Owner: ‘Showrooming’ put him out of business

Battered by the poor economy and competition from low-price Internet retailers, Oregon Camera is shutting down after 47 years in business.

“Come Christmas, I’m going to close my doors,” said owner Rich Danler. “I’m done.”

He’s already started liquidating his inventory, with discounts increasing each week until the holiday. After that, he’ll lay off his three employees and call it quits.

Oregon Camera was founded in 1965 as an offshoot of Ball Studio, a local photography business. Danler bought the company in 2006 and began taking steps to modernize the operation, completing the transition from film to digital photography. In 2010 he moved the shop from its longtime location at Southwest Sixth Street and Adams Avenue to a much more visible storefront at 264 S.W. Madison Ave.

At first, the move paid off in higher sales, Danler said. But business tailed off in the second half of 2011 and has been getting worse ever since.

Part of the problem, Danler believes, is a general lack of disposable income caused by the lingering recession. But he’s convinced the downward spiral has been greatly accelerated by “showrooming,” the growing phenomenon of consumers who treat brick-and-mortar shops like his as places to gather valuable product information before buying elsewhere for the sake of saving a few bucks.

A variety of smartphone apps allow shoppers to make instant price comparisons, sometimes while they’re still in the store. Danler has tried to keep his prices low, but with the cost of overhead such as space rent and salary for a knowledgeable staff, he can’t compete with national discount chains such as Walmart or big online retailers such as Amazon.

“We spend a fair amount of time educating people about what kind of camera they need and all that. Some of them will buy from us, but it’s going to be a tough sell,” Danler said.

“There’s a lot of talk about localism — ‘Buy local’ — but when push comes to shove? No.”

Showrooming is having an impact on retailers nationwide, according to a recent report by the market research firm International Data Corp.

IDC estimates that 48 million shoppers will use their smartphones to help make buying decisions while they browse store aisles this holiday season, influencing between $700 million and $1.7 billion in retail purchasing. That’s more than twice as many consumers as last year, and the number of showroomers is expected to grow by about 10 million a year in each of the next three years.

Consumer electronics, including cameras, have felt the impact of showrooming more than any other retail category, according to IDC, which predicts that between 7 percent and 13 percent of all consumer electronics shoppers will use their smartphones at least once in the store this season.

For Danler, it’s all too much. The relentless drive by bargain hunters to find the lowest price, he believes, will continue to push independent brick-and-mortar retailers like him over the financial cliff. Knowledgable, personalized service will become a thing of the past, leaving consumers to choose between big-box discounters and online superstores while more For Lease signs pop up in local storefronts.

“I think it was H.L. Mencken who said a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I think we’re a whole society of those people now,” he said. “The whole thing’s going to get out of hand. It’s a race to the bottom.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

(16) comments

AmericanMom61
AmericanMom61

Well, he can complain and whine all he wants about so-called "showrooming", but customers have a right to decide when, where and how they want to shop. The real problem is lack of decent customer service in this town, and it's been that way for a long time. The Clerks act like they don't care if you shop there or not. Downtown Corvallis stores have horrible customer service. Their clerks have this attitude of "well I'm a student at OSU and someday I'll make more money than you proles will ever see, so I don't have to be nice and offer great customer service. So is it any wonder people would prefer to go across the river and shop at Wal-Mart or go thrifting? Plus the downtown stores have an annoying habit of not being friendly about debit cards. They want to tell you how much $ to spend before they'll accept your debit. They complain well it cost me too much money to process, well you're losing more money because you lose that customer with your attitude and they will not be coming back. As for Oregon Camera, I went into that specific store a few years back, only to wind up being ignored by the sales people. I waited at least 15 minutes and then left and never went back. I wound up making my camera purchase at Freddy's where the clerks were nice, attentive and helpful.

Stand Up
Stand Up

I am so sorry. I will miss the help I got there. I bought a camera from them with too many bells and whistles for me and no time to sit and learn them. I fouled up the camera several times and each time they helped me figure it out and get it to the set-up I knew. Although I was embarrassed going back in, I never left feeling embarrassed. They were good about teaching and showing me.

Thank You and All The Best.

Sure Oregon Camera.....we are a nation of folks who don't know the value of anything. Look...this is simple.
I want to shop local, and when I need nails I go to Robinettes....I will pay a few pennies more because they are nice to me when I go into the store....it's that simple....I may be an idiot about some things with home maintenance but at least they don't try to make me feel like one.

