Wildly Optimistic about the Future of Photo Retail, B&C Camera Is Focused on Bringing Customers Superb Value, Great Community and the Widest Possible Selection
At Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, the German tourist was awed by the first active volcano he’d ever seen. The excitement and majesty caused him to drop his 14–24mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. Thus began the unique journey of B&C Camera to DIR’s 2016 Dealer of the Year.
Back in Germany, Joe Dumic was a successful mortgage banker, with 1,000 people reporting to him. His photographic passion and interest in “all things American” inspired him to take an extended trip to see the States.
With his lens kaput after dropping it in Hawaii, Dumic—a nature/landscape photographer—needed to replace it. In Las Vegas, the next stop in his travels, he visited Casey’s Cameras. No success. Sahara Camera Center didn’t have one either. But Vicki Flegal, Sahara Camera’s owner, always focused on customer care. She called around and found a lens in stock at B&C Camera. Dumic headed there.
It was the greatest “add-on sale” in camera store history. Edda Brandt, B&C’s owner, sold Dumic the lens—and ultimately the whole store to go with it. Brandt had founded the store with her husband, Peter, in 1971. However, his health was failing and she explained the store would prosper better under a new owner. Dumic left pondering the potential.
Most photographic manufacturers had written off Las Vegas. Several stores there did so-so volume. None showed the aggressive marketing or embrace of new technologies so evident in other major markets. The excuse was that Las Vegas, for its market size, had the country’s lowest average income and education level, mostly due to the casino-fed service economy. The imaging industry erroneously assumed no contemporary, aggressive camera store could be viable there.
A few months later, Dumic celebrated his 40th birthday in Las Vegas with his father and some friends. On a whim, he took them to B&C and explained how he could potentially own the store. They encouraged him to take the plunge.
The way he maximized this business opportunity was as unique as his operational style. He moved into a Las Vegas youth hostel for the next nine months. While navigating all of the immigration issues, he had to upgrade the store with minimal cash. At the hostel, Dumic met people who had flexible daily schedules. One day he carried a case of beer through the hostel and asked, “Who wants to help me drink this? We’ll start as soon as we finish painting my new store.”
With the help of his new friends and some beer, Dumic transformed the space. In a borrowed truck, he drove to a Los Angeles IKEA store to buy his showcases and store fixtures and took them back to Vegas. Another case of beer attracted an assembly-and-setup crew. His first year in Las Vegas, where it can hit 115º in summer, he drove an old car without air-conditioning.
Passionate about low costs over creature comforts, Dumic’s frugal side allowed him—with internal cash flow—to transform a 1,200-square-foot store into today’s 5,000-square-foot powerhouse B&C Camera located at 4511 West Sahara Avenue.
Dumic needed a reliable team. Angela Mejia worked for Edda Brandt and remains today on the B&C team. Bob Van Nostran was Brandt’s repair technician. “Retired,” he only works one day a week doing repairs as well as camera and sensor cleanings.
Dumic’s first hire was Rob Vaitiekus, another guest at the hostel. Observing his work ethic, Dumic offered him a job. As things got busier at the new B&C, Vaitiekus brought on his brother, Prince Beverly.
From his customers, Dumic recruited Lucy Wu, Terrell Nessley, Kris Krainock, Ashley Hoffer, Darrian Gehner and Derrick Manual. He knew they would match the culture he was building.
Then a college photography professor Dumic knew and trusted recommended Greg Jackson. And from Casey’s Cameras, Taylor Yanke and Ron Phelps came over to B&C. They both knew of Kyle Okiec, a Leica specialist who was also invited to join the team.
Currently, there are nine full-time employees and five part-time. All B&C employees start at nearly double the minimum wage with fringe benefits above industry norms.
Dumic believes employees should show maximum productivity—always adding value to the company—and be well rewarded for their efforts. He feels each job must be structured to maximize employee contribution so the company can afford to pay them enough for good housing, reliable transportation and a comfortable lifestyle.
About half the full-time employees attend the PRO show twice a year. While this stretches the team remaining at home, everyone agrees the long-term benefits outweigh the temporary strain of being understaffed for a couple of days. The B&C team spreads out at the show, attends different breakouts and exchanges ideas with other leading photo retailers. The education they get at the show makes the employees more effective, adding value to B&C’s operations.
B&C employees enjoy fixed hours each week. “I don’t send people home when we’re not busy. They need constant income, so they have other tasks to accomplish when the store isn’t busy,” Dumic says. This also fosters an extremely loyal team.
And B&C sets goals for employees and management. The general manager’s bonus plan is based on the successful launch of the still growing rental department. Everyone has a sales target for Mack Diamond warranties. Dumic doesn’t have an office at B&C; he has a laptop and a phone. No matter where in the world he is, he checks in online to see who sold what each day. Employees also can access their sales and goals daily.
Security is a problem in Las Vegas. When Dumic bought Casey’s Cameras on the east side of Vegas, the neighborhood was deteriorating so rapidly he was concerned for his employees’ safety. He combined Casey’s store with his existing location on West Sahara Avenue. The overall store remodel features a security systems investment that exceeded $70,000. There are double and triple redundancies of all systems. Multiple phone and Internet providers are used for audio, visual and infrared security systems. Roll-down shutters, steel reinforced doors, composite walls and roofs were installed to protect the store.
