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Thread: Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

  1. #1

    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    First, I apologize for the lengthy post, I'm just trying to eliminate a lot of the questions people are likely going to ask. First a little background. I've worked in 4 different labs, and 2 different used camera stores, and know the song-and-dance of both. I also have my own darkroom, which is at the current moment filled with more equipment than I can use. I've bought and sold so many pieces of eqipment by now (both for myself and the stores I've worked for) that I only remember the really nice pieces that have come and gone. While working at the camera stores, many, many times people came in with gear that they wanted to sell, but theat the store was unwilling to buy, either because the owner didn't know what it was worth (even after I showed him) or didn't want to have any more used gear in the case (the overpriced new gear should move first I was told). I didn't have the $ to pick up much of the gear myself (even the Dorff 8x10 that was very reasonably priced, still kick myself over that one) but dod manage to pick up some now and again.

    So anyway, this in mind, I am thinking of opening a used camera store, focused primarily around LF and MF, although with some 35 and high end digital (all used) would also be part of the mix. As part of the shop, a darkroom rental would be avaliable, for printing anything from 35mm all the way to 8x10, and also alternative processes (platinum, palladium, etc). Also contemplating renting out LF and MF equipment, as well as perhaps digital and high-end 35mm, and setting up a by-the-hour digital workstation rental, as well as having classes on LF and darkroom processes. The university here in town has darkroom space so limited that I've been asked on many occation by students if they could rent mine, and there is only one other darkroom for rent in town, or anywhere near by (and this darkroom only does up to 6x7). Of the current camera stores in town, the only one that offers used equipment is likely going out of business soon, and their offerings, both new and used, are quite pitiful. Finding a space for the darkroom and store is also not an issue, there are several rooms in the building I work in that are completely vacant and that I can get for well below market value. I already have a great deal of equipment myself, and can get much more if I actively seek it out. Part of what I would like to do however is let photographers leave their gear on the store on consignment, which lets the photographer get more from their gear, and means the store will have to front less money for equipment.

    I have no starry-eyed notion of large profits, or vacation homes, the only thing I want this store to do is pay for itself, let me spend scads of time in the darkroom, and fiddle with some new gear from time to time. So this is my question, particularly to those of you who have previous experience with this, can this sort of thing sustain itself, or should I seek professional help? Also, how far would you go to seek out a good LF store, which are far and few between? And one last question: What do you think I should expect as far as costs go, and what is an accpetable margin on reselling gear?

    Thanks for all your help in advance.

    Mike

  2. #2

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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    The only question I can answer is how far I would drive for a good used LF store. I would frequent a store that was within 30 minutes of my house. If would take several trips a year to one located an hour away. Over that I think I would only stop by if I was in town.

    Good luck if you decide to do it. What area are ou in (hopefully near me in NH)?

  3. #3
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    Where are you located? In a market as large as New York but with impossibly high rents it's been tough for such businesses to survive (thinking principally of Ken Hansen). On the other hand, if you're in a more remote area but can set up a good e-commerce site and offer good service like KEH, Midwest Photo Exchange (well, their e-commerce is on the blink at the moment), or Badger, you might be able to pay the bills.

  4. #4
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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    Hi Mike,

    My free advice (for what it's worth): set up a simple to operate E-commerce website and mail order business. Store your merchandise in a small, safe, garage warehouse. Use a toll free phone number. Advertise heavily in publications such as View Camera magazine. Use Fedex as your shipper. Make certain that your website contains pictures and product descriptions of your merchandise, and forget about opening an over- the- counter store.

    Check out Bruce's Large Format Store, The View Camera Store, Fine Art Photo Supply, The F Stop, etc. Badger Graphic is not an over-the -counter camera store, but it gives that impression on it's website. With today's cyber space environments, there is no need to rent an store front with it's expensive overhead costs and the many hours you would need to spend operating it.