Sorry Oregon Camera. I wanted to shop at your store...and well...re-read the letter from American Mom...she is right on the money.

ssargdons
ssargdons

AmericanMom61, no one is saying you don't have a right to shop where you want. And no one is "whining" in this story but yourself. This story is telling us that a man's business/passion/livelihood is going under as a result of new technology and shortsightedness of today's consumer. It's unfortunate that some people (such as yourself) can't read between the lines and see that they are the cause of this business shuttering. In this age, our dollar is our vote. And that's the new democracy, unfortunately. So, consider this: while going across the river to the Wal-Mart may help you in the short term, you are funneling your money right out of this community and directly into Bentonville, Arkansas and shareholders elsewhere. Last I checked, Wal-Mart executives and Waltons dominated the list of the 20 wealthiest people in America. That wealth allows them to frivolously build doomsday bunkers in the sides of Ozark mountains while people like you and me and former owners of camera shops scramble to find the lowest prices on laundry detergent. And the Freddy's you mention where everyone is so "nice, attentive and helpful?" (that statement is laughable to me, by the way) That's actually Kroger, and your money spent there is leaving this community and going directly to Cincinnati, Ohio. Interestingly enough, my research has found that Fred Meyer/Kroger marks-up the price of some prescription drugs by more than 2,000 percent! They then offer to price match if one finds a better deal. So, if that type of sales tactic is fine with you, then keep on shopping there. But in the long run, realize that it's killing our community.

Also, I think your judgement of downtown customer service and OSU student employees is a reflection of your own insecurities. Or, considering you spend so much time at the corporate big-box stores, perhaps you're just not used to experiencing how customer service is actually supposed to work.

I will miss Oregon Camera and I wish the owner and employees the best of luck.

MB
MB

Since when is it your business, ssargdons, where my money goes after I spend it? The last time I checked, Bentonville, Arkansas and Cincinnati, Ohio were in these United States of America. The same United States of America that is printed on our money - legal tender. The reason the money is going out of Corvallis is because this town refuses to provide what it's citizens want. You know the word: NIMBY. So, why don't you and your sustainability, buy local at all costs folks, get off your high horses and adapt to the real world?

Go back and read AmericanMom, Nicky, americangirl, JOMO, hohoho and Tazula's comments until it sinks in. I'm sure they are good people at Oregon Camera and I don't languish anyone going out of business. It's interesting how you blame their demise, "as a result of new technology and shortsightedness of today's consumer. Whatever happened to adapting to new technology, enlightening and providing good service to the consumer? It's always someone else's fault. MB.

millejos
millejos

While I'm really sorry to see Oregon Camera go out of business, I got the sense that they catered to an older generation of photographer. It's difficult to quantify that opinion so I might be wrong, it's just how the store felt to myself and others. Go into Focal Point in Dallas (where I do buy all my equipment) and I think you'll notice the difference pretty quickly though.

With Oregon Camera gone, perhaps we'll see a new camera store move in, one that can keep pace with the industry a little better and perhaps engage our art school college population as well?

CHedstrom
CHedstrom

It's too bad to see them go. As someone that enjoys shooting on medium format film, I was happy that I had them as a place to go in town without having to order online or drive to Portland. Our lab used them to service our cameras and they were quick and knowledgable. I never got the impression that they were elitist or rude, as other commenters suggest. I've been in Corvallis for four years and was happy to see a local camera shop, and not a Ritz or Shutterbug, where I have asked about darkroom supplies or non-digital equipment only to get confused looks, and then tried to be upsold. I wish them luck.

americangirl
americangirl

My experience: certain downtown Corvallis shops have good customer service if you look the part of rich Corvallis folk. If you come in your work clothes and want good customer service, forget it. Personally, Inkwell had very poor customer service on a large furniture order. I actually stood for 10 minutes while the sales person talked about her pre-game party foods. I just don't like shoppping in snooty shops. On the positive, I have had very friendly, efficient customer service in Clothes Tree. I guess it just depends on the owner and their business philosophy. The customer is ALWAYS #1 and right.

JOMO
JOMO

Here is my experience over the last 10 years with local businesses:
1) Central air and new furnace 3 no callbacks and one ridiculous bid from Corvallis Companies.Albany company did the work for 1/2 of of Corvallis bid.
2) New Garage Doors no call back replacement done by Salem Co.
3) House Painting No call back from three companies and one call back from another who actually painted my house.
4) Sprinkler system installation no call back from Corvallis Company.Albany firm did the work.
5) Rain Gutters no call back from from Corvallis Company .Lebanon company did a fine job.
6) Roof cleaning and debris removal need I say more ?
7) New furniture: one business had no time for me and got screwed by the other when furniture was purchased. It won't happen again.
The final example is in direct reference to this camera store. I lost my camera several years ago and wanted to replace it. I went to this very store and found out it was no no longer being made and asked what the best replacement might be.I got information that was not understandable and seemed to be of no interest to the person who helped me even though I said I would buy it from them.
I owned my own business for a number of years and learned that customers are not going to beg for good service they will go somewhere else because many options are available.
Also don't get me started on the restaurants in this town........

hohoho
hohoho

I've been in the store a few times. No real issue with customer service. Rather, they could not implement a Nikon national promotion. I was looking to spend over $2500 in the store, but they could not offer me the $200 savings on the lens I wanted... and offered no alternative, even after looking at the actual promotion on www.Nikonusa.com. (I don't think they wanted to waste time printing the form and filling it out.) Sorry, but Amazon had no problems with the promotion. By the way, that $200 saving has been spent on other photo equipment, but nonr purchased from Oregon Camera. They had their chance(s). Best of luck to the owner and employees.I do NOT wish them any ill will.

