Photo Marketing Show provides glimpse at market opportunity for retailers

The taking of images and recording of memories has become ever more important to a wider audience -- thanks in large part to cameras on most every mobile phone these days. And it is because of this trend that outdoor retailers have a real opportunity...SNEWS sent two reporters to a recent photo show and they brought back valuable insights.
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Outdoor industry veterans Larry Harrison and Greg Thomson recently attended the Photo Marketing Show and discovered a market that could be worth exploring for retailers. They share their insights and commentary below. Got feedback? Click on the SNEWS® Chat below the article to share your views.

Reality is easily altered. If you attended the recent Consumer Electronics Association trade show, you might have learned that seven in 10 Americans own a digital camera. But if you attended Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this January, you would not have found a Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony or Casio in the house. Even just a cursory glance at Facebook and even Twitter provides an indication of how important the sharing of digital images of one’s adventures and, yes, misadventures, has become. And yet, it’s as if the world of cameras doesn’t exist at the outdoor industry trade show -- other than to take pictures while at the show itself. It might be time to rethink this a bit.

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Attending the recent Photo Marketing Show by the Photo Marketing Association (www.pmai.org), held Feb. 21-23, was a reminder that the taking of images and recording of memories has become ever more important to a wider audience -- thanks in large part to cameras on most every mobile phone these days. And it is because of this trend that outdoor retailers have a real opportunity to capitalize on the natural human desire to memorialize every moment and market to that desire. Tens of thousands of buyers, primarily from professional camera stores and studios attended the 86th annual show in Anaheim, Calif., addressing an industry said to create over $80 billion in business.

Every trade show has a buzz, and at PMA, it was about three things:

  1. a new breed of cameras called “micro four thirds” that produce superb photos with an ultra-compact body
  2. hardy little cameras that can be dropped and even drowned
  3. the high-profit world of the accessory

All of that could be a goldmine for a creative retailer.

Mining for gold

Some of the big camera companies can be a pain to deal with; in fact, some of them just don’t want to deal with small guys. REI is OK, but the small town mountain shop is not on the radar of most camera companies. But cameras are likely on the mind of more than 70 percent of the consumers who walk in the retailer’s door. That said, the margins are miserly, and you need to track whom to buy the product from -- after you’ve done your own research.

Olympus (www.olympusamerica.com) deserves a look by outdoor stores for a couple of reasons. It is the original when it comes to the waterproof, shockproof, freeze-proof and crushproof machine that can deliver both a 14 megapixel image and HD movies. Its Stylus Tough-8010 at $399 sits atop a five-camera assortment that runs down the feature hill to the Tough-3000 at $229. The 8010 has a 5X optical zoom to capture everything from mountain goats to edelweiss, and the 2.7-inch screen is extremely bright and immune to glare.

The folks at Olympus are also trendsetters with the PEN line, so-called micro four thirds cameras, named after the format of the image sensor. These are real cameras even though they are no bigger than a small point and shoot. The difference is interchangeable lenses, image stabilization, HD movies, built-in flash, over 12 megapixels, an image sensor that sucks in light, and more image software than your computer. The E-PL1 debuted at the show for $599, while earlier models are as high as $1,099. A representative told how third-party adapters allow the use of almost any kind of lens and the camera’s image control systems still ensure the perfect picture.

Sony (www.sony.com) got a lot of interest for a camera that didn’t work -- like a concept car that can’t be driven. It unveiled its response to the other micro four thirds cameras by showing a non-operative model that uses an image sensor sized at 24 mm by 16 mm instead of the sensor found on similar products that is sized at 17 mm by 13 mm. It was pretty, flat as a pancake, and the company promised it will work.

Sony does have the Sony name to go along with a robust assortment of cameras. For $119, a consumer can get a 12.1 megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom, image stabilization and a big three-inch LCD in the DSC-S2100. Two other features that speak well of Sony are an SD/SDHC media slot instead of just a memory stick and the use of easily available AA batteries to power the camera.

