twenty year project was saved and completed. “My putting myself out to help a desperate situation has been well rewarded by this hospital, they are now my biggest customer in sales”.
Yes GR Enterprise Service expanded into sales. He could see the defect of big box stores with disposable counter people. Nobody knows what they are doing, not the store and not the consumer. He doesn’t try to compete with box stores, he exploits their major weakness and fills a niche they can’t scratch.
After the completion of their diabetes study, “the hospital became interested into looking into the digital market and were quite excited when Kodak announced that they were developing a full frame DCS 14n camera. By my doing the research and getting the information, the hospital placed an order for four 14ns and a number of high quality of Nikon lens.” That order that was worth ƒ16,000 ($35,000 US).
That was the start of his interest in Kodak Professional digital cameras and digital photography. It also started GR Enterprise Service into professional sales. Since that time he has sold over 40 Kodak DCS cameras and still gets many requests for second hand models. GR Enterprise Service also deals with Kodak Dye Sub printers, Epson wide body printers, flash equipment and other professional cameras and lens. In addition to sales, they uses a network of associate CR businesses to expand the services they can offer.
Graham Rose starts out primarily as a film camera and photo expert. GR Enterprise Service still repairs loads of medium format cameras as well as other quality and collectable equipment. But doing the research into the digital world for his customer spring boarded him into the digital world. Many of his customers are pro photographers who are purchasing and shooting digital cameras ... and they need help. Four years ago he didn’t know digital, but now he’s able to help others and make it part of his business.
The Home Office
“We run our business from home and have invested in building an extension to our 1934 house.
We have the repair shop in the roof with a distant view of London. An additional office for paperwork and accounts. A ground floor extension which is independent from the main home with a separate entrance which acts as the show room, reception and packing area. The garage is used as a machine shop among other things.” On a clear day, Graham has a nice view of London
“Most of my business is from word of mouth. I try to give real after sales service and quality repairs.” Graham thinks that most of his professional repairs come in by word of mouth while his amateur customers come in from look ups like yellow page ads and web page.
GR Enterprise Service has a web page (www.gres.co.uk). He pays an extra fee so he can be found on Google. A good percentage of the people who find him on the web are local but he also gets many mails IN’s from around the UK.
GR Enterprise Service advertising includes the yellow pages and a similar book called the Thomson Directory which includes On-Line look ups. There is also the National Telephone Directory as well as a service called YELL both of which feature On-Line look ups.
Digital Camera Classes
GR Enterprise Service is currently involved with an ex Kodak man developing digital training. Interesting, half a world away and the same solution to the same problem!
The Firewire Port Protector
Early on Graham noticed a often expensive defect with the Kodak 14n. The Firewire plug on the camera wasn’t parallel and has slightly rounded ends. As the plug is used the flimsy socket wares causing an intermittent connection. Also the weight of the cable and twisting around while the camera is being used loosens the socket and eventually brakes the Main CCT PCB. As the connection becomes intermittent, frustrated customers start forcing and twisting the plug to get a connection. When the damage happens the socket may have to be replaced, if you are luck. If you are unlucky the Main CCT PCB will have to be replace to the tune of ƒ1,000.
GR Enterprise Service uses a UK manufacture to produce an excellent highly professional product the saves customer a lot of expense down the road. The Firewire Port Protector has been tried and tested. The adapter coverts the 4 pin to a more robust 6 pin Firewire Socket. The specially made cable is sacrificial and is designed to be replace in order to save ware and strain on the camera socket. GR Enterprise Service also make as similar adapter for the Fuji S2 and S3 cameras which have the same problem. ...... www.gres.co.uk
Underwater Photo TechStarting Out
After graduating National Camera in 1981, Fred Dion began his camera repair career working for Sanford Camera & Projector Repair. By 1985 his desire to start his own business and his interest in underwater photography combined so he started Underwater Photo-Tech.
Starting a camera repair shop aimed at a very small niche market is no small feat. And Derry, New Hampshire (40 miles north of Boston), isn’t the center of the diving world. In fact, when he started there was only one other underwater camera repair shop in the USA and that was in Texas.
Like most of us, his was a bootstrap startup and the next three years was a juggling act ... sweat equity. Build necessary test equipment where he could including his own depth test chamber, buying tools and equipment as he needed, building a customer base, working construction to meet the bills. Finally after three years, Underwater Photo-Tech became a full time business.
