"Who are the great thinkers of our photo industry?"

That’s the question I asked, but here’s how I secretly defined it in my mind:

"If you were at a reception with free food, drink and dancing girls, would you leave it to walk across the hall to listen to this person speak?"

That was what I was thinking, but feedback from friends in the industry was surprising. Nominations fell into several categories:

The father of our entire industry, George Eastman, who obviously falls into a category all his own. He popularized flexible film, affordable photography, the single use camera, and the best photo slogan of all time "you press the button and we’ll do the rest."

Innovators of photographic technology which have become part of the main stream, known to insiders and consumers alike. If their names aren’t known, their creations are.

  • Harold Edgerton (creator of the repeating electronic flash)
  • Edwin Land (inventor of the polarizing filter and Polaroid instant cameras)
  • Oskar Barnack (creator of the first commercially successful 35mm camera, the Leica)
  • Thomas Alva Edison, without whom we’d probably have no sprocket holes in our films.
  • Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowski, who created Kodachrome.

Innovators of the lab technology that has caused a sea change in our industry:

  • Kanichi Nishimoto, founder of Noritsu who developed the first automated film processors, modular paper processors, and the fully integrated minilabs and daylight load film processors that were the very foundation of the industry that we all center our businesses around.
  • Albert Edgar and Sada Cumber who started a small company called Applied Science Fiction and brought us Digital ICE which is now making its way to nearly every scanner in the world and made our daily lives easier. Five years from now we'll probably think of the ASF bunch as the inventors of dry photo finishing.

Camera store/lab operators who have shared their knowledge with us. First and foremost, Ben and Harry Cooper. Not only was their Camera Mart in the Baltimore a wonderful store that showed how good a "mom and pop" store could be, but they shared their organizational skills with the rest of us through a great series of columns in Photo Weekly.

  • Bob Banasik, Best Photo in Connecticut. His Best Photo list is required reading for anyone who owns a Noritsu digital lab, and he's a frequent speaker at PMA meetings.
  • Garry Grinaker, "cleverly hidden in the Kirkwood Mall," sometimes ventures forth from Bismarck ND to share his ideas with us.
  • David Guidry of Lakeside Camera in Metarie, LA, was one of the first to recognize the potential of digital labs to produce products other than mainstream photographs. 
  • Chris Lydle, Chris’ Camera Center South in Aiken, SC, publishes this web site and shares his pirated ideas at PMA and IPI conferences.
  • Jim Manetta started sharing ideas through the Independent Photo Marketers’ forum on their members-only website, which has grown to be a font of great marketing ideas.
  • Brian Noble of Noble's Camera in Hingham, Massachusetts. One of the best business operators around. Brian's father and he actually added complete Hallmark stores to the camera shops because the target demographics merged so perfectly with the "ideal shopper" they wanted for the stores.
  • Larry Rife had the audacity to name his camera store in Pennsylvania "L A Cameras," and has some audacious marketing plans too! 
  • Allen Showalter, King Photo in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has turned the marketing of profitable products like photo mugs, cards and group photographs into a fine science.
  • Michael St. Germain of Concord Camera rewrote the book on store remodeling on a shoestring – plus his décor is superb – and he shares and has good ideas
  • Mike Worswick - Leader of PRO – past PMA president, a powerhouse in Kansas – and known around the world as the most ethical guy in the industry – a friend to all, regardless of your size. A true gentleman.
  • Probably the most prolific thinker in that group is Jim Schwarzbach, owner of Jim's Photo in El Paso Texas. Randy Wright, of Color Services Custom Photo Lab in Santa Barbara, CA is pretty sharp himself and he says "Jim has more great marketing ideas in an average day than I have come up with in my life." Jim just recently started speaking to industry groups but members of IPI have been feeding on his ideas for years. He's particularly strong on promoting the products you can generate with digital labs, and his "12 Tips to Selling More Greeting Cards" is a money maker.

