SINGLE BRAND SPECIALISTS
Leica has been busy opening their exclusive Leica stores all over the world. It is a successful concept that is serving them well. But as new as this concept might appear, it has been done before.
In 1979, Photo Visuals of Minneapolis was the first camera store in the US to sell exclusively Leica equipment. Initially the business was planned as a photography studio. Prior to that, the owners worked at a store that sold more Leica equipment than any other in the area. The Leica representative at the time called them, saying that he could not afford to lose their expertise and customer base. Leicas had always been a favorite of the two owners and with the help of Leica, at that time in Rockleigh, New Jersey, they placed an opening order to obtain a Leica franchise. Once the order arrived, thoughts turned to how best to promote it. That’s when the thought came up to promote it as the first exclusively Leica dealer in the country. The concept took off beyond expectations and the studio aspect of the business was soon left behind.
Photo Visuals 1980
The concept apparently had a lot of appeal and soon Alvin’s Photo Supply of Pasadena opened California’s First Exclusively Leica store. They were followed by The Darkroom “Leica and Leica only” in San Francisco.
But this is not only found in the US. Germany too has dealers that sell just one brand exclusively. The German magazine FOTOwirtschaft recently published an article by Klaus Jendrissek with the title LUXUS PROBLEME (Luxury problems) about one of the largest Leica dealers in the country. That too is an exclusively Leica store. He wrote:
The Bilderfürst (picture prince) - camera merchant Jan Dittmar from Fürth - has definite problems. He has a waiting list for photography equipment and many items sell beyond their manufacturer suggested retail price.
For a Leica 50mm f/0.95 customers gladly pay 8,000 euros ($10.500) if it is available. If not, Jan Dittmer will put their name on a waiting list. When new deliveries arrive, the customers will be notified. Customers often wait two years for some Leica products, and they understand. These cameras and lenses are being made by hand with great care and that takes time.
Dittmar doesn’t need to explain, as a well-known Leica specialist he has the complete confidence of the Leica community.
“You have to make a decision,” he explains. “Either you offer a selection of different makes. That means you tie up a lot of capital in your wares. Then you need at least a representative number of Canons and Nikons, possibly also a few Olympus items and one or two Sony products. At that point it gets a bit tight for what else the market has to offer. Or you put all your eggs in one basket and specialize.”
That means, if done right, extreme specialization can even be successful at places where you might not expect it. Jan Dittmar is concentrating totally on Leica. In his store of 450 square feet you will only find Leicas and nothing else.
The business concept is relatively simple from one point of view but also difficult from another one. With such approaches retail prices are not everything. Most of those who enter the store know that Leicas are often sold at fixed prices.
That is the unproblematic part of the concept which is followed at Dittmar’s Leica Boutique. The difficulty on the other hand is to be able to obtain certain pieces of equipment. It’s not that Leica doesn’t care, but with their production methods they currently aren’t able to do more. Dittmar’s customers can see that for themselves. Several times a year the Leica man offers invitations for trips/workshops to the Leica factory in Solms. There they can experience for two days that real specialists are needed to create the optical-mechanical marvels, and people with that kind of experience and such golden hands are rare. The consequence: the customers will be able to look forward to their orders for longer than they had hoped.
Service and care of the past are part of such a single-brand-boutique as well. Because the optics from the 70s also fit the digital Leicas of today, they are much sought after. A used Summilux 80mm f/1.4, which sat on a shelf for 900 euros ($1,185) a while ago, now fetches 4,000 euros ($5,280). Leica is also updating the analog lenses for use on digital Leica equipment. For 160 euros ($210) yesterday’s lenses become lenses that can also be “understood” by the digital Leicas. Thus the used lenses are being offered a new life and increasing prices.
Customers are coming to Fürth from far away. Since Dittmar always goes by “purchase if something is available, to have it when asked for” he is able to accommodate more customers wishes, even very unusual ones, than his I-have-Leicas-also colleagues.
His store is known all over Europe and even further. The Japanese, some of the greatest admirers of original Leica technology, order from Dittmar or they come personally for a visit. The Leica specialist is also delivering Leica lenses to Canon film crews. Attached to Canon cameras with an adapter, they deliver amazingly good results.
Right now the photo business is a lot more fun than in years past. Because of floods and other natural disasters equipment is often in short supply. Therefore customers are more accepting of the prices than in the past. Many a merchant has seen with disbelief that several items sold for above the manufacturer suggested retail price and that without customer complaints. When has that ever happened the years past?
(Translated by Heinz Richter)
Taking the above into consideration, Leica came to the game relatively late. But they are following a successful concept and their success as well as the successes of other exclusively Leica stores prove them right.