  5. #5
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    The potential for success obviously depends on the market you're in, and the volume of LF interest within that market. And, I'm sure you've already considered the amount of capital you'd have tied up in inventory in order to have a good selection of gear. Then, there's the issue of how e-commerce would fit into your plan. To compete effectively with direct sales, I think you'd have to offer the same or better e-service than the existing vendors of used gear, and the same sort of return policies. That translates into pretty thin profit margins, it would seem. And, off the top of the old knoggin, running a store-front business and spending lots of time in the darkroom strike me as being mutually exclusive. But, it all depends, I think, on what your objectives are for the business, and what sort of capital is available for the venture.

  6. #6
    Beverly Hills, California
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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    I think you might look into finding a niche, like working with up-and-coming Chinese manufacturers to import and sell their gear, etc.

    There are guys on EBay who do this for Hasselblad, etc.

  7. #7

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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    Any niche store will do well on the internet if you do it right and keep the scale appropriate. The failure comes when you spend too much time and $ growing and then find the market isn't there. Start small - sell on eBay and do a newsletter perhaps? Grow organically.

    The market might support an advanced amateur - professional quality online store that sells carefully selected items and supports them with strong service. The main thing is to build a sense of community - and loyalty - from customers. One thing that is sorely lacking with all of the online stores selling view camera gear is real information - many stores and even manufacturers have a hard time posting the most basic information about their products. When I go to KEH, MPEX, Badger, or any of the others I left cold - unless I already know that Jeff or Jim work there. I have no love for them, but I often end up buying stuff at B&H - and paying NYS sales tax for the privilege - because the other online stores have such poor websites that I can't find what I'm looking for.

    I think Anthony Guidiace, of Fine Art Photo Supply, is trying to rekindle the old Fred Picker - Zone VI spirit with his "Fine Art Photo Supply", down the point of selling white vinyl camera bags and sending out a newsletter in the same vein as Freddy... Maybe you could find a more up to date niche?

    I don't know how profitable the venture would be, but as all the local camera stores go out of business, the online niche stores should do better. Even in the buggy whip industry, there still must be one company left standing, and I bet they do pretty well.

    Of course, I am neglecting to account for eBay. I usually look to eBay first, and by the sundries and oddball items at the stores... If I want a 150mm Sironar, there will always be a couple on the bay. So maybe that shoots my whole post to hell...

  8. #8
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    Here ya go, Frank--


    http://www.carriagedrivingessentials.com/index.php?pg=17


    A google search for "driving whips" turns up quite a few manufacturers!

  9. #9

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    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    That's nothing - I bought a new Scythe last year - beats a noisey weedwacker - and even use a "new old stock" pre-WW2 Austrian blade.


    http://www.scythesupply.com/


    Us Hippie Republicians like "natural" lawns...

  10. #10

    Thinking of opening a camera store - Am I crazy?

    You are thinking of about three different businesses: darkroom rental, equipment rental, and used sales. You main motivation is that you think these all would be fun. That is fine, but you really need to make a written business plan. What will your monthly expenses be? How much capital will you need? What is the carrying cost of your inventory? Most startups lose money for some time -- take that into account. How many lenses/cameras/etc. do you need to sell per month and at what markup to bring in more money than your expenses? My recommendation is to start off less ambitiously -- perhaps pick one of the business ideas. The equipment sales might be the best, because as the others have suggested, you can do that through the internet or ebay with minimal fixed costs. All sorts of specialty stores over America have abandoned their storefronts to sell on ebay.

    Completed sales on ebay or inventory listings of internet camera stores such as KEH can tell you what stuff sells for. Your markup can't lead to prices that exceed those of the established competition. You think you can find more stuff to sell -- can you find it at prices sufficiently lower than the going selling price to make a profit after expenses?

    If you want decide to do anything more than selling through ebay then you should seek professional help. The Small Business Administration and some states have programs to help business startups. Find someone with experience to review your business plan to make sure that it is realistic and that you have not forgotten anything.

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