Don’t worry about the future of specialty photo retailing. Art’s Cameras Plus understands the need for optimum customer and employee experiences to foster their continued growth. Tony Miresse, supported significantly by his wife, Geneen, is CEO of Art’s. The two-store retailer has locations in Greenfield and Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Having learned from his father, Art—who founded the company—Tony Miresse has a solid reputation among vendors. His expos and tent sales are well known for bringing traffic to vendor booths. Because Miresse establishes his event schedule a year or more in advance, and consistently produces above average traffic for events of Art’s size, sales reps love to participate. Their time and investment are respected, and robust sales are the typical result.
How does Miresse do this? “We start the morning with a line outside and an opening bell rush. This excitement gets adrenaline flowing in the sales reps manning the booths,” he says. “I steal every idea I can. At one PRO convention, Gregg Burger of Precision Camera told us door prizes weren’t effective to get customers to the front door. Door prizes are a chance to win something. Instead Gregg gave away money—gift cards that could be used that day. We copied his idea and got more people than ever before. We quit asking manufacturers for less effective door prizes.”
The Miresses looked at the PRO buying group back in the 1980s but didn’t join. “We were good negotiators, so why did we need PRO? How little we understood what we were missing,” he recalls. Art’s finally joined in 1998. Moreover, Tony Miresse was elected to the board of directors in 2000. He quickly became secretary and today is a vice president and the nominating committee chair for the international buying group.
Rather than cherry-picking a multitude of vendors, Miresse fully utilizes the talent of the PRO buying group.
“The people at PRO are very sharp, knowing what’s selling today and what will be selling tomorrow,” he explains. “If I could buy as smart and as sharp as they do, could I buy it for less? Not a chance! I prefer to sell proven products from our brand (ProMaster). But if PRO doesn’t have a particular product, I always try to buy it from a PRO-approved vendor before going outside the PRO network.”
Miresse is quick to give credit to others for the success of Art’s. “Pete Koenig and Dan Flynn have our rental departments booming. The strategic ideas and systems we use were pioneered by PRO members. George’s Camera gave us the idea and economic formula for taking new inventory and renting it when demanded. B&C Camera pioneered 24/7 online rental reservations using Checkfront software. This doubled the reservations of some PRO members while halving their personnel costs.” In addition, the Camera Company in Madison displays available rental equipment in front door showcases to increase awareness of Art’s rental offerings.
The new rental software does “suggest and sell.” Rent lighting and you’re prompted to add MagMod equipment. Checkfront also gives management reports that can identify underused rental assets, as well as areas where more gear is needed. It also tracks no-charge employee or other rentals, so management can quantify these fringe benefits.
Art’s also has a self-funded rental equipment damage waiver, prompted online. For only 15% of the rental price, the customer is covered for 90% of any damage, regardless of cause. There’s also a 10% co-pay to ensure customers use their best efforts to protect the equipment. Pete Koenig says, “If we don’t tell the customer about the damage waiver, we’re doing them a disservice.”
Art’s Cameras Plus: The Kit King
Moreover, at Art’s they feel obligated to make sure customers have the essentials to get maximum enjoyment from each purchase. So they offer multiple kit options to simplify the process for both the customer and the salesperson.
They’ve sold so many kits over the decades that Tony Miresse is called the “Kit King.” A customer considering a camera purchase is advised there’s a basic essentials kit as well as a premium essentials kit. There’s a different kit for compact cameras, another for DSLRs—four kits in all. Depending on the camera purchased, each kit allows substitution of bags, filters, batteries, etc.
In addition, each kit is rung up in the Prophetline POS system. One SKU then explodes to the requisite number of line items. The salesperson is prompted to scan the correct filter, battery, etc. If the selected products aren’t properly scanned, the commission won’t be paid and an error report is generated to correct the data.
“We call them ‘essential’ kits because the contents are really essential for good picture taking. Instead of including junk, like most online kits, we use quality ProMaster products,” Miresse says. “ProMaster has the best warranty in the business, and every employee uses and recommends ProMaster products. The premium kit has ProMaster HGX Prime filters and Rugged memory cards—both are the best products in their category. The kits are a great value for the consumer and also make it easier for the salesperson to deliver everything with a single ‘yes’ buying decision.”
The Educated Customer
Miresse believes educated customers will be more successful photographers and become more loyal shoppers. So they include a class with each kit and encourage customers to attend.
Customers also are shown the money they’ve saved by taking advantage of sales and promotions. The sales team effectively helps customers “spend your savings on things that
will enhance your picture taking.” Some may say, “Since the camera is on sale with a $200 instant savings, use that $200 to purchase our premium essentials kit.”
In addition, Art’s offers one-on-one training with a twist. For $79, customers get an hour with their choice of instructor. If they buy a certificate for a second hour before finishing the first hour, it’s $69 for the next session, regardless of when it’s taken. At the second session, a third session can be booked for $59. After that, the cost remains $59 for all hourly certificates bought during any session. Salespeople conduct these sessions when they’re off the clock and receive $25/hour, plus commissions from any sales.