Tazula
Tazula

When I first came to Corvallis -- more decades ago then I want to mention -- while not exactly a professional photographer, I sold some of my photos to local, regional and national publications and I know my way around a darkroom.

The only camera business in town that seemed to "want" my business was Shutterbug, although not offering the entire range of services I needed, Shutterbug DID give good solid advice.

And, so do a few other local businesses. I spend a fair amount of change at Sedlak's downtown and at Denson's by the university, as well a fair number of other Corvallis/Philomath places.

However, like American Mom, at a number of other local stores, I receive subpar service -- if you can call it that.... So, no wonder why I skip some local "wonderful shops" and go to Albany, Salem, Eugene, Portland -- or *GASP* the web.

Ajax
Ajax

Photography has been my hobby for years...When I moved to the valley about 15 years ago, one of my first priorities was to find a good camera and equipment store... I found Oregon Camera..

I have never been disappointed with giving them my business... Yes, you can save some money elsewhere, but with Oregon Camera you also received local technical support from folks that knew what they were talking about.. When I decided to expand my equipment and get involved with Digital a number of years ago, I had all of my questions answered and I was always given what ever time was needed, to make sure I left happy and informed...

I am very sorry that we are losing Oregon Camera, and I want to thank them for years of good service, as I was always a satisfied customer... Good Luck

caancate
caancate

Sounds like he was ready to close -- sorry he couldn't go out on a high note.

PZ
PZ

Last year, about this time, I wanted to buy an underwater camera for a Christmas gift. I did all the research online (not showrooming) and made a decision on what camera I wanted based on the functionality, price, and user reviews. I do try to "buy local" so I went into Oregon Camera to see if they had the camera I wanted. They were perfectly nice and polite, but only had 2 underwater models and neither were the one I wanted. They were not able to order the one I wanted, and I didn't buy either of the 2 models they carried. So I drove to Best Buy and bought it there. I'm not really sure if my experience was typical, but if it was then it was just a matter of that store not carrying what I wanted and not able to procure it for me either. Another local downtown business, Grass Roots Books, doesn't carry a huge stock of books but they can and will order you a book if they don't have it. I think Oregon Camera's business model just wasn't competitive any longer.

VH
VH

I find it interesting how people overgeneralize. I've had some of the best service/products from local businesses in Corvallis. I've also had bad experiences. Is anybody really going to say that all Albany businesses or all Salem businesses give good customer service? If you do, then you're lying. Each and every business is an independent entity.

Grass Roots is a great store and as has been said, they will order books and get them in stock within a couple of days usually. Can they meet Amazon's pricing? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. But I can go down there and look at the product I am buying to see more about it and if something is wrong with it return it without having to package it up and ship it back, sometimes at my own cost and always with a hassle.

Think online ordering is a godsend? It is often great, but there are two pretty frustrating stories I have with not having the product in hand. One is with a flat-screen TV I bought. Reviews mentioned how those with a certain serial number had a better picture. I tried to get information from Amazon on the serial number of a TV I ordered and it was literally impossible for anyone to look at a box or the actual TV to get that information. Another time my husband ordered, ironically, a camera adapter THREE times from Amazon that was the wrong product in the box stating it was what he wanted. Do you know the time wasted to repack, return, reorder and then do this all over again a few times?

For those who 'showroom' and don't give a rat's behind about the local business that you are using, what are you going to do when they all shut down and you can't use them to preview your online order.

I've used Oregon Camera many times over the past few years and have good experiences with them. Recently I bought a very nice camera bag (try getting that right online) and the sales person took a great deal of time to show me several types and make recommendations based on how I was going to use the bag. They've also been very helpful over the phone when they didn't carry an item I was interested in and then resorted to getting it online.

Sorry to see another local business go and thanks for the service over the years.

Beaversrule
Beaversrule

If you don't know much about photography and feel a salesperson can tell you what you need, just go to Kmart. A $100 camera will be more than adequate. Or use your phone.

If you love photography and fancy equipment, check out BorrowLenses.com, a camera gear rental shop. When you're ready to buy, sign up for e-scrip on Amazon so that your favorite local school gets a commission.

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