Fred Dion started with a small, inexpensive classified ad in a national dive trade newspaper and by attending local Dive Shows. After some trial and error, he now advertises exclusively in Dive magazines, all of them. He also expanded the Dive Shows he attends, gradually expanding outward so that now he covers the national Dive Shows.
He keeps his business marketing up-to-date. Yes, Underwater Photo-Tech has both a store front and on-line store.
Has this marketing strategy worked? I’d say so! His business has doubled in size every year since he started. Underwater Photo-Tech has grown from a one-person 200 square foot facility to a nine-employee 2000 square foot enterprise, half of which is devoted to repair.
A Customer Driven Business
Fred believes in maximizing repair income by checking to see if the customer needs lens caps, batteries, film, etc. It’s added value to his repair and customers love the service. He understands his customer’s goal; taking pictures.
In 1989 Under Photo-tech introduced the Body Cap for Nikonos® because of customer demand. Since then the line of custom accessories has grown to over twenty. They range from lens caps to remote control shark units. All through customer demand.
His repair customers also developed the sales end of his business by asking for equipment, lens, cameras, flashes etc. He didn’t see the profit in offering equipment available through normal dive shops. Competing with businesses that were feeders for his repair facility. He saw his market in high-end equipment, which wasn’t commonly available. Nice move, dive shops can refer both repairs and high-end customers to Underwater Photo-Tech without conflict. To give you some idea, an underwater housing for a D1 camera can run upwards of $5,000 ... without camera.
Of course not everybody is ready, able or interested in such expensive equipment. But they do have the desire to capture their once in a lifetime or infrequent trip. Not to worry, rentals are available. Fred pays attention to his customers.
Building Customers through Education
Early on Fred saw the need to get more people into diving and underwater photography. Diving he left to dive shops, his job was getting them to take more and better underwater pictures. He knows that photography can be a great highly addictive hobby. He just needed to get them started and show the potential. So he started offering classes and also teamed up with the Nikon School of Underwater Photography. To keep up with his customer’s interests, a new digital section has been added. Fred spends a portion of the year on trips to Bonaire, Grenada, Fiji and Indonesia. Prices for these field trips range from $564 to $4,500. How’s that for a cherry on top.
So How’s Business
Diversification is the key. While sales are off, repairs are up. While moderately priced trips to the Caribbean are slow, more expensive trips to Indonesia are sold out nine months ahead of schedule. Overall Underwater Photo-Tech is doing very well.
While Underwater camera repair is a very small niche market, there is much we can learn. First and foremost they offer a quality service. Marketing is cumulative they keep at it. They put their face out there by attending trade shows. They diversify by catering to their customers. They are involved in their customer’s goal, taking underwater pictures. They educate their customer and have figured a way to make it both a business and a pleasure. Fred Dion started on a shoestring, developed a great life for himself, his family and his employees. And his customers couldn’t be happier.
Thanh Nguyen / Fuji Photo USA
After an intensive month long technical exam on digital procedures, Thanh Nguyen was promoted to Senior Optical / Digital Repair Technician, Customer Logistics Division. A senior master technician did the testing from Fuji Japan while in the USA to set up digital testing procedures for Fuji USA. Both Chris Maxwell, National Service Manager and Fred Beck were congratulated on the excellence of their staff. Thanh Nguyen is a graduate student of C&C Associates. firstname.lastname@example.org
Southern Exposure Camera RepairStarting Out
Terry Grandfield started camera repair in 1977 courtesy of the US Navy. He spent five years in Puerto Rico repairing everything Leicas, Versamat film processors, plane mounted camera pods.
He left the US Navy in 1982 to work at a large lab in San Diego repairing machines, densitometers, mounting presses, etc. After that he worked four years in Denver Colorado for PK Photo under Paul Keys; “who taught me more about electronics than I care to imagine”.
He then traveled east and worked for Comet Camera in Philadelphia, PA for a short time. “I couldn’t handle commuting to Center City so I went to work for Green’s Camera as a technician in Holly Hills, FL. In my 14 years there, we grew from the owner and myself to 12 full time technicians. After that I moved back north to PA and spent a couple of years at Cardinal Camera. The business grew from myself repairing for Cardinal Camera to repairing cameras for approximately 20 retail stores.”
