The Ritz Camera chain began as an Atlantic City portrait studio over 90 years ago and grew to become the most recognizable name in photo specialty retail. After their Wolf Camera acquisition in 2001, the chain had grown to over 1,200 locations nationwide. Prior to their most recent bankruptcy filing in June 2012, that number had dwindled to 137.
Ridgefield Park, New Jersey-based C&A Marketing, a global distributor of digital cameras, camcorders and related accessories, acquired portions of Ritz Camera and Image LLC (assets included stores, websites, technology and the RitzPix business) at bankruptcy auction back in September 2012.
As reported earlier in PIR, the group has since reopened 18 select Ritz Camera & Image Stores (ritzcamera.com) across the country, along with the online specialty imaging business, RitzPix.com.
We recently caught up with the very busy Chaim Pikarski, COO of C&A Marketing, to chat about the future of this iconic photo retail chain and the state of imaging retail in general.
MM: Talk a bit about the excitement that still surrounds the September announcement of the C&A Ritz purchase and subsequent announcement of the 18 store reopenings?
Pikarski: We feel it’s great news for the industry, because when you look back at the time when there were over 5,000 photo stores around the country, the business model back then was flawed. The Internet obviously changed consumer buying habits, and when the major source of revenue, which had been film processing, went away that business model became unsustainable.
We’re excited to return this concept to photo retail, so that customers who still want to come into a store, not only to purchase a product but also to learn to use a product, can have that experience again.
Explain how important you feel it is to keep the Ritz Camera chain alive and kicking in an era when so many of the traditional camera stores have disappeared?
What has been lost for the consumer since traditional photo retailers began vanishing from the landscape is that the products you can get from the other channels, including online and mass merchants, are very basic—the camera, a basic lens, basic tripod and your basic accessories.
With the resurgence of DSLR sales due to the new technology in that category, you have this new wave of photo enthusiasts buying cameras today, and once they want something that is slightly specialized they can’t get it anymore. And when they decide they do want something that is more specialized, they need help with this kind of purchase—the kind of help they can’t get online or at the mass merchants. We feel Ritz is the place for this kind of service.
Can you talk a bit about the future of imaging retail in the face of the rapid changes consumer imaging continues to experience?
We are seeing a return to the need for specialized service. We want to cultivate this niche of being more like mini professional camera stores—offering everything that involves photography and all of the product inherent in that.
The other part of this is the fact that a lot of people are taking pictures but not printing, and the way they print has changed. They either go online and order prints or they go to a local drugstore using a self-serve kiosk with little or no in-store help. We want to help them go way beyond your standard 4×6 prints—to go outside of that and offer the kind of help consumers need when it comes to these types of printing services.
It’s important to spend quality time helping them manage their images and showing them how to easily turn them into greeting cards, photo books and various other products they simply aren’t being made aware of. There is a major need today for this kind of service, and it just isn’t available through the other channels.
Can you give us a few details on the future strategy you’re looking at to help keep this chain relevant as consumer imaging habits continue to be such a moving and unpredictable target?
To be successful today in this space, you have to run a leaner business model while offering the services I’ve mentioned here and a great customer experience. The imaging business is not in decline; people are taking more pictures than ever before. This is a growth market with tremendous opportunity. People are capturing images with their cell phones and other devices in record numbers today. Where they need help is in managing their photos and fully understanding what the possibilities are on the output end. We will address what we see as a huge need for these services with the Ritz stores moving forward.