Yes, I was in my high school photography club. Of course, this was back when being a photographer meant using film cameras and processing and enlarging their own prints. Early on in high school I recognized the power of the camera. The power was not so much in the camera’s ability to record a moment in time but rather in its ability to get me out of class and serve as a universal hall pass under the guise of “getting pictures for the yearbook.” I successfully used this ruse for four full years.
I was introduced to the photo club by Steve D, a class mate that I met at new student orientation. He was already an avid photographer and had recently become a member of the photo club. More importantly, he was the one that taught me about the power of the camera. With Steve’s guidance, I was soon in the good graces of the faculty advisor for the photo club which gave me access to the school’s aging Rolleicord TLRs and Asahi cameras and the photo darkroom during my study hall.
Soon, I was skipping classes and wandering the halls looking for my next subject. I took shots of classrooms, lunch halls, pep rally, cheerleaders, sports events and student activities. Student life was great. But as time wore on, I began to feel limited by the older cameras I borrowed from the school and I began to covet a 35mm camera for myself. Once again I looked to my guide and mentor, Steve, for advice. After all, he had purchased his own Nikon F2 Photomic S 35mm camera recently and was the envy of the members of the photo club. He introduced me to Finn’s Camera.
Finn’s was like many old school camera shops of the day. These shops were commonplace in any town or city of note between 1920 and 1980. Sometimes the shops were associated with the town’s chemist (pharmacy) and sometimes the shop featured an in-house studio for family portraits, graduation pictures and wedding photography. They were third places for photographers who could get free advice on photography, hang out with other photographers, get your photos processed, dream of product they could not afford and buy it anyways. This was the place you went to buy your first “good” camera. The sales staff would patiently explore your needs and make solid recommendations then teach you how the camera operated and critique the first few rolls you shot to get your technique dialed in.
These shops existed before the emergence of category killer stores, on-line retailers, digital cameras and smart phones. Today they have all but vanished. But when I was in high school, camera shops were still going strong.
I still remember taking the bus downtown after school with all the money I had made mowing lawns, shoveling sidewalks and working at the Minnesota State Fair. Steve came along to give me a hand with my choice and give moral support when I parted with all my cold hard cash. As we approached the front door, a salesman recognized Steve and waved him in, as if he needed an invitation.
Oh, what wonders to behold! The lighting in the store was subdued and the air smelled of film and fixer. The front of the store was an expanse of glass looking out onto busy Wabash Street. There was a buzz from the customers chatting away and playing with product. Along the south wall were cameras and lenses arrayed by brand inside the glass counter and on back shelves. Many of the 35 mm brands I was familiar with were there such as Nikon, Canon, Leica, Pentax and Olympus. Next were accessory lenses from Sigma, Soligor, Vivatar and Ricoh. Farther along was the more exotic equipment with the medium format Mamiya, Rollei, the venerable Hasselblad, the Widelux panorama and the Minox miniatures. Finally came the view cameras; Linhof Technica, Sinar, Toyo and Horseman. These names may mean nothing to you but back then these were the brands to own in photographic equipment. It was as if I had entered some photographic wonderland.
Along the north wall were the tripods by Velbron, Smith-Victor, Manfrotto and Bogen. Following them was the darkroom equipment and enlargers by Omega and Beseler including the much sought after 23C. Along the back was a wall of film from Kodak, Ilford, Agfa-Gevaert, Fuji and Polaroid in 110, 120, 126, 220, 620, 35, 4×5, 5×7 and 8X10. Next to the refrigerator holding professional films and photographic paper and separated from the sales floor by a dutch door was a darkroom to demonstrate developing and enlarging equipment. Oh, would wonders never cease! I walked around like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Meanwhile, Steve was chatting with a few of the salespeople behind the counter. Finally, he called me over. As amazing as the store and the products were, what was to come next set Finn’s apart.
Reaching the counter, Steve introduced me to Bob. Welcoming me to Finn’s, Bob first shook my hand and then passed me his business card. Bob knew that I was a neophyte but he treated me with respect and professionalism and over the years, I would buy thousands of dollars of gear and supplies from Bob. Soon, we were debating the finer points of Pan, Plus and Tri-X films and I knew I had found my camera store.
