Sony’s Mike Kahn talks about instant rebate changes and unilateral pricing

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Mike Kahn

I promised you I’d write about some interesting comments made during Thursday’s 2013 PMA@CES Official Business Session. After the moderator had completed his list of questions for our Visionaries Panel, emcee Mark Comon took questions from the audience. Bill McCurry posed a tough one. He said he has heard several retailers complain that they can’t pay their bills, because so much of their money is tied up in instant rebates. What could be done about that?

Sony’s Mike Kahn said the instant rebate trend has arisen in response to the earthquake in Japan in March 2011, followed by flooding in Thailand, which impacted manufacturing. “The concept, originally, with instant rebates, was to draw attention to being back in stock and coming out with our inventory, and then offering a sale,” Kahn said.

Kahn acknowledged that photo retailers are being forced to carry the cost of the instant rebates while waiting to receive their sales credit from the manufacturer.

“Once you start going down the instant rebate road, it’s hard to turn the ship. You wind up getting into more and more and more, if you don’t have a response, you’re not considered competitive,” Kahn said. “[Sony is] trying different ideas. We’re starting to do a little more bundling with accessories, sometimes bundling with lenses, and still offering a value by not relying necessarily on an instant rebate.

“I’ll tell you what,” he continued. “If you can partner with me on promoting the products, advertising them and getting the flyers out there, I’ll commit to you that we’ll help you fund that vehicle, and together we can come up with a different solution.”

What kind of different solution? Sony is uniquely positioned to provide consumers with some other valuable perks, in place of the instant rebates, he said.

“We’re looking at ideas. The nice thing about Sony is, we make more than cameras, TVs, and tablets. We also have a music industry; we also have a movie industry. I want to try different tactics, like giving customers opportunities when they come into your stores to buy a camera,” he said.

For example, giving retailers the ability to provide customers with a shooting experience from Sony, or an exclusive invitation for retailers to bring customers onto a Sony movie lot. “Valuable? Absolutely. But no hard dollars are changed, so you don’t have to worry about rebate checks making you whole at the end of the month. How does that sound? Are you excited about that kind of idea?” Kahn said. The audience answered with enthusiastic applause.

  Mat Inkley of the Imaging Depot in Ogden, Utah, then asked how brick and mortar independent retailers can compete with online dealers who can acquire equipment at a lower price.

“One of the things we have done at Sony, and I think you will start seeing more and more in the industry, is that we have created Sony Unilateral Retail Execution — SURE unilateral pricing,” Kahn said. “SURE pricing ensures that if you’re selling a Sony Alpha camera or NEX, whether you’re online or in the store, it’s going to be the same price, regardless. If an authorized retailer breaks SURE, then for 30 days they aren’t selling our product. Break it again, 120 days. Break it again, and we can stop the contract. We will stand behind that.”

Integrating volume photography into a boutique studio

By Ed Sanders, Inter-State Studio

No business should have all of its eggs in one basket, say Allen and Mary Mortensen of Mortensen Portrait and Design of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They believe diversification is a key to success.

The Mortensens are Master Photographers, and have successfully operated a portrait studio for over 25 years.  Allen started his photography career in the early 70s, and was joined by Mary on a full-time basis later on when she chose to make it a real family business.

Diversification also gives you the flexibility to implement different promotions and products on an as-needed basis, and helps you be much more recession proof, they told the PSPA audience of their PMA session, “Diversify:  How to successfully integrate volume photography into a boutique studio environment.” Their own business is divided across 14 different types of photographic businesses, with schools, seniors, sports, families, children, and dance schools making up nearly 75 percent.  Each month of the year they have a promotion or special emphasis on a certain segment of business to keep a good solid flow of business coming.

A solid business and marketing plan is also an imperative to a successful business, according to Allen and Mary.  They work diligently on updating theirs annually as they do a year end review and update the future plan in December and January each year.

Allen and Mary believe strongly that their dedication to high quality, being competitive, embracing technology, effective marketing to get the word out, and willingness to make changes are key points in driving their success, and inspiring strong loyalty in their customers.

Supporting their community and charitable causes is also high on the priority list for the Mortensens.  They contribute time and money in their community annually, and produce a photo calendar to benefit the MACC Fund in Milwaukee.

Mortensen Portrait and Design is a company that has changed with the times to better serve their market and attain the volume of business necessary to ensure continuity for future high quality products and service to their clients.  The love they have for their work really comes through as they share their success formula with their audience.
The PSPA session was sponsored by American Color Imaging.

 

 

Hot Picks: potential profit for retailers

An intrepid squad of retailers, photographers and enthusiasts surveyed the showroom floor on the first two days, looking for the next big thing — and instead reported back to the Hot Picks session with small things they say can lead to big profits for retailers.

As photographer and session co-host Glynn Lavender put it, “To survive, we MUST think outside the box.”

He did note “there’s some weird stuff out there,” such as a wheeled robotic perch, like a Segway scooter — but for an iPad.

Overall Lavender says, retailers have to keep the preponderance of smartphones in mind: 35 million cameras sold in the US in 2012, but there were 17.5 million phone activations on one day alone. Those millions and millions of new phone owners are likely customers for imaging and other accessories.

Among the phone add-ons awarded Picks at the session were:

• The hi-Call Bluetooth talking glove from hi-Fun — just like it sounds: instead of a headset, your mic and speaker are on the thumb and pinkie of the glove, and you hold a “hang ten” hand to your face to talk. “It sounds stupid, it looks stupid — but it will probably sell,” Lavender joked. LVH booth # 50014.

