Industry Buying Groups

Industry Buying Groups


Running an imaging retail location today is a multitiered effort with day-to-day operation, sales, marketing, product inventory and staffing responsibilities—to name just a few—taking up huge chunks of valuable time.

The notion of bringing in industry experts who could provide turnkey solutions for some of the above at a minimal cost has to sound fairly appealing . . . no?

PRO and IPI, the imaging industry’s two leading buying groups, or retail cooperatives as they are also referred to, have over 80 years’ experience combined and are both going strong doing what they do best—helping to take some of the aforementioned burdens off of retailers’ shoulders and turn them into profits.

Here’s a look at what these two successful organizations have been up to lately.


                                           PRO Group Mantra: Ideas, Education & New Profit Ops
And they said it would never last. The Photographic Research Organization continues to roll along, now in its 53rd year operating under the very positive notion, “Let’s be successful together.” As the group sinks its teeth into the next half century, members will undoubtedly continue to rely on the same interchange of ideas, education and profit opportunities that have made the organization so integral to the success of imaging specialists over the years.

Those of us who cover the photo trade know PRO members are a proud bunch, quick to point out their affiliation with the group and credit membership as a major contributor to their success. Through decades of challenges, PRO members have prospered from their enthusiasm for all aspects of photography and allegiance to the imaging customer.

In 1958 as today, a commitment to help each other profit has been the driving vision behind PRO’s success. Back then, six photo specialty dealers—Dave Covitz of School Street Camera in Massachusetts; Aaron Knopf of Eastern Camera Exchange in New York; Ben and Manny Levy of Levy’s in New Jersey; Ed London of the Fotoshop chain in New York; and Jim Schwartz of Jy James Camera in Connecticut—set aside any competitive differences to establish a group whereby they could share ideas and promote interest in what was then the world of film photography.

Fifty-plus years later, PRO is the largest and longest standing retail group of its kind serving photo specialty dealers. Its membership roster boasts more than 155 member firms and affiliates, representing in excess of 400 market leaders in the sale of imaging products and services throughout the U.S. and a few abroad.

While PRO has realized the goals that first guided its members to work together, it has also become much more than its founding fathers could have ever originally envisioned. As successive waves of new challenges confronted photo specialty dealers, the PRO group served them with a forum for the interchange of ideas and strategic advice. This has enabled its members to survive and thrive while many competitors have fallen by the wayside.

An estimated 1,500 products are stocked and delivered from PRO’s own warehouse. This 33,000-square-foot facility is situated in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. In addition to the entire ProMaster product line, the warehouse also distributes various other brands from leading imaging manufacturers.

Membership in the PRO group is exclusively limited to those who are serious about succeeding in the imaging marketplace—and willing to share their ideas and learn from like-minded peers. Enrollees in PRO’s affiliate test member program pay monthly dues that entitle them to many of the group’s programs and ProMaster products.

For full membership, enrollees must pay a membership initiation fee and purchase stock in the cooperative; monthly dues currently run $350. In return, they are entitled to the same privileges as affiliates, as well as special vendor programs managed through the organization; optional payment terms; quarterly MAP rebates; yearly patronage credit and other rebates; attendance at all sessions of the PRO convention; and the right to vote for members of PRO’s board of directors.

Simply stated, 53 years since the group’s initial discussions, PRO has put together a program that is helping secure the future for the independent imaging specialty dealer.

“All this success couldn’t have happened without the vision of PRO’s founding members over half a century ago, and the ongoing support of our retailers and affiliates throughout the United States,” said Jeff Neal, vice president, Sales & Marketing at PRO. “It’s a pleasure to serve them and to help in the business success of each and every one of them.”

Although it is frequently referred to as a “buying group,” today PRO actually operates as a retail cooperative, entirely owned and managed by the independent imaging specialists who comprise its ranks. That this is an innovative group of entrepreneurs goes without saying. Many have joined simply because they recognize this is an organization that can help the small guy prosper in a market seemingly dominated today by big chains and big-box retailers.

PRO members retain their niche by providing the unrivaled expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm for all aspects of imaging not found in other retail channels.
When you speak with a PRO member, the general message appears to be, “You can either wallow in despair about the current state of affairs or do something about it.” If you’ve been lucky enough to ever attend one of PRO’s annual conventions, you can consistently see “the do something about it” part of that equation in full force.