Casio (www.exilim.casio.com) showed the EX-G1, barely over three-quarters of an inch of stainless steel and polycarbonate that can withstand a drop from seven feet. It has 12.1 megapixels, a 3X optical zoom, is resistant to cold temperatures, and is waterproof to 10 feet (MSRP $299). Casio has a group of cameras in its Exilim series that are well-suited to those in the outdoors. Some sell for just over $100.

Industry giant Nikon (www.nikonusa.com) impressed with implausibly expensive hardware to satisfy the true geek. The mountain athlete might be more comfortable with the reasonably priced D5000, which gives 12.3 megapixels of detail in a feel good, interchangeable-lens digital SLR (MSRP $749). Nikon doesn’t do the rugged, waterproof body, but it does have a nice range of affordable cameras. The S8000 is brand new and offers a remarkable 14 megapixels in a tiny camera that also has a 10X optical zoom. A bright three-inch LCD complements the thin metal case containing image stabilization and full HD movie capability.

Camera bags

Even if an outdoor retailer finds the camera business uninteresting or unprofitable, the appeal of the protective bag business should be strong. Before an outdoor adventure, consumers tend to buy a camera elsewhere, and then buy a great carrying bag while shopping for a sleeping bag or a tent.

Lowepro (www.lowepro.com) is still arguably the market leader in bags with a massive array of products, allowing it shelf space in drug, sporting goods, electronics and outdoor stores. Its catalog has 27 backpacks, nine slings, 10 top loaders, six belt packs, 37 shoulder bags and more than 40 pouches for virtually every point-and-shoot camera made.

Lowepro’s Fastpack 200 carries an SLR camera with an extra lens and flash with room for some personal gear (MSRP $100). Behind the flap are convenient media pockets and the shoulder strap has a cell phone pocket. Three additional sizes (100, 250, 300) round out the Fastpack group and fit the majority of digital SLRs.

The company made noticeable improvements in the venerable Slingshot line, which is available in six sizes. Because of the one-strap design, they easily transfer from a carrying position on one’s back to a ready position on the chest. The fast access design was given more room in the top pocket for personal gear. Also the microfiber cloth was repositioned to not interfere with a cameras entry and exit. Prices range from $83 to $179.

Clik Elite (www.clikelite.com), a company that launched at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2009 (click here to read SNEWS coverage on the company ), is making product ideally suited for the outdoor marketplace. The designs are for adventure photographers who want secure and safe storage for expensive camera equipment, and the company hasn’t forgotten the needs of the backcountry traveler. The Pro Express holds two full-sized cameras, has five adjustable padded camera bays, a computer compartment and a hideaway tripod attachment (MSRP $225). Designed by Ultimate Directions veteran Bryce Thatcher, endurance sports users have their needs met by these products. Many, like the Compact Sport (MSRP $150), are hydration capability, have easy access pouches for energy gels, and are ready to clip on one of three Chestpacks made by the company. The Chestpacks allow photographers quick access to their cameras while skiing, hiking or cycling. They can also be worn separately.

Think Tank Photo (www.thinktankphoto.com) is a company that specialty stores of all kinds can embrace because they are truly a producer of soul products. You can imagine these cases and bags being used in Afghanistan, at Fashion Week in New York, or while being choppered into base camp. While the product is so definitively designed for the pro, the Retrospective series may find a place in the outdoor store. Made up of three shoulder bags, the series has a worn-in look in a canvas-like pinestone colorway and also a black poly that blends into the crowd. They’re well thought out with an inside organizer and expandable lens pockets, as well as covers for the Velcro on the over flap. The “sound silencers” stop that tell-tale ripping sound when looking to make a quick lens change in an ancient monastery or tracking the rare Glossy Ibis in Nepal.

A new company of note was Shootsac (www.shootsac.com) by Jessica Claire with snazzy printed textiles to inject fun into carrying lenses and camera bodies. For $179, you get a neoprene sleeve with six pockets for lenses, which fit into an easy opening back panel. Interchangeable covers are available to change up the look of the Shootsac to match a mood, while still carrying comfortably.

A few companies that regularly exhibit camera bags at Outdoor Retailer were not at PMA. Crumpler and Mountainsmith were both absent but have broad assortments.

--Larry Harrison and Greg Thomsen

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