Written by Elliot Stern / Edited by Brian Zwit
Wheeling and Dealing: My Rant for Our Local Camera Stores
Wheeler Dealers. They forever ask the same questions.
How much are you going to take off the price? What are you going to give me for free? What deal are you going to give me for buying in your store? Why should I buy from you when I can buy the same thing online and not pay any sales tax? (You might not pay any sales tax but you are breaking the law! If an online store doesn’t collect sales tax on your order, the law requires you to declare your purchase and pay sales tax on it. Also, many online stores are now collecting sales tax because they have established a presence in your state and that requires them by law to collect sales tax.)
I have worked in wholesale, retail, and education in the photography businesses. I have seen this attitude for way too long. I am writing about this short-sighted attitude to educate you about why having a local brick and mortar camera store is so important to your success as a photographer.
Before I begin, one caveat is that, if the camera store does not stock the item you are looking for, I find nothing wrong with getting that item through the Internet from a reliable and honest on-line camera store.
Let’s create a scenario. A consumer wanting to buy a camera, lens or accessory walks into a camera store. As an example they ask to see a Nikon D810, a Nikon flash, and a 24-70 zoom lens.
The person behind the counter pulls the demo gear off the shelf. (The gear you are looking at, fondling, and sneezing on is part of the dealers inventory. Camera companies do not supply demo cameras). The salesperson goes through the cameras features and answers all your questions as you possibly fire the camera a couple of hundred times. By the time you are ready to buy, the salesperson behind the counter has spent about one half hour or longer teaching you about the camera, flash, and lens.and recommending accessories to make your experience owning the camera better.
After hearing the price: you ask what are you going to do for me? How much are you taking off the price? If I buy here, what are you going to throw in for free. Will you match the online store’s lower price? Will you waive the state taxes? Wow!
So why is this bad?
- A local camera store is always there for you to check out gear. They pay the rent and all of the other overhead it takes to run a small business. America is based on small businesses.
- A local camera store hires very knowledge people (usually) to assist you. Good people cost money but they are worth it because you get what you need, which is sometimes not what you wanted because good sales people will recommend other options that could save you money in the long run. You may be looking at the Nikon D810 but might only need the D500.
A good camera store will normally have lots of inventory so that you can go home with the products the same day. Its inventory is usually very diverse, some of which sells quickly and some which does not.
- To ask a camera store to waive the taxes is illegal. Besides the fact that store is legally obligated to collect sales tax, we should not forget that sales taxes are part of what funds your local community and state; it educates your children and maintains the sewer system, roads, and other infrastructure where you live. So, the next time you complain about pot holes, pipes breaking, snow removal, and police, firefighters, and emergency personnel or sadly need an ambulance to take you to the hospital, think about whether it is really important to ask a camera store to waive the taxes.
- A local camera store that is properly run always has both their customer and their ability to stay in business in the forefront. If and when you should have a problem, the camera store will be there for you where a mail order house in another state will likely not be.
- A camera store, when it comes to most products would be happy to make 5% on a camera or lens. It is not a high profit business so to ask them to match a mail order price, pay your taxes for you, keep lots of inventory for you to look at, have experienced sales personnel to assist, teach you, and work out your problems, pay credit card fee and check cashing fees is simply not fair. Would you be willing to give up the money you make because someone can buy your services from another source, putting you out of business. What do you do for a living? If you had to lower your prices to stay competitive with invisible competition how long would you remain in business?
When I worked in retail, I was always amazed how many consumers would ask me to lower the price. It never dawned on them that they were disrespecting the time I spent with them. They had no appreciation for the knowledge I passed on to them and the instruction I gave them on all things photographic. They put no value on my services or the camera store owners services and would go off out the door and order the products, which is what they intended to do all along.
And yet that same person days later would show up at the store with the gear they purchased on line asking for help on how to work out the settings and functions of the camera.
That is very sad. indeed. In the hopes that they might buy something from the store most camera store owners will provide service on products they did not sell even though they spent a great deal of time showing you, teaching you about the products you were interested in. I do remember a camera store in Cleveland Ohio who put up a sign up on his wall stating “If you did not buy it here, then the information charge will be 25.00 for 15 minutes.
When I came to the Washington DC area, there were a large number of camera stores in Washington, Virginia, and Maryland. Twelve that I can remember and, now, there are three. If consumers continue to disrespect the value of a camera store in their own neighborhood then the few that are left will disappear as well, leaving everyone with no local support. That will be on the consumer who wants deal after deal without any consideration as to what it takes to run a camera store and the real services they provide.
This is my rant. Support local businesses and pay for the services that you receive and deserve from any business. Stop trying to bleed away the small profits that camera stores make and just support them with your purchases. You want a deal? The deal is the services a camera store provides for you. If that is not worth the time or efforts or money stop taking up the time that a camera store will give you so they can better serve the people who do support them.