When I was a wee bairn still at school and first getting the photography bug, there were three Photographic dealers that I used, and gave all my pennies to. There was a local dealer in Ruislip where I lived with my parents, Euro Foto Centre a large warehouse type concern in Cowley/Uxbridge, North West London, and Jessops of Leicester.
The local dealer, like most others, has gone to the wall, Euro Foto Centre, has metamorphosed into a carpet warehouse (apparently), of the three, only Jessops still exists, but for how much longer?
Ever since the private equity firm ABN Amro Capital bought Jessops for £116m in 2002, the camera superstore chain seems to have lost its way. And if the reports from the British Journal of photography and Amateur Photographer are to be believed, has become totally baffled in the process.
81 shops were closed (out of 315) in 2007, after the business declared a thumping loss of £8.5 Million. The big flagship Leicester store closed last year, much to everyone’s surprise, and since then things just haven’t improved, with the announcement recently that sales for the 14 weeks to 5 January were down 5.6%. Not just that but as Retail Week published on Feb 6th, the losses were up to £19.1 Million from £9.3 Million the previous year.
Jessops is now on a thinly disguised dash to get cash.
So what went wrong?
Whilst Jessops were a family firm, (from 1935 –1996), the business was always getting better and held in high regard. It was a business run by people who believed in what they did and the staff had a passion for their work. After the management buyout in 1996 with more stores being bought, it might be felt by many that the firm started to lose its focus.
After the ABN buyout, all pretence that Jessops was your local camera store, or the experts in Leicester ceased. The focus on the business stopped being service, but became just about the money.
For more than fifty years, Jessops provided a service for the amateur photographer, and indeed 'Amateur Photographer' readers were the company's natural clients. In the 21st Century the business seems to have lost sight of its natural client base – keen amateur photographers. Like many involved in photography, Jessops seem to have been put well off their stride by the digital age. Let’s face it, it didn’t just happen overnight, it crept up stealthily upon us all during the nineties, and by 2002 digital was just here. But what has digital changed? Well to be honest not a lot. The cameras all function much the same way – an EOS 5MKII is very similar to an EOS 1 of 1990 vintage. The lenses too – much the same. We have professional kit, and serious amateur kit, high functioning compacts, and happy snaps – much the same as Frank Jessops dealt with back in 1935.
The only change is in the processing. The mystique of the darkroom has changed for the joy of the computer :-)
Had the business evolved along with the equipment it was trying to sell, one can only imagine that Jessops would have at least maintained its strong easily identifiable client base. As the equipment changed, as the processing changed, the amateur photographer, keen, as ever to keep up with the latest piece of kit, needed new toys. Along with new paraphernalia the amateur photographic spender also needed advice, help and tuition (and still does). Jessops simply failed to fill this gap.
With Jessops failing to provide expertise, and instead concentrating on making price its unique selling point, even with the 315 shops acquired by 2007, the business did not have the buying power to be able to compete with the likes of Boots, Tesco, Sainsburys, all of whom had identified the gains to be made in the low end of the digital photographic market. Clearly, none of these outlets had the digital expertise either, but with this missing from Jessops, there was no longer any attraction in the ailing giant. If you need a cheap camera and just want it cheap, why go to Jessops?
With the business obviously being in trouble for more then two years, (presumably the signs have been there longer if one had been a Jessops Director), it is surprising that the business seems to have been doing nothing to recapture its natural client base.
Jessops sends me e-mails every week, as I am sure it does to hundreds of thousands of potential clients, but with the same lame offers. A SanDisc Ultra II SDHC card, at a cut price, wonderful, until you check the details and find that everyone else is selling SanDisc III units much faster, much better, and much the same price. Canon 450D camera and 18-55 lens for £529 - £468 from Warehouse Express, £469 from Argos, so not even the cheapest then.
So why should an amateur photographer buy from Jessops?
Nope, I can’t think of a reason either…
Now, if I wanted to run a successful camera store, I would find out what the chaps (and Chapettes) at local camera clubs were doing. What Amateur Photographer readers are interested in? I would be catering for their needs. Putting on seminars, going to the clubs, providing education in digital imaging (by experts not shop assistants). Having camera club nights where local clubs could come in (on an invite only basis) and get advice and kit (how about a 10% discount on club nights), have some professional photographers on hand to answer questions.
Printing experts who can talk knowledgeably, but not ‘down’ to the customer. Staff whose motivation is not just making the sale but making the customer happy. Happy customers come back, and keen amateur photographers generally buy a lot of kit, and with digital imaging, that gives a dealership a lot of scope.
What is the point of selling a keen photographer a decent camera and telling him/her to go elsewhere to buy his/her computer, and his/her software, and to find out how to use his/her new toys? It isn’t rocket science, and it will work, but to succeed it will require a lot of effort and a huge change in the company’s way of dealing with photographers.
© 2009 Pete Jenkins