Where is this going? Well, I will get to the main point in just a moment. But first, I wanted to introduce you to Finn’s Camera, a long gone but oft remembered camera shop in St Paul, MN. During my visits to Finn’s, along with a vast amount of information and advice on photography, I was the recipient of great customer service. I hope to draw on some of these experiences in future posts, hence the introduction to Finn’s Camera. Now onto today’s topic.
Many of you have probably heard the military term “parade rest.” It refers to the position soldiers take during drills and ceremonies where they are in an attentive yet comfortable position. See below.
“To assume the parade rest position, one should move the left foot about 10 inches to the left of the right foot. Keep the legs straight without locking the knees, resting the weight of the body equally on the heels and balls of the feet. Simultaneously, place the hands at the small of the back and centered on the belt. Keep the fingers of both hands extended and joined, interlocking the thumbs so that the palm of the right hand is outward. Keep the head and eyes as in the position of attention. Remain silent and do not move unless otherwise directed.”
So, why am I talking about parade rest? A common characteristic that I have observed in Finn’s and every high-end camera store I have ever shopped at is the use of parade rest by their employees when they present the product to customers. The process goes something like this.
A customer points at a shelf saying, “I would like to see the Hasselblad H5D with the 40 megapixel back and the f/4.5 300mm lens.”
To which the salesperson replies, “Certainly” while moving a small padded mat to the counter in front of the customer. Next, they turn and grab $12,845 worth of camera from the case and, without apparent fear or reservation, hand it to the customer.
And there lies the magic. The salesperson does not point at the product safely locked in the case. The salesperson does not hold onto the camera while talking about the product. The customer does not have to produce a license and credit card as collateral. The camera is not placed on the counter in front of the customer. No. The good salesperson always gets the product into the hands of the customer.
Once the customer has the camera safely and firmly in their grip, the salesperson steps back and assumes the parade rest position. While the salesperson rests, the customer is looking at, handling and visualizing using and owning the camera. The camera goes from being Finn’s camera to being their camera.
Good salespeople pay particular attention to the last phrase of the instructions. ” Remain silent and do not move unless otherwise directed.” At this point they let the customer lead. They may answer questions or point out features on the camera in the customer’s hand. They do not rush the customer. And most importantly, the salesperson never takes the camera back.*
They know the longer the customer holds onto the camera, the more comfortable and possessive they become. If the customer attempts to hand it back, they maintain parade rest with their hands behind their back. If need be, the customer can set the camera down on the padded mat that was placed in front of them on the counter.
That is how the Olympus OM-1 camera with the Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens went from being Finn’s camera to being my camera that day.
In this era of enhanced security, so much of valuable merchandise is safely tucked away in display cases, stored off the floor away from the hands and eyes of customers or trussed up with combinations of alarmed cables and EAS tags. So when the customer, that has decided to come to your store and to have a tactile in-store experience rather than an on-line virtual experience, wants to touch, feel and examine the product, your store effectively prevents that. As a manager and a coach, observe how well your employees get the customers to interact with the product.
- Is your staff taking the time to unlock, uncase or unalarm product for customers?
- Are the customers participants or by-standers?
- Is your staff handing the product to the customer?
- Do they get the customers to take the product and use the dressing rooms?
- Are your salespeople concerned that the time with one customer will prevent them from helping others?
- Are the customers the ones playing with the product or are they looking longingly at the salesperson who is playing with the product?
- Do your employees know how to use the product?
- Can your staff coach the customer on how to use the product while the customer tries it or do they resort to demonstration and trial and error?
- Are your employees overly concerned with the security of the product or safety of the customer?
Get the product in the customers hands! (And do not take it back.)
If a salesperson can do this well they will have an easier time with the sale, increase conversion and have happier customers. Many times, I have witnessed customers wrap their loving arms around the product and proudly proclaim, “I will take it” without any slick sales pitch presented or closing techniques applied when this is done well.
*The only time that I ever saw a salesperson take the camera back was so they could replace the existing camera with an even better one.
I worked at the Finns from ’75 to ’83. Absolutely the best place to learn about the importance of service! I will be forever grateful. Thank you for sharing your experience from the other side of the counter!