Many of PRO’s recent initiatives are about improving the “in-store experience” for customers in a wide variety of ways, from well-thought-out classes and education sessions to specially themed “nights out” for specific customer groups.

As longtime member Frank Calagaz of Calagaz Photo & Digital Imaging in Mobile, Alabama, explains, “Education remains a key for this industry. Consumers are starved for it, and they are willing to pay for it.”


                                    IPI: New Partnerships Broadening Scope for Group’s Members
For the Independent Photo Imagers, 2011 has been a busy year with several announcements lifting the organization’s standing to new levels.

Two recent partnerships clearly illustrate the group’s forward-thinking approach and provide members with new potential profit avenues to explore within two of the imaging market’s most vibrant categories: photo merchandise and image storage/organization.

The group’s Giving Images initiative is essentially designed to help get consumers back into photo stores and excited to make purchases. The program provides IPI members with a complete, turnkey marketing components/campaign focused on enabling them to become significantly better in this area over a 24-month period. The goal is for IPI members and specialty dealers to portray their unique offerings in a multitiered effort to grow their print and photo gifting business.

Spearheading the program with IPI are two industry retail veterans: Bob Hanson of Harold’s Photo Centers, an eight-store chain based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Gaby Mullinax of Fullerton Photographics, in Fullerton, California. Both agree the imaging business at retail has changed over the years. As Hanson explained, “We now have to entice customers to walk into our stores. It’s no longer the case where they have to come in—you have to make them want to come in.”

“We’re shaking up the industry and providing an innovative, turnkey solution for all IPI members to take advantage of. With the creativity from both of our staffs, Bob and I feel that Giving Images has developed a program unlike any in the photo specialty space,” added Gaby Mullinax, a Giving Images partner and winner of the PMA Custom Photo Gift Promotion competition. “Our members will see an immediate enhancement to their revenues by utilizing this program.”

Fujifilm has agreed to underwrite over 80% of the first year’s solutions in the marketing program to users of Fujifilm North America products. “We can’t thank Bing Liem and the folks at Fujifilm enough for seeing the value of this program,” said Brent Bowyer, IPI’s executive director.

A program that can always be refreshed, it has been greatly expanded to include wall décor and photo gifting products and solutions, along with related marketing and other collateral material. In addition, it includes tools needed for the year-round development, marketing and implementation of a photo gifting business segment.

The other interesting announcement by IPI is its partnership with the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO), a recently developed marketing and training organization headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, which is comprised of individual business owners who offer personalized one-on-one photo management services to consumers. This is clearly an area the photo specialist has struggled with over the years.

Under the agreement, the APPO will determine the unique needs of the IPI member and develop strategies based on how a personal photo organizer (PPO) can help. IPI members will have the option of either hiring someone to be a PPO or form a partnership with an existing PPO in their area. A PPO helps clients by actually going into their home and organizing their photos, analog and digital, with or for them—and then creating archival creative photo products, like photo books, collages, etc.

Additional benefits include a personalized Web page specific to the PPO program; free tele-classes and webinars on the subject of image storage and organization; and a resource center that includes various marketing materials and much more.

“A career as a photo organizer is perfect for the professional photographer, photo retailer, professional organizer or person who loves photos and helping others,” said Cathi Nelson, founder and president of the APPO. “We are particularly proud of our social media strategy, which includes our blog, Facebook fan page and Twitter. As a member, you can share these sites with others to help build client relationships and credibility for your business.”

Bowyer simply refers to the APPO partnership as “yet another great opportunity for IPI members to create an additional revenue stream for their photo retail business and also provide a wonderful service for their customers.”

Yet another effort from IPI to keep their members profitable is the 4EverBooks program powered by Germany-based photo book provider CEWE Color. New this year, this no-cost IPI trademarked program provides any IPI member with the opportunity to become the pickup-at-retail location and the originating location for premium photo books manufactured by CEWE Color.

“This is our direction today,” Bower added. “It’s about consistently adding value to membership to keep our members engaged and adding to their sales and profit figures.”

Whether it’s PRO or IPI, the message here is simple: there’s lots of help out there that can positively affect your bottom line; look no further than the imaging industry’s two major buying groups.