A snapshot of success:
Dan's Camera City beats the big chain stores