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Friday, May 27, 2022

First Person

Managing a “mom-and-pop” retail store can be a challenge when your competition is a discount warehouse-type national chain. Advertising, pricing, even inventory can be dictated by what the competition carries. But Frank Ponder, general manager of Bel-Air Camera and Video in Westwood, says he has managed to find the right combination to keep the family-owned store competitive. He was interviewed by Julie Sable.

We’re in the process of celebrating our 40th anniversary and there have been many problems that we have overcome since first opening our doors.

The major problem we face is competition from the discount-priced giants. Once they started opening, we were forced to take a look at how we conduct our business. The first thing we did was put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and examine how we could give excellent service without having to charge higher prices.

First we concentrated on our strengths. There isn’t any way a warehouse can compete with our wide stock, as we carry over 21,000 items in photographic imaging and video equipment. It’s typical that the general-merchandise warehouse stores offer just 10 to 12 photographic items.

Also, discount stores generally carry equipment that isn’t necessarily the latest model. There again is another strength because we carry the newest products.

Another strength of ours is being able to help the customer do more than just make a purchase. Our staff works with them to find the right equipment for their needs, whether it’s professional or amateur. Since we have a wide variety of merchandise, we are more likely to find a good solution to the customer’s needs.

The one area that can be a problem for any retailer that offers a specialty is finding knowledgeable salespersons. We address that problem by sending our staff to classes and ensure that they are educated by the top people who are involved in the development aspect of new equipment.

This offers direct competition to sales associates in warehouse stores who have responsibility for many items, not just one product.

Although we are not a warehouse, we are competitively priced and will match prices from our competitors.

We also have concentrated on increasing our productivity and have installed a high-tech computer tracking system that keeps up-to-the-minute information on inventory. The computerized system allows sales associates to process a sale twice as fast as in the past, which frees up their time to work with the customers.

One problem that we are still working on is visual merchandising. For a retailer our size, we don’t have the time or the resources to track down items to create a display, much less employ the creative talent to do so. We’re experts at what we do and that is selling cameras and video equipment, but creating eye-catching product displays is still a problem that we are currently working on.

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