David Garratt became the new CEO of Wex Photographic this November, so ePHOTOzine took some time so see how he was settling in, his views on the re-branding and Wex Photographic's plans for 2012.
How do you give people a chance to look at cameras?
As a primarily online business, we have limited scope to allow customers to touch and feel the products. We do have a fantastic showroom in Norwich, staffed by a highly knowledgeable team, and I never cease to be impressed by how far people will travel to visit us in Norwich; a few months ago we had a customer fly in from Germany to buy a top-end lens! We are giving serious thought to opening further retail showrooms to make it easier for those customers who wish to look at the products before buying.
Today, however, the majority of our customers buy without visiting us, and thus we need to work hard both at providing a high quality description of the product on the site and being available on the phone and via “Live Chat” on the web site to answer customers’ questions. We like to feel that this is part of the difference of shopping with Wex Photographic. Of course, we also offer no quibble returns if a customer takes delivery of a product that is not right for them. The very low percentage of returned products give us some confidence that we are doing a good job of helping the customer make the right decision in the first place.
How do you compare to other online retailers?
We’re obviously focused on offering the broadest possible range of products (we currently sell over 13,000) and offering attractive prices. I think, however, that the key differentiator online is the quality of service, and on this front we’d like to think we do a pretty good job.
The readers of Practical Photography and Digital Photo magazines have voted us Best Online Retailer for ten consecutive years and this year we also won the award for Best Specialist Retailer and the overall Best Retailer award. We have also been awarded Gold for Good Service from Amateur Photographer and What Digital Camera and have received recognition from the manufacturers and distributors through winning Online Retailer of the Year for the last six years at the Pixel trade awards.
We don’t however want to trade solely on our track record and we spend a lot of time collecting feedback from current customers and acting upon it.
How do you offer improved customer service compared to others while still competing on price?
It’s really all about our team, whether they work in our showroom, in the contact centre or running the website. Many of them have a real passion for photography and I think this comes across in their interactions with customers.
What are you biggest selling products?
If you look at a typical Wex Photographic customer, they would tend to be either a serious enthusiast or a semi-pro and consequently our biggest selling products tend to be the DSLR cameras and lenses that these customers require. We’ve therefore sold a lot of Canon 5DMkII’s
and Nikon D7000s
over the past couple of years, but sales have been very strong across the ranges from mid level up to and including the very top end products – we’re taken a lot of orders for the new Canon 1Dx, for example. We are also very strong in a wide range of other categories – for example, the more sophisticated compact cameras and lighting and studio equipment have been traditional areas of strength for us.
What products do you expect to sell well in the future?
2011 has clearly been a very challenging year for the manufacturers, with the earthquake in Japan and then the flooding in Thailand. This has had an inevitable impact on new product launches and we hope to see far more innovative launches in 2012. I’ve already mentioned the Canon 1Dx
but we are looking forward to all of the leading manufacturers launching exciting new products in the course of the next year.
How do you see the CSC growing?
CSC is an interesting segment of the market; there has been a lot of innovation and these cameras certainly meet a need in the market. That said, a look at market data shows that having exhibited very strong growth in 2010, CSC’s share of total spend on cameras (including compacts and DSLRs) has “stuck” at the 5-6% level over much of 2011. Of course, this category has also been impacted by supply issues this year, but I think the jury is out and I wouldn’t want to put a figure on the proportion of the market that CSC can take.
Do you see the CSC market taking away from DSLR sales?
I think there has been some evidence at the entry level / “occasional photographer” end of the market – there are clearly buyers who are attracted to the smaller size of the CSC products. Beyond that, I suspect the impact will be more limited, however it is a case of “watching this space” as the future growth prospects of CSC are difficult to call.
Is the company growing?
We are growing. Financially we have had a good year, however we haven’t been immune from the supply issues or very challenging economic conditions which our customers are having to cope with. The business has been generating good cash flow and has extremely supportive backers, in the form of Barclays Ventures, the venture capital arm of Barclays Bank.
How do you see the market growing in the future?
Sitting here in the present economic conditions, it is difficult to start predicting stratospheric growth in the near future. Our customers are passionate about photography – it is either their hobby or their livelihood – but few have money to throw about. I believe the industry, manufacturers and retailers alike, need to focus on delivering innovation and value for money if customers are to be persuaded to upgrade their existing kit bag. That said, the products now being launched are making photography both more exciting and accessible to more people and so I think the long term future is bright.
And what plans do you have to keep the company growing?
We are looking at a range of initiatives. Improving our website and customer service is a never ending task and, as I mentioned earlier, we are looking seriously about increasing our physical retail presence.
I believe our reputation for customer service will stand us in good stead. The main reason that we rebranded from Warehouse Express to Wex Photographic was that we felt we were hiding our light under a bushel. Our existing customers knew and loved us, but many other people were not even clear about what we sold – the name “Warehouse Express” provided precious few clues and perhaps even suggested a “pile it high, sell it cheap” philosophy which is a long way from the high service business we seek to operate. With a more relevant brand, we now have to spread the word about the service we can offer.
Can you tell us more about the new logo?
The first thing to say is that the name “Wex Photographic” hopefully gives people more of a steer as to what we offer. We chose Wex as it was a pretty well used abbreviation for the business by customers and staff alike, and we already had the Wex Blog and Wex Forum as well as our Wex Pro own brand products.
Based on customer feedback, we have retained the Warehouse Express name as a suffix for the time being. We were keen for customers to know that, behind the new name, it was the same team who had been serving them well over the years.
As regards the aperture logo, we can’t claim it as an original image, but again the aim was to have something clean and crisp that was relevant to photography.
Who designed it?
We used a firm of design consultants called Nimble Jack, based in Chester, but there was also quite a bit of “audience participation”. We spent a lot of time gathering feedback from customers and non-customers along the way and that consultative process shaped our views quite significantly.
Have you ever considered selling / sold second hand equipment?
It’s on the list for further evaluation. I think it is something that is easier to do well through physical stores but there may be options to do something with a greater online focus. After all, eBay don’t do a bad job as a market place for second hand equipment across all sectors.