Southern Exposure Camera Repair is Born
In 2003 Terry decided to open up Southern Exposure Camera Repair. He hired a couple of technicians and bought out the parts bins from Cardinal. “Three years later, we are still growing. We have seen an increase of 20-25% from June 05 to June 06.
“We have a web presence. I also do some local radio spots but only because the radio station has a special ‘Bid on the Valley’ spot for local businesses. We also donate a digital P/S in exchange for advertising. We used to use a web “pay per click’ but as much as I may hate to say it, I stopped it because I was constantly answering email estimates and getting only a 20% response. It wasn’t worth it and I felt that my other customers were not being taken care of properly.
We found that word of mouth is our greatest form of advertising. Our customers are very loyal. I had a customer from five years ago call the other day and their first words were ‘I found you’. Customer service is of the utmost importance to me. I believe customers appreciate that and will always remember it.
We also do camera clinics. We did a clean and check in Lansdale this weekend on Friday and Saturday (1 tech on Friday and 2 on Saturday) and we took in 52 pieces. Yes, that’s 52. My technicians came back beat.”
Wholesale / Retail Mix
“I guess my wholesale retail mix would be 80% wholesale and 20% retail. But after moving here to Coopersburg, the retail is constantly growing. One of my biggest accounts Dan’s Camera in Allentown, who has a great customer service attitude, sends people here directly if the customer needs a rush or needs sensor cleaning.
A Great Idea
A short time ago Terry had a great idea, prepaid Sensory Cleaning Packs. If you can have prepaid phone minutes; why not prepaid Sensor Cleaning. “Our sensor cleaning packs are selling great. I even have several dealers selling them in stores.
The Sliding Scale
“We just mailed our first major price change in several years. And to most everyone’s surprise, a lot of cameras went down in price. As we talked about at the training in Wilkes Barre, there really needs to be a sliding scale on repairs.”
The Pay Off
“Hi Chuck. We received your bill with a note about the mail being returned. Yes we moved to a bigger facility. Our new address is...”
They service the repair needs of over 50 different camera retail stores in the Northeastern US.
Camera Repair is a small world
Packaging Image Sensor Cleaning
- Phil Zimmerman / C&C Associates trained the Navy at Pensacola on
how to repair those plane mounted camera pods at about the time Terry
was trained by the Navy. Their plane mounted camera pods were using the
Canon AE-1. And this became the groundwork for C&C first camera
- Many of us know Paul Keys of PK Photo.
- Most us are friends with Rick and Mary Green, founder and owner of Greens Camera Repair, FL.
- Comet Camera has been a fountainhead for a lot of good techs. Many of them friends and key techs around the industry.
All of us are doing sensor cleaning and in a previous newsletter we were talking about selling packs. Terry Grandfield / Southern Exposure Camera Repair has moved ahead and is now selling Digital Sensor Cleaning by the Pack; 3, 5, and the 10 (Pro) packs. Southern Exposure sells the cleaning packs direct, over the web and through his dealers.
One of his sales techniques is to spiff the counter people. The cleaning packs have become so popular that they are a standard accessory add on with new D SLR sales. Sometime dealers complain that ‘they don’t make all that much’ selling his sensor cleaning packs. His response is ‘true but you do get increased customer contact with a corresponding increase in sales of accessories and other items’. With every sale of a Sensor Cleaning Pack, his dealer is guarantee repeated returns by that consumer. And since the packs are pre-paid there is a tendency for the customer to use them more frequently. “For an investment of $300, we have already sold $2500 in sensor packs.”
<October 2006> “. We are swapped with work; can you help me find 2 more techs? Also want you to know that Sensor Packs sales are berserk” Terry
Pro8mm is interesting because this specialty and it's continued success would surprise most people. Pro8mm produces a quality product rebuilding Super 8mm, 16 and Super 16mm cameras. They have also developed a new format, Max8. They have an expanding market in both rental and sales of their products with both student and professional cinematographers. Recently they contacted us looking for technicians to help them continue to meet their market demand
The Camera Craftsman
“Chuck - I'm busier than every - digital is great and complements our film repair business in Massachusetts. 30th year. Expert Camera Repair, Sales and Rental … Strong - Strong - Strong” Jim <September 2006>