Tamron is on a roll. First they introduced two new SP lenses that are redefining the brand. Then they named Gregg Maniaci president of Tamron USA. They are clearly making moves in the market. I sat down with Gregg and Stacie Errera, who was just named vice president of Marketing & Communications, effective January 1, 2016, to discuss Tamron’s marketing initiatives, how dealers can sell more lenses and their view of the future.
JG: Congratulations on being named president, Gregg. Was this expected?
GM: Thank you. I can’t say that this was expected, no. But this company has always been like a family, since the day I started here as a sales representative in 1995. In 1998 I was named the eastern regional manager for photo and around four years later the region expanded; five years later it expanded again to include the Midwest. In 2014, I took on industrial optics as well, including our traditional box camera CCTV lens business as well as the OEM business. So my role has been increasing steadily over the years. They asked if I could do the job, and of course I said yes. I feel very fortunate to be given this great opportunity, and having had terrific mentors over the years who have pushed me to understand all the moving parts of our business will help me to succeed.
How is the lens business holding up?
SE: We all know the DSLR business has slowed, which affects the lens business. The good news is that the Tamron customer is vey savvy and very gear intensive—and their propensity to own three or more lenses is pretty high. A large percentage of our customers own four or more lenses, so that’s the good news for us.
Your brand is interesting, because you went from a “secondary brand” lens to a high-quality lens that people are asking for. There’s a lot of value to it.
SE: We did a survey a few years ago that showed us we turned a corner; people started to ask for Tamron specifically, as opposed to dealers having to suggest Tamron. Among enthusiasts, we have very high brand recognition, and now we’re working on our awareness among general consumers.
How did you turn the corner on that?
SE: I think our commitment to education was an important factor. Working hard with our dealers and getting in front of their customers was important. Our national branding efforts and our Tailgate program continue to build our brand recognition.
Having a value brand that is a good quality product is a great position to be in.
GM: Yes, but it’s also about our commitment. Tamron has always held their products to a higher standard than JCII (Japan Camera Industry Institute) mandated, even before we were recognized as an ISO 9001 (quality management) / 14001 (environmental management) company. So, we have continually, from the corporate level down, always held our products to a higher level of scrutiny.
SE: And our customers trust our brand. That’s so important to us.
How are you driving customers into photo specialty stores?
GM: We acknowledge and appreciate the value of a quality photo specialty store. It’s a sad state of affairs these days that there are fewer places to go to get a true quality photo experience. And we believe very, very deeply that we want to protect the current dealer base that is still there. They’re an asset to us and to the industry.
Tamron has always focused on sell through—not just sell in. We want to help our dealers sell through the products they buy from us; we just don’t walk away. But part of that is creating a great brand experience for the consumer. We take the high road with stringent MAP policies and providing warnings about buying gray market products, as well as other programs that protect our brand.
SE: The Tailgate is an example of one initiative we executed to promote the specialty retailer. With this program, we consistently bring into our dealers upward of 20% new customers who had never heard of that store before. So we’re helping to bring people in to discover the opportunities and product selection that photography has to offer that they might never see if they hadn’t walked into a photo specialty store. It’s a win-win for the customer, for the dealer and for Tamron.
Has the Tailgate been successful?
SE: Absolutely, some of our dealers are having the best days they’ve ever had—and not just selling Tamron, which they certainly do, but selling other accessories to these new customers. It’s opening a lot of different opportunities for the dealer to increase profits—bags, tripods and filters—things the customer might not have been thinking about.
How many dealers have participated?
SE: We’ve hit more than 170 dealer locations to date, and we expect to be 200+ by the end of the year. Some are the same dealers; many are new. We’re trying to include dealers of all sizes—even going into “the sticks” as one dealer put it—and we’re bringing in 50–60 people on a Wednesday! For them it’s like Christmas!
Do you offer online education as well?
SE: We have our e-newsletter that goes out twice per month with at least two educational articles. And we send out articles to our dealers so they can place them on their websites. We also have a nice array of how-to videos.
