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UK high street photography retailer, Jessops, went into administration yesterday putting 2000 jobs and a long-established high street name in jeopardy.
I was initially quite surprised when I read this news, because I remember Jessops as having once struggled to compete on price with online camera retailers, and their having remedies this to a degree. And even now, I don't think price competitiveness was the reason for Jessops' difficulties.
I think there are a couple of areas where their management could have done better:
Firstly, Jessops is (was?) a retailer specialising in photography equipment, yet it appeared to pitch itself as having to compete with electrical stores and supermarkets who sell cameras as just part of their greater and more diverse range of products.
Staff remit at Jessops was (is?) to push as many supplementary sundry products and services along with the sale of a camera - an equipment bag, an over-priced memory card and the useless UV filter, together with insurance and a payment plan - with almost indifference to the camera itself and its intended use.
Jessops is/ was a photography specialist with a remit to sell mainly to enthusiasts - from savvy snappers who prefer a camera than a phone function, to dedicated photophiles, and all those in-between. In-depth product knowledge and customer communication should have been paramount and an obvious advantage over the electrical stores and supermarkets.
Staff should know that a compact camera with a tiny sensor bestowed with 16 million pixels will not take a better photo than the same camera with half the "pixel portfolio". They should know that the UV filter they push is only functional for film and is nothing more than an opportunity for flare and reflections with a digital camera.
Staff in a specialist store should not only have in-depth knowledge of the products they stock, but also the purposes and situations in which they are used. This is where Jessops did not take the opportunity to celebrate their specialism, and consumer enthusiasm for photography.
Just about ... err, actually no.
Satire aside, with 2000 employees, this should involve a great sense of responsibility, and ability to match.
Having 192 stores spread across the country should give you all the data you need to see, in perfect perspective (photography pun intended), which stores are under-performing and have become a leaching liability to the balance of profitable stores and those that, for the time being, are breaking even.
According to the BBC website, Jessops avoided administration in 2009 by agreeing a debt for equity swap with its lender, so there has been some time to take remedial action.
I may be missing something here, but surely it would have been better to close a few un-profitable stores at a time, reducing overheads and striking more of a balance to the books - particularly in times of economic "uncertainty"?
Of course, Jessops are not alone in their recent receivership, with Comet and others in a similar position. Rather than apportion blame, it would be better to look for example and inspiration. Not so easy eh?
I hope Jessops' administrators find a buyer who sheds unprofitable stores and capitalises on the popularity of enthusiast photography. And I hope they ditch the predisposition to push pap and paper.
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.
Jessops has now been bought by a group involving Dragon's Den entrepreneur, Peter Jones. There are to be 30 to 40 shops throughout the country with 500 staff (mostly former Jessops). The chain will be using a leaner overheads profile to better compete with prices available online. Read more at the BBC News Page.
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