In 1996, after working at almost every camera store in Calgary, Peter Jeune and Julian Ferreira decided they could do it better. And they did. By staying one step ahead of the industry trends, The Camera Store, is now the largest independent photographic retailer in Western Canada.
Jeune and Ferreira started off small, literally, in a 1,200-square-foot space. The only full-time employee was Jeune, while the company’s CFO came in at night to do the books after working her regular job during the day.
“The store was smaller then than our stock room now,” Ferreira jokes. “It was basically a closet with a window.”
However, it wasn’t the space that presented the first challenge; it was procuring products. Two of the main camera manufacturers, along with several accessory manufacturers, wouldn’t sell to The Camera Store. “I understand why they did that,” Jeune says. “They felt the market was too saturated, and they didn’t need someone else in there.”
That didn’t stop Jeune and Ferreira, though; instead, they sold a lot of film, dark-room products, and used equipment. The duo reached out to connections from past jobs, such as commercial photographers and local photography students, and began to build the company’s clientele. As the business began to grow, the next challenge presented itself when the industry began its most dramatic change: the conversion of traditional photography to digital photography.
“We approached the situation very carefully and realized from an early point that we didn’t have the computer expertise to deal with digital imaging,” Jeune says. “So we hired a computer specialist who helped us get through these technological barriers we were facing, instead of trying to train ourselves. It was the biggest difference between our competitors and us. It’s a lot easier now than it was then, but we still have a full-time computer person. As a matter of fact, it’s the same person.”
Today, the store (still only one location, by choice) is sized at 7,000 square feet. A total of 31 full-time employees make up the staff, and in addition to cameras, they sell everything from lenses, printers, scanners, and books, to video, lighting, and home-studio equipment.
The biggest seller right now are medium- to high-end SLR cameras, which can range anywhere between $400 and $7,500. “Cameras are like computers: They are no longer a luxury,” Ferreira says. “They are a necessity, and people are willing to spend money on that.”
Shock- and waterproof, compact cameras are also big sellers, as they’re ideal for customers to use when travelling. But Jeune says it’s the relatively new mirrorless cameras that are quickly edging their way up as top sellers. “In Japan, [mirrorless cameras] take up 40 percent of the market,” Jeune says. “In Canada, it’s less than 10 percent. I think they will eventually take over here, too.”
To keep its customers educated and informed about all the new products and software, The Camera Store itself has gone digital. It started with a blog—one of the first photo-related blogs in the country—where customers can check out reviews, events, and more. To make this information even more dynamic and sharable, The Camera Store also launched a YouTube Channel, which has more than 9,000 subscribers and more than 3.7 million views, partly due to a comedic video that went viral internationally.
In addition to the typical way of communicating with customers online, The Camera Store has developed its own social network called Photo Republick. Much like Facebook, members can upload photos, join groups, and share articles, but on this network, users are able to manage their equipment as well. “On Photo Republik, you keep a list of all your gear, and the users are notified via e-mail when updates are available,” Jeune says. “It’s a truly unique feature of the site.”
So how do two guys who have been in the business for more than 30 years manage to keep up with the changes in the industry and in marketing? “You have to surround yourself with like-minded people,” Ferreira says. “And it helps if they are young and smart.”