GM: Education and mentorship with customers keep them engaged with our brand. We actually get Tamron groupies. We see the same faces at events over the years, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them grow their gadget bags with new lenses and see them excel in taking better photos. The face-to-face interaction that we have helps us to retain our loyal customers. We want to know our customers on a very personal level, so all of these events help us to do that.
Let’s talk about the new SP products. What is the thinking behind the line?
GM: The SP line—Super Performance—was always touted as our professional products. Within Tamron Japan, they decided to raise the bar as to what SP stands for and what it means. And with the density of the chips and the resolution increasing, we had to change the definition of how a high-resolution lens must perform. These are all important to increasing our quality image.
We’re looking at the next level, and at the same time we took a look at the design and tried to determine what the customers are looking for as well. It took us three years interviewing photographers all over the world to discover what we’re doing right and what they’d like to see. It came down to performance as well as cosmetics.
Starting with the 35mm and 45mm, you’re talking about “redefining.” What do you mean?
SE: With this series, we’ve changed the look of our advertising and collateral. As we grow the new SP lineup, we can continue to redefine our position and keep moving forward.
GM: The products we’ve released in the last few years have been so good that people have absolutely noticed, and we’re gaining new fans all the time based on our lens performance. There are some products that have already met the specifications of the new SP lenses. We just haven’t made a big splash about it
So what do you want the brand to stand for?
SE: Quality, performance and value. Photographers are getting a lot for their investment.
GM: And also trust. We offer a six-year warranty on all of our products. We’ve always had it, and we’ve always stood behind it. We followed this up with a three-business-day turnaround on lens repair, whether you’re a professional or not. So we’re really looking out for our customers’ best interest.
You’re the lens experts. How can dealers increase their secondary lens sales?
GM: Number one is engaging the customer, looking at what they want and exploring their interests; taking the camera out of the phone and making it a hobby again. Showing the customer that you’re not just taking snapshots; you’re taking photographs. There’s a big difference.
SE: I think a lot of dealers are doing a good job and have made investments in educational offerings both in and outside of their stores. Keeping a continuing education outlook for their customers will keep them engaged.
Here’s a specific example of what they can be doing. We’ve had years of growth for DSLRs, so there’s a huge installed base of APS-C cameras out there. Not all dealers are using their sales history information to find their existing customers. A lot of dealers rely on their opt-in e-mail list, but that list doesn’t always cover everyone they’ve sold a camera to. By contacting customers who bought a camera as little as 18 months ago and suggesting new lenses and accessories, they can increase lens sales. Camera owners are typically in the market for a new lens within a year of purchase.
GM: And it goes beyond that. Dealers might complain about big-box stores, but even if they bought their DSLR somewhere else, those customers are ripe for follow-up sales. That’s one of the strategies behind the Tailgate program: identify prospects and go after them with new ideas.
SE: And look at more digital advertising; you can reach so many people who aren’t necessarily your customers and they can become new customers. There are lots of tools out there. It’s an investment, but if you get lists, for example, to get to people that index high for photography as a hobby, you can get those big-box store customers into a photo specialty retail store.
What are your other marketing initiatives?
SE: Peer-to-peer endorsement is so important today, so just recently we instituted a user-generated content (UGC) program: #withmytamron. Currently we have more than 1,400 images in our #withmytamron gallery. People can shoot with their Tamron lens and upload their photos to their favorite social media, tag it and then potentially see their photo in our gallery. Everyone can see these stunning images taken by people like themselves with our products. We’re constantly looking to start the conversation to help people help other people buy new product.
GM: We try to be a personal company. We’re very approachable; our tech team keeps in touch with people they interact with at events. It’s really wonderful.
So what keeps you up at night?
GM: Probably number one is the health of our dealer base—the photo specialty store. This channel is the core lifeline to our customers. It’s critical to the photo industry that they stay healthy. Without them, we are simply a footnote in the consumer electronics industry. It’s always been a tough business, but the great ones are doing very well. There is certainly an opportunity, if dealers are willing to grow and, in some cases, change the way they do business—even reinvent themselves. We’re willing to take the time to work with them and help them, because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. tamron-usa.com