Return of the camera store

Sometime over the last few months, the last dedicated camera store in Columbia closed. I’m not sure when the Ritz Camera on Beltline closed, but it is no longer there.

Camera stores have been closing for a long time. My favorite local camera store was Columbia Photo on Devine Street, where I purchased my first new camera. It closed years ago. I remember there being several Ritz and Wolf stores all over Columbia. But one by one, they’ve closed. A combination of the pressures of online retailers, big box retailers and the eradication of the film processing market.


The mythical EOS M, which I would love to try out if I could find one.

The reason I bring this up is that I needed a camera store this week. It’s time for me to upgrade my older - but still functional - Digital Rebel. I want to take a look at the new EOS M and compare it to a Canon EOS T4i. I can order it online, but the new, smaller mirrorless design makes me nervous. Online reviews say it might focus a little slow and it might be too small for liking. Before I make a decision, I want to hold the camera in my hands and talk to knowledgable salespersons.

No one in Columbia has the EOS M. (I’m starting to think that “M” stands for “mythical.”) And while the selection of cameras in the big box retailers is okay, they often don’t have the latest models. Sometimes the demo units don’t have batteries. Or the anti-theft devices are so large, you can’t get a feel for how the camera actually feels when you hold it. The sales people have very little info or training on the cameras. Buying a camera is a terrible experience.

This isn’t unique to Canon. This is for every camera on the market. I’ve wanted to look at Nikon and Olympus cameras before and had the exact same experience.

This feels familiar…

It honestly reminds me of Apple’s situation before they started opening the Apple Stores. I remember going in to Circuit City or Best Buy and half of the Macs weren’t working. The sales people couldn’t explain anything about the Macs. The retail purchasing experience was terrible at a time when going online to purchase your computer was getting easier.

Apple rolled out the Apple Stores and created the best environment to experience their products. An environment where they could teach people about computers. Sell accessories. Provide service. The improvement in the retail experience was not just limited to the Apple-owned stores. Best Buy and Apple partnered on developing a “Store-Within-A-Store” concept. Slowly, the purchasing experience at other outlets got better, too.

The Canon Store

In my opinion, Canon (or Nikon) needs to follow in Apple’s footsteps. Nice cameras are a significant investment. The interest in photography seems to be surging. And a company-owned store helps you build loyalty to your brand. I think a Canon retail store would be a destination shop at a mall if done correctly.

I could imagine a store in a high traffic area. A selection of cameras available for people to try out from simple point and shoot cameras to high-end DSLRs. Video equipment. A nice range of accessories like lenses, flashes and printers.

Trained sales people can show off your products and connect customers with the right product for them. Add a classroom area in the back where people can learn how to get the most out of their purchases. Service and support. Design anti-theft devices that don’t hinder the operation of the camera. And make sure the batteries are charged.

How many entry level users ever buy a new lens for their interchangeable lens camera? Or an external flash? A quality photo printer? A Canon store could help users see the advantages of adding to their system.

I don’t think a camera store like this should fall into the trap of also trying to do prints or enlargement. Leave that business to Shutterfly and the big box stores like Walmart. Focus on the cameras and the experience of the user.

The big risk

It would be a big risk, just like the Apple Store was. Most pundits thought the Apple Stores would be a complete failure. A chain of retail stores is a sigficant investment.

But if done correctly, it could pay off massively and develop a new generation of loyal customers. The more lenses and accessories they have that work with your system, the less likely they are to switch to another brand with their next purchase. And a retail store gives you the ability to interact with those customers and build deep and long-lasting relationships.