Classes By Request
Monica Laatsch, head of Art’s Education and Events Department, oversees the wide variety of classes and events. At each class, participants receive an evaluation sheet that lists two dozen topics. Customers check the boxes of classes they are interested in taking. There’s also a blank space where they can add a class not on the list. When those classes are offered, the customer receives a personalized invitation: “The class you asked for is here!” Dan Flynn’s very popular Astro Photography workshop, which consists of a class and a late-night star shoot, was added because people asked for it.
Focused Photo Excursions
Moreover, Art’s FOCUS Group (Fun Opportunities for Capturing Unique Shots) is an idea Miresse stole from the Camera Company. It’s a store-sponsored equivalent of an old-time camera club that morphed into a series of organized picture-taking excursions.
The first shoot was a nighttime county fair event hosted by Waukesha manager Ray Llanas. The group consisted of only two participants. Art’s shared the amazing time exposures they got of the Ferris wheel and the midway in their newsletter promoting the FOCUS Group. Today, it offers monthly events with an average of 30 members attending. Some events have attracted as many as 70 participants!
“Our FOCUS Group members get 24-hour prenotification before public registration opens,” says Laatsch. “They learn quickly that events often sell out and register promptly. We charge a registration fee to ensure participants show up and to cover out-of-pocket expenses, administrative costs and staffing.”
Art’s is also a Buy Local proponent. One of the FOCUS events is a trip to Waukesha Floral and Greenhouses. It’s a winter event to shoot colorful macro photos in a greenhouse. The garden center provides hot coffee/chocolate and munchies. Art’s promotion brings in people who have never visited the garden center. And the garden center promotes it to their customers, introducing people to Art’s.
Another recent FOCUS Group outing was scheduled for Door Bluff County Park on the peninsula separating Lake Michigan from Green Bay. The weather was blustery, even by Wisconsin standards. However, the group agreed to take pictures in the rain. The resulting images were spectacular, giving rise to a new class at Art’s: Why Your Best Pictures Come in Bad Weather.
Still growing, Art’s has 25 employees. Miresse believes it’s important to pay them above “normal retail.” He’s listened to companies like Bedford Camera & Video on creating compensation programs that reward those who are cost efficient and offer the best customer service.
Art’s also has an aggressive commission and spiff program. Employees are allowed to receive direct payments from key camera manufacturers. Most ProMaster products have at least a 5% commission. Occasionally, an additional commission is connected to overstock or clearance items. Miresse prefers to give markdown money to the salespeople rather than lower prices. If an item doesn’t sell quickly with the enhanced commission, then he drops the price and reduces or eliminates commissions. Furthermore, new employees have a 90-day test-drive period. They’re paid an hourly rate higher than their eventual rate but no commissions. Miresse doesn’t want inexperienced people attempting to make a sale just for the commission before they’re properly trained.
“Our sales team’s income is part hourly, part commission and spiffs,” he explains. “We publish everyone’s commissions, so employees can see how they measure up to their peers. At year-end, we get 1099 income reports of spiff dollars paid by vendors. We combine these figures with what we paid out and show that the top producers make more than $9/hour in total commissions. The information is shared with seasoned salespeople as well as new hires. This makes clear the actual income salespeople can earn at Art’s.”
After 90 days, the employee sits down with a manager to determine if there’s a future at Art’s and if they feel they’ve found a home. Most times the quality of the fit is evident before 90 days. Miresse tries to be “slow to hire, quick to fire,” so the team is cohesive and focused.
Team Training at Art’s
Team training is critical. “ProMaster’s PRO Insider online training is optional,” Miresse explains. “If you want to participate in the spiff program, you must complete every module.” The training is so beneficial he’s never had to enforce that rule.
The free product salespeople earn from the ProMaster program doesn’t hurt. Employees also give Sony’s Cyber Scholar program and Tamron’s online training high reviews.
Dan Flynn, Greenfield’s manager, runs Art’s weekly sales meeting. Sometimes, without warning, someone is asked to explain the benefits of a product. Everyone is motivated to be up to date on every product. Most weeks employees share a sales tip or information about products in their AOR (Area of Responsibility). “It’s critical the entire team hears the message and gets any questions answered,” Flynn asserts.
Meeting notes are also e-mailed to the team. Everyon must “Reply All” with at least one thing they learned from the meeting. The vendors Flynn brings in are coached ahead of time with outlines to ensure they’ll have meaningful content. His favorite request to reps is: “Tell us something we don’t know that we can use to sell your product.”
For smaller vendors, Skype training worked flawlessly. WANDRD’s bag designers explained why their bags shouldn’t be seen as expensive but as a necessary investment for the serious outdoor person. Once the team understood the product’s uniqueness, they wanted to own one. This led to WANDRD establishing a generous “Sell Five Own One” promotion for retail salespeople.
