Camera and Photographic Supply Stores

SIC 5946

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry consists of establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of cameras, film, and other photographic supplies and equipment. Establishments engaged primarily in the retail sale of video equipment are categorized in SIC 5731: Radio, Television, and Consumer Electronics Stores, and those primarily engaged in photo finishing are covered in SIC 7384: Photo Finishing Laboratories.

The retail photographic supply industry has historically been competitive, particularly at the end of the first decade of the 2000s and in the early 2010s, as establishments struggled to attract the 6 to 10 percent of U.S. households that purchased cameras and photography supplies at camera specialty stores. The vast majority of Americans purchase cameras through consumer electronic and computer stores, mass merchandisers, drug stores, and supermarkets. As digital cameras and camera phones overtook the market during the first decade of the 2000s, department stores, mass merchandisers, and electronic equipment stores took additional market share from stores that specialized in camera and photographic supplies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 1,720 camera and photographic supply stores in the early 2010s, generating more than approximately $4 billion in revenues. Camera specialty stores were generally small, with about 40 percent employing fewer than 20 people.

The downturn in camera specialty stores coincided with the maturation of digital cameras, which are sold through many different Internet and brick-and-mortar outlets. In 2003 U.S. sales of digital cameras surpassed those of traditional devices for the first time. By the end of the decade, digital cameras dominated the general consumer market as their prices dropped and their quality improved.

The camera sector is a mature industry. The majority of those who purchase cameras are repeat buyers who are either upgrading their camera or adding a second camera to the household. Camera technology improved rapidly during the first decade of the 2000s, providing ample opportunity for sales for much of the decade. For example, in February 2009, over 40 percent of units sold were 10 or more megapixels and just 15 percent were fewer than 8 megapixels. In comparison, in February 2008, 60 percent of camera units sold were fewer than 8 megapixels and only 12 percent had 10 megapixels or more. As prices dropped, big-box and discount outlets, such as Walmart and Target, as well as drug stores, became leading suppliers for digital cameras. Specialty shops were often left to compete for high-end models and accessories.

Also taking business away from camera retailers was the proliferation of camera cell phone use. According to PMA's U.S. Camera/Camcorder Digital Imaging Survey, by 2009 more than one-half (53 percent) of all U.S. households owned at least one cell phone with a camera, and 10 percent of households owned three or more camera cell phones. (Other studies estimate camera cell phone saturation to be between 70 and 80 percent.) Of camera cell phone users, 57 percent noted that they did not own another digital camera. By 2009 the number of Americans who owned camera phones had almost overtaken those that owed digital cameras. According to the PMA, 78 percent of U.S. households owned digital cameras, whereas 62 percent owned camera phones. Although camera phones do not have many of the built-in features of a regular digital camera and the photo quality is not as good, users cited convenience as their main reason for using the camera function, as well as the ability to easily upload photos. Technology advances were also helping improve the quality of the pictures taken by cell phones.

Another strike against the specialty camera market was the economic recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, which negatively impacted the entire camera sector. Historically, approximately 30 to 40 percent of digital cameras are sold during the fourth quarter, and roughly one-third of digital cameras are purchased as a gift. When consumer spending declined during 2008, so did camera sales. In 2008 camera sales fell 2 percent by unit but 16 percent by revenues. Sales were sluggish particularly for digital and film-based single lens reflex (SLR), which are the high-end cameras with interchangeable lens commonly used by professionals and photography enthusiasts. These cameras had begun to gain popularity as the price dropped and more nonprofessional users bought them. The segment continued to control less than 10 percent of the camera market, however.

Another issue for some camera shops was the tremendous drop in photo processing revenues. In 2009 just 50 percent of photos were processed at retail outlets. Online processing companies continued to increase in popularity, and many consumers opted to retain their digital images in venues other than print, such as digital photo frames, online photo galleries, and popular social networking sites.

One of the leading companies in this retail industry during the first decade of the 2000s was privately owned Ritz Camera Centers of Beltsville, Maryland, with some 900 stores in operation nationwide and sales of more than $1 billion in the middle of the decade. However, many of these stores shut later in the decade, and, hurt by declining sales due to the loss of photo processing services to digital technology, a recession, and poor boat sales, Ritz Camera (which also owned Boaters World) filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2009. After a buyout, the company reemerged as Ritz Camera & Image (RCI). RCI sold cameras under the Ritz, Wolf, Kits, Inkley's, and Camera Shop names, as well as offered one-hour photofinishing, photographic equipment, and optical products and services. The company also operated a network of e-commerce Web sites, selling digital cameras and photography products. In 2011 revenues for RCI were approximately $121 million and the company reported 2,500 employees.

Although Eastman Kodak, a well-known brand in the industry for decades, filed bankruptcy in 2012 and announced that it would discontinue producing digital cameras, the company had plans for the future that included focusing on "products and services that will help its customers share photos via physical prints and online services." According to PC Magazine, the firm planned to open more than 100,000 Kodak retail kiosks around the world, about one-third of which would support connectivity to online photo-sharing sites, such as Facebook.

Although camera stores continued to struggle with the competition presented by other types of stores, including online retailers, with revenues dropping 2.6 percent annually between 2006 and 2011, overall camera sales began to rebound from the economic recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. For example, it was reported that U.S. consumer spending on photography services, which is considered an indicator of photofinishing and camera sales, rose 1.8 percent in November 2011 compared to November 2010. In 2012 PC World's projected that the industry would include "Wi-Fi-enabled everything, big zoom lenses on pocket-sized cameras, and impressive full-frame DSLRs [digital single-lens reflex] with beefy specs and prices." Regardless of the advances in technology and increased options, the overall state of the camera store industry was classified as mature, and a 2011 report by IBISWorld predicted that even a recovery in consumer spending would not greatly boost sales in the industry.

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