When I called Joe Dumic, president of B&C Camera, to talk about his selection as our 2016 Dealer of the Year, my first question was an obvious one. “Who buys a camera store at the height of a recession?”
“I not only bought a camera store, I bought it in the worst recession in our lifetime in one of the worst hit cities in America,” said Dumic. “More than 50% of the houses in Las Vegas were underwater. But I believed there are a lot of photographers in this country who deserve good camera shops.”
Dumic actually had no intention of buying B&C Camera when he walked into the store in 2009. All he really was looking for was a new lens.
“I walked in to buy a lens, and there was a lady with a German accent [he is German as well]. She said she was from Berlin, and she left before the wall was built in the 1960s. They came to America to start a business.
“We started talking and she asked me why I didn’t live here, in the U.S. I said, ‘What would I do here?’ She answered, ‘Why don’t you buy our camera store?’ Edda’s husband was sick, and she said she just couldn’t do it anymore. It was not exactly a thriving store, but I had wanted to move to America, and suddenly there was an opportunity staring me in the face. Ultimately, my belief in the fortitude of this industry drove me to make a move,” explained Dumic.
He believed that a city as grand and as big as Las Vegas needed a good camera shop, simply because it didn’t have one. “If I knew how to bake bread, I’d open a bakery here. There are just no good bakeries, so people buy their bread in supermarkets. It’s kind of the same thing. If there are no good camera stores, people will just buy online. But give them a choice and show them the merchandise, and they’ll give your store a chance.”
If there is one word that drives Joe Dumic’s theory for success, it’s “inventory.”
“You have to have merchandise. If a customer wants it, and you have it in stock, odds are they will not leave the store and buy it online. And if you stock Nikon, or Canon, or other major brands, you have to stock everything they have. You should not decide what the customers should buy. They come to us, and the main decision point is whether we have it in stock or not. If you don’t have it, you can be as good as you want, but you can’t sell it.”
Dumic also didn’t really have money for advertising to grow his customer base. So he took a grassroots approach to building his business. “I went to camera clubs and meet-up groups. We had no e-mail addresses, so we started collecting them. The customers knew me when they walked into the store. Sometimes, when the store was closed and I was doing paperwork, someone would come to the door and of course I would open it.
“I also have great employees who have really bought into our concept and our philosophies,” continued Dumic. “It makes all the difference in the world.”
And how do you prevent people from buying online? Well, Dumic learned that the hard way.
“When I bought the store, believe it or not, I didn’t know the tax-free issues with online sales. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have bought the store if I had known this. But I quickly realized that if you do a good job, have a lot of merchandise, good hours, a nice shop and dedicated employees, you’re more than likely to get the sale anyway.
“Sure, a certain percentage will always buy online. We can’t get everyone. But there is always a certain percentage of people who appreciate a well-run business. We have to cater to them by offering service, classes and merchandise, and relatively comparable prices. There are 325 million people in this country; they don’t all buy online.”
I asked what the future holds for B&C Camera—and the industry in general.
“I’m very optimistic, and I’m not one of those guys who panicked when business went down in 2012,” Dumic said. “Because I see so many people taking pictures with their iPhones today, I like and appreciate this. We should encourage those people to take pictures with their phones, but we can also show them how they can do different things with real cameras.
“They also like doing things to pictures after they’ve taken them,” Dumic added. “No one has a darkroom anymore, but a lot of them have Lightroom. This is a younger generation thing. They’d be frustrated with film because they couldn’t attach their own personalities to their pictures. They would not be into photography at all today if not for the iPhone.”
I’ve never met a guy more optimistic about the future of our industry, who put his money where his mouth was. His refreshing take on the state of our industry convinced us to name B&C Camera our 2016 Dealer of the Year. I have a feeling B&C Camera will be leading our industry for a long time to come.