•Those fancy phones need some protection: The Seashell Underwater Case for iPhone offers good margins, co-host Rob Comeau said: $99/$149 retail.

•And instead of buying a wearable camera, why not wear the phone in a way it can always be shooting? The Miveu mount strap will do just that. LVH #54017

• The iPhone Pod adds LED lights for better video capture. LVH #45024.

• The iPro Lens from Schneider Optics is for taking “serious iPhone photos.” Prices range from $299-$399. LVH #48009.

• All of us fear loosing our phones, cameras, lenses, etc., Lavender said, and one counter for that it to tag every item with a Bluetooth proximity alarm, the iAlertTag that sounds off if you walk away from your pricey gear. LVH #59023.

• Re-Turnit / Finder Codes have a similar idea at booth #51024.

• And the final phone accessory delivers six charges: the inpofi from Kirk H&J at LVH #44022.

 

Outside the mobile sphere, the judges picked a few accessories:

• You can find a $100 iPad-sized 300 LED light for photo shoots at booth #48020.

• Need to capture 3D product images? This all-in-one setting can make it simple. The TopScan 3D is at booth #48029.

• This looks like an iPhone accessory but Lavender insisted its real utility is in the store: it’s the easiest way to get a customer’s photos onto your print kiosk. The iFlashDrive is as booth #55023.

• A mobile green screen studio is on offer at booth #45021.

• Strobists looking for more off-camera lighting should check booth #45024.

• Some simple accessories: A lens cap that shows the optic’s focal length from Black Rapid at booth #45015.

• And from Hufa S, a clip for attaching any lens clap to any strap.

 

Opportunities in the changing retail landscape

cuttong swainston panel

 

By Chris Lydle, Chris’ Camera Center

“In an era where connected devices outnumber people, will cameras become niche products for old men if we don’t change our tune?” That’s the question posed by NPD analyst Liz Cutting at the PMA 3 session, “The Changing Retail Landscape Presents Opportunities in Imaging.”

It’s not that consumers don’t have disposable income, Cutting added: Top holiday sellers included men’s grooming products. People are still spending on themselves — it’s just that they’re happy with what they’ve got in the imaging area. In 2012, compact cameras were still a top-6 category… but down $503,500,000.

She also noted that consumers are showing more confidence in online vendors than they have in brick and mortar stores, and e-commerce is particularly gaining share with high-end cameras.

However, the stated intent to buy an interchangeable lens camera in the current year declined, for the first time.

What should retailers do? They need to demonstrate in their stores “we’ve got the flair, we’ve got the style. We need to prove to Mom that she can make more beautiful memories with our help.”

The customer must know the store is “my kind of place and people,” and is growing in popularity — it’s “where the cool people go.” And retailers must convince customers they have the brands and styles in stock that they want.

Also speaking at the session was John Swainston of Maxwell International Australia. When he entered retail in 1969 at the age of 19, audio was a specialty industry. “Discounting had just started,” he said, “and we soon got so we could spot “showroom shoppers” who were going to the discount store after shopping us.” So the “showrooming” we’re blaming for today’s problems are nothing new, just technologically more adroit.

But brick and mortar stores still have inherent advantages, Swainston says. With camera bags, for example, specialty shops have the best display mode “because we can hang it on the body of the shopper.”

Swainston stressed that success in photo retail depends on our product mix: Find the areas that are still profitable and build them up.  Growth categories exist.

Swainston also showed how almost every town’s once-prosperous main street is mostly for lease. “Unlike Field of Dreams, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come,” he said. “We’ve got to make a difference – we’ve got to be a community center, we’ve got to build trust.”

 

 

Georgia McCabe brings social media strategies to DIMA 2013, PSPA/SPAA 2013 Conferences

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By Tina Meskimen, Visual Image Photography

DIMA 2013 and PSPA/SPAA 2013 Conferences speaker Georgia McCabe of Brownstein & McCabe Associates, brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the subject of social media as a tool for businesses of all types and sizes. With 900 million Facebook and 200 million Twitter customers, social media has become an important vehicle in reaching a targeted audience quickly. Unlike traditional marketing, social media is inbound (two way) and can provide instant feedback whereas traditional static media can not. Here’s a look at some of the information she presented at her four-part Social Media Bootcamp:

Part 1: Why you need Social Media, focused on reasons for using social media and ways to make it work for you. While it may take a few months to see results, the use of this media needs to be about conversations between you and your customers and building their trust and loyalty. Brand loyalty is accomplished by offering information to your customer, not about being everywhere. McCabe focused on ways to optimize FB, Twitter and Pinterest accounts for real results.

Part 2: Strategies for Finding (and Keeping) Superfans.

This session focused on reasons why you may be failing at social media. By choosing the most relevant channels, and defining your objectives you can reach fans that are relevant to your goals. Providing appropriate content, promotions and calls for action as well as rewarding fans who like and comment on your posts will help to build those important relationships.

Part 3: Developing your Tactical Social Media Plan for 2013.

From search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, and emailing, McCabe provided numerous tips and strategies to produce valuable content, and grow your list of subscribers. She also made suggestions on applications to use for finding relevant stories, writing headlines, running successful competitions, and creating attention-grabbing offers while sticking to a set marketing budget.

Part 4: Measuring, Adjusting and Celebrating Your Success

Social marketing should be customer centric. The business mission is to create better customer engagement, revenue generation and better customer service. McCabe described the roles of earned, owned and paid media and explained why it is important to set up listening channels. Listening to what customers are saying about you as well as your competitors will allow you to drive the direction of the conversations and ultimately impact your sales, marketing efforts and customer service record.