B&C’s focused team is cross-trained. Every office worker also covers the sales floor. Any team member may be asked to wash windows, clean the toilets or empty the trash. Technology helps productivity. The website—BandCCamera.com—is up to date and mobile friendly. Customers can also register and pay for classes or reserve rental equipment online.
Dumic also felt a Leica boutique was a vital positioning statement. He sees the inventory and fixture investment as a marketing investment because the Leica boutique attracts a different and valuable customer to the store. He believes the new Leica Sofort instant camera that uses Instax film will sell well at B&C priced at $299.
The PRO Connection
In September 2016, Dumic was elected to the PRO buying group’s board of directors. In October, he went to Australia to represent the ProMaster brand at the Camera House/Raleru convention of leading Australian camera stores. From Sydney, he personally supervised all of the products introduced at the PRO convention that were ordered there by B&C and entered them into his information system back in Vegas.
Dumic told the Australians, “ProMaster accounts for ‘only’ 8.6% of our sales with 24.9% of our entire gross margin. We stock more than 1,000 items from the PRO warehouse. The fact they ship so quickly and accurately makes the administrative costs of dealing with PRO the lowest of any vendor. The quality is outstanding. If there are defectives, credit is issued the next day after reporting it. I admit I was skeptical about PRO when I first heard about it. Today I tell you, B&C could not be where it is without the PRO buying group.”
In most categories, B&C doesn’t exclusively stock ProMaster products. ProMaster is a major brand and they represent it with the other major brands. A specialty store must stock most major brands. This is especially true for B&C, because a nearby big-box store has a photo superstore within with a very broad selection. B&C has to stay competitive and attractive.
A Customer-Centric Focus
Being in Las Vegas poses unique concerns that B&C has had to deal with. Tourists are important to any Las Vegas retailer. If you can’t deliver what they want instantly, they’re gone forever. On the other hand, if local customers can’t get what they want immediately, they may order it online where they get delivery faster than most manufacturers will ship the product to B&C. So, a customer-centric approach is paramount.
Dumic also believes obsolete inventory makes the store look unprofessional, so he will spiff up products he needs to clean out. He also works with manufacturers to swap out dead stock, even if it requires payment of a restocking fee. Customers’ perceptions of the store’s ambiance as a place for new, cutting-edge products are what motivate him.
Customer-centric concerns are considered every day. For instance, should B&C open on Sunday? To decide, Dumic spent numerous Sundays in the store to see who came in or called with queries. As a result, the store is now open seven days a week, and he pitches in to keep costs down and operations under control. “Find good people and delegate important tasks to them. Then run the store together with them,” Dumic says.
“In years past, customers would ask for a certain brand camera and stores would try to up sell them to a more profitable brand. Today the time and effort to switch customers to another camera brand isn’t worth it. If the product fits what the customers’ needs are, let them have it. Spend your time helping customers understand their needs and ensuring they have the accessories needed to get the most from their equipment.”
In addition, rental is a growing and important department. Customers want to reserve rentals online. Unable to find a good rental program, Prince Beverly, B&C’s general manager, customized a popular online rental program. To reduce the potential of customers attempting to buy product, use it for an occasion or event and then return it for credit, B&C offers try-before-you-buy rentals. If a purchase is then made, the rental price is applied to the purchase price.
B&C builds local community through photography classes, photo excursions and related events. “We communicate with our customers using an omni-channel marketing approach,” explains Prince Beverly. Each class has a “logo” photograph to identify it. Photographs are key to B&C’s marketing execution.
Constantly promoting to existing as well as potential customers, B&C pays a local service to place store flyers and maps in virtually every tourist brochure rack. The store occasionally advertises in the local tourist magazines and online. It also sends out weekly promotional e-mails. Most customers say they open the e-mails to see the spectacular images at the top. These pictures come from the B&C staff and customers; sometimes they are Dumic’s personal photos.
B&C encourages feedback—from employees as well as customers. Each Saturday, coffee and bagels are available to customers as well as a group of passionate photographers who gather at the B&C Camera Saturday Social Meet-Up. The coffee/espresso machine runs whenever the store is open. In summer, there’s free ice cream. Come in, grab a drink and join whatever discussions are happening.
Early on Dumic felt the Las Vegas heat; as a result, he adopted water bottles as a marketing tactic. The store annually dispenses more than 15,000 bottles of custom-labeled “B&C Camera” water.
Any photo walk, club, meet-up or community group heading out to take photographs—or just a community gathering of any sort—can get free “water sponsorship” courtesy of B&C Camera. In fact, the water bottle has become a store mascot. Customers constantly post pictures of their bottles in unique places. Furthermore, the store has even run photo contests looking for the most distinctive picture of the B&C water bottle.
B&C’s motto is “I shoot, therefore I am,” which you’ll find on everything from T-shirts to director’s chairs. Even the universal restroom signs are modified to show stick figures with cameras around their necks. In addition, B&C pays Pandora for commercial-free early jazz played throughout the store. The “lounge,” which takes up valuable floor space, is Dumic’s investment in his customers’ unique in-store experience.
Joe Dumic and his team realize it’s not easy being a camera retailer today, yet they are wildly optimistic about the future of our industry. “I see more chances than challenges ahead for our industry,” Dumic says.
Dumic and his staff are committed to efficient operation while continually focused on bringing their customers superb value, great community and the widest possible selection. These traits as well as their passion will see them successful for decades to come—and they are also why B&C Camera was selected to be Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2016 Dealer of the Year.