Monitoring Sales Metrics
In addition, sales trainer Rick Wright suggests, “Upon clocking in for a shift, employees should: (1) check their e-mail for any urgent issues; (2) walk through the back room to see what’s in stock and what’s out of stock, so they don’t sell what they can’t deliver; (3) work on their AOR when customer flow is slow.”
Miresse also learned the benefits of monitoring sales metrics from Dan’s Camera City and Lakeside Camera Photoworks. He sets acceptable standards for the attachment rate of key product categories, then tracks and publishes each sales associate’s success in reaching these goals. This identifies when an associate needs further training in certain areas. It also creates a good-natured competition among team members and increases the entire team’s success.
Promotions & Marketing
Art’s does well with Canon printer promotions, including larger models. Miresse feels they could do better with paper and ink sales. He believes most customers would print more if they knew how to take full advantage of their printer’s features.
So with Canon’s support, they contacted customers who purchased a Canon printer and invited them to a Get to Know Your Printer class. Registration was $10, which included a $10 gift card. More than 20 people participated.
Furthermore, Art’s web strategy is to use its Big Commerce website like the Yellow Pages was used decades ago. Convince customers it’s worthwhile to come into the store. Online sales are mostly gift cards, classes, used equipment as well as rental reservations. Walk-in customers often mention they saw what they wanted on Art’s website.
Miresse also promotes used equipment. It’s an important category for Art’s. Miresse says he’s been tutored by the best, including Calagaz Photo, National Camera Exchange, Roberts and Biggs Camera. The most important lesson is: “If a customer wants to sell you used gear, you can’t say ‘come back when the manager’s here.’ If you’re open for business, you must have associates trained and empowered to take trades and buy used equipment on the spot.”
He also likes self-liquidating promotions. ProMaster sells a wide-angle lens for smartphones. At one expo, the first 50 people got a free wide-angle lens. Miresse then offered them the opportunity to trade it in for the four-lens kit at a substantial discount. They sold enough of the kits to turn what would have been a promotional cost into a profit.
Services & Seminars
Services also are an important part of Art’s business plan. “We used to offer express print services for a higher price, but few customers selected that option. Now the kiosks default to express
services at a slightly lower price than previously offered. The customer gets a discount if they switch it to three-day service. It’s an attitudinal shift, not more money for express but a discount for using three-day. About 60% of retail consumers now use the express service,” Miresse reports.
Moreover, Art’s loves to give deals. Join the Learn and Shoot Club for $49 and you get 25% off every program and the opportunity for early registration for classes and events. Sometimes club members get unannounced gifts. On one trip, every club member got a free monopod to use and keep.
Free Seminar Saturdays are also big hits, another idea “borrowed” from the Camera Company and Dan’s Camera City. Each store holds them twice a year. These four 30-minute sessions start every hour. Many customers come for all four sessions, others for just a specific one. The half-hour between seminars lets them see (and buy) the products discussed in the class.
24/7 Social Media
Claire Kopperud runs social media for Art’s. You can find her handiwork at #OnlyAtArts and on Art’s Facebook page. Kopperud produces short (under three minutes) videos. When appropriate, she includes the bloopers to build more authentic relationships with viewers. She believes you have to be “there”—authentic, ready and prepared—to deliver instantly with information or products.
It’s a 24/7 world and that’s hard for retailers. Art’s has a half-dozen management people on the social media response team. So usually messages are answered within an hour. Many of Art’s customers prefer to communicate through Facebook than by phone or e-mail.
In addition, team members are encouraged to have their own “personal” company Facebook page. These are the only pages where they should interact with Facebook customers as Art’s employees.
Kopperud is also responsible for Art’s Ambassador program. They include Zak Gruber, who shoots with Nikons, and Nick Swanson, who shoots with Canon equipment. They’re both passionate about the imaging industry and eager to help people enjoy photography. The ambassadors are loaned equipment at no charge. In addition, they usually post reviews and share positive thoughts about Art’s, which is better than advertising.
Breaking the stereotypical perception of a millennial, Kopperud says, “The cool thing about working at Art’s is everyone is multifaceted. It’s fun to dip into everything. The variety of jobs Art’s requires is great. The people are fantastic. We’re very busy here, and that makes it even more fun to work at Art’s.”
“We have a close-knit group, many of whom frequently get together outside of business hours,” Tony Miresse adds. “We run our company on traditional Christian values. I truly believe God has put very smart people in my path and has blessed me with the wisdom to listen and learn from them.”
Leaving Art’s was difficult for us, because there’s so much more to report on this extraordinary retailer. These are great people, doing a superb job, making sure the imaging industry is always shown in its best light. It is a genuinely happy place—well staffed and well run—a beacon for us all. Art’s Cameras Plus truly reflects the values, ideals and business acumen worthy of Digital Imaging Reporter’s Dealer of the Year!