Friday, September 15, 2017



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 ever to sell exclusively Leica equipment. 

Photo Visuals 1980

In an article about Photo Visuals in July 1981, Corporate Report Magazine wrote:


Of course it wasn’t meant to be this way.  All Heinz Richter, 34 and Ernest De Quesada, 28, wanted to do in February of 1979 was to augment their income as commercial photographers by selling a few pieces of Leitz (Leica) equipment on the side.

It didn’t work: sales exploded, and the German and Mexican immigrant partners stopped taking photographs to concentrate on selling Leica equipment instead.  Their former studio on the sixth floor of the Wyman Building in downtown Minneapolis became a Leica-only camera shop, Photo Visuals, that sells new and used equipment to Leica users and collectors in the U.S. and abroad.

Photo Visuals retains its studio ambiance.  The stark white walls, high ceilings, natural wood floors, and huge arched windows overlooking downtown Minneapolis seem a proper setting for the intricate, beautifully crafted cameras, projectors and other accessories.

Heinz Richter and Ernesto De Quesada in 1981 (photo: Corporate Report

Jim Kuehl, the local Leica representative persuaded them that they should apply for a Leica franchise.  Using a list of former clients, the partners put together a first mailing to about 150 people.

The local region, obviously, would not support such a narrow specialty, so Richter and De Quesada went national and international almost immediately.  Once the Photo visual name was established through regular advertisements in magazines with heavy Leica emphasis, like Leica Fotografie, business began to boom.  Roughly 80 percent of Photo Visuals’ sales are made through the mail or by phone.

Buyers of Leica equipment are extremely loyal, and many were delighted to find a camera store selling only that brand.

                             Photo Visuals                                       Customer Lounge

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 was not only to be 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.

Aussen ganz 600

Leica_Shop_innen_2_400  Leica_Shop_innen_1_400

For a Leica 50mm f/0.95 customers gladly pay 8,000 euros ($8,900) 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.  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?

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.

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