Q&A: 40 years of Camera House

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This content is sponsored by Camera House.

Photography retail in Australia is ever changing, but there’s long been a constant: Camera House.

With the legendary camera store celebrating its 40th year this year, and currently our largest camera retailer with 52 stores across Australia, we sat down with Timothy Ryder, Head of Marketing, and Stewart Pickersgill, General Manager of Camera House, to find out more about the art of camera sales in 2023.

Camera House’s new branding will start rolling out across the country from October.
Camera House’s new branding will start rolling out across the country from October.
Australian Photography: How have buyers changed in the last forty years?

Stewart: When I started in the 1980s, we used to just sell cameras to everyone – people who were travelling, about to have a baby - all sorts of people, and cameras were really like smartphones are today. Everyone had one.

Nowadays, its shifted as photography has become a passion and a hobby for people. It’s one reason why we haven’t been hugely affected by the economic downturn as people will always find ways to support their passions.

Today, photography is increasingly what we call an intended purchase that’s made over an extended period of time.

To give you an idea, we’ve just had our strongest year yet, and rather than being negatively affected by smartphones, we’re seeing a new generation coming into photography because of the phone.

We sell less of the entry level digital cameras today compared to the early 2000s, but our number one selling camera products today are in the $1,500-$2,000 bracket.

Timothy: The other trend is buyers will research heavily before they buy, and we know that as part of this research they like to go into a store and talk to a knowledgeable person about their hobby, and then want support post-sale as well.

Our staff are passionate photographers too, they’re not just people who applied for a retail job.

AP: The camera is just one part of the buying experience today. Can you talk to how that’s changed?

Timothy: Today, education and events are a huge part of what we do. Most Camera House stores are in rural and urban areas, and because the individual camera stores are sole-traders their offerings will differ from store-to-store.

From a product perspective our offerings are uniform across the 52 stores, but the store owners are free to build and serve their communities how they wish. That’s the beauty of the way we operate.

We know events like walking tours and astrophotography workshops are popular, but we also have stores that will offer weekend tours to places like the Top End.

AP: What about other parts of the business?

Stewart: Secondhand cameras and accessories are a big part of what we do today. This is relatively new and a trend that’s occurred as mirrorless has established itself.

The early generation of digital cameras had little resale value on the secondhand market, but it’s quite different now with mirrorless. Even a mirrorless camera from say four years ago would hold its value well as they are still very capable devices today.

Foto Supplies Camera House, Albury, NSW.
Foto Supplies Camera House, Albury, NSW.

Secondhand also gives people an opportunity to purchase more niche products, like unusual lenses for example, that they might not otherwise be able to justify.

The other shift is with film, and a new generation of photographers who want to try it and are seeking a certain style or aesthetic. To hold something analogue is part of the appeal for a generation who have grown up with smartphones and digital.  

AP: What about video? We know hybrid shooting is a big part of modern photography. Do you see a demand for it or is that just being driven by the camera brands?

Stewart: There’s big demand for devices that can be used for content creation, which is broader than stills, and does incorporate video. But I would say even for photographers who come into buy a camera for stills, the expectation is still there that it will be capable in the video space as well.

Social media has helped with this shift, but its cross-generational too. You might have younger people creating content for their social media, but then down at a sports field on a Saturday you’ll have mum filming the kids on a mirrorless camera.

For Camera House, that means we can also support videographers with a much wider range of video accessories as well.

Camera house mailers from the late 80s.
Camera house mailers from the late 80s.
AP: The last few years have seen an increasing number of camera manufacturers adopt a direct-to-consumer marketing model. What’s been the impact of this on traditional bricks and mortar stores like Camera House?

Stewart: This is a relatively recent development with digital marketing. Occasionally we’ll see some of the brands get competitive around sale dates for example, like during Black Friday, but ultimately, we have a partnership with a brand, and if we partner correctly with them, it becomes a strength.

We can support and leverage off one another in-store and online – the combination of our size and physical presence alongside their brand can be an advantage.

We also don’t believe most consumers are buying direct from brands – Sony, for example, is going to say their camera is the best, and Nikon would say the same.

What you get at Camera House is an unbiased opinion of all the offerings.  

NSW’s Rainbow Camera House pictured in the early 2000s.
NSW’s Rainbow Camera House pictured in the early 2000s.
AP: Why is Camera House choosing to rebrand now?

Timothy: It’s been 20 years since Camera House last rebranded, and the industry has gone through massive changes in that time. From film to digital, and of course the rise of the smartphone.

When we first created the current branding, it was at a time when printed catalogues were huge. Now, so much of our marketing is digital, and we operate in a very different environment.  

Over time our customers’ needs have changed. We need to be relevant to the new generation while also being relevant to those people who’ve always known us. This will mean Camera House will continue to grow into the future. ❂

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