Roger Berg of Columbia, MO may have turned down Sam Walton's invitation to join a fledgling retailer group that has grown to be Wal*Mart, but that's the last major mistake he made. After growing a successful specialty store he was one of the earliest to recognize the potential of the merger of electronics and photography and has run success seminars, spoken at PMA and written books to share his gospel.

Bill McCurry started as a retailer, with his family’s stores in California, and moved over to become an unparalleled motivational speaker, consultant and writer. His books "Guerilla Marketing for the Photo Industry", "Guerilla Managing for the Photo Industry" and "Digital Guerrilla Marketing" are required reading for anyone who wants to get ahead. His seminars at PMA and other conferences have shared great ideas and candy with all of us. His weekly e-mail marketing tips newsletter shouldn't be missed. Plus he's a helluva great guy.

Founders of the cooperative groups. It’s not always easy to know exactly who did what with each of these groups, but PRO, Independent Photo Imagers, PhotoFair, & Town and Country Stores help their members get stronger, smarter and more successful. It's easy to focus on the buying deals and discounts these groups can bring to their members, but it's the fellowship and counsel that keeps people in for the long haul. Members rarely leave these groups, thus their effectiveness is without question. Besides just pure economic gain, most members gain business insights by being active participants in these organizations.

The forum creators. They’ve adapted to the internet and started an open exchange of ideas. Bob Banasik’s bestphotolist is the daddy of them all. Randy Wright founded the Fuji Frontier forum, and a Konica QD-21 forum has just started. These are open forums and you'll find out more in another article.

Dealer groups have their own "closed" forums or bulletin boards. The most famous and widest used is the IPI forum which also has a semi-public section where vendors can make posting for IPI members. PRO and Town and Country have bulletin boards as well.

The Great Consolidators/Empire Builders. Their vision went beyond a one-city marketing area.

  • Phil Lalji was founder and CEO of Kits cameras, a 140 store chain of specialty photo stores on the west coast of United States. He sold the photolab portion of the business to Kodak in 1991 and the stores in 1997. Now it’s a part of Ritz.
  • John Bogosian of The Camera Shops. He expanded his father’s single store in Pennsylvania to a chain of 72. Now a part of the Ritz group.
  • Ron Inkley set the standards in Utah. His stores are now part of Ritz.
  • Johnny Jackson’s eponymous chain in South Carolina grew to 12 stores.
  • Carl Newton III of Fox Photo, who had so many stores and kiosks that they were featured in the movie "Back to the Future." Most of us have to work hard to get rid of locations – he got a time-traveling De Lorean to crash a mini-van loaded with terrorists into a kiosk. The most effective move to "de-acquire" came when Fox Photo was absorbed by CPI Photo in 1991. CPI later acquired the Proex Photo are Portrait group, which was bought by Kodak in 1997.
  • Chuck Wolf split from the Ritz family business in 1974 and through growth and acquisition had a total of 791 stores in 1999. That peak came when Kodak sold Wolf the remaining Fox/Proex stores in 1998. Not really a good move for Wolf, since many of the locations were weak and Wolf Camera closed 277 locations in the next 3 years. When Wolf filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001 Chuck Wolf cited the Fox acquisition as a major cause of his woes.
  • And can we forget Benjamin, Ed and David Ritz? Started in 1918 as a one-man photo studio, Ritz Camera has grown to become the largest group of photo retailers in the world.

The writers/publishers:

  • Herbert Keppler, "grand old man" of the industry.
  • Bill Clark of Photo Trade News, who moved on to the Photographic Manufacturers and Distributors Association
  • Ed Wagner of Photo Industry Reporter

The guy who pulled it all together: Roy Pung, who brought the Photo Marketing Association out of the dark ages of dip-and-dunk processing. It wasn't easy getting wholesale photofinishers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers to "sit at the same table" but Pung was instrumental in doing so. While presidents of the organization come and go, the permanent staff of PMA continues to be the glue that holds the industry together.

And of course, anyone who regularly reads these web pages has to be counted as a great thinker!

For more background check out our brief history of the specialty camera store.

Note: this page was first prepared about 2004. Since then many of the thinkers named have moved away from the industry or from this life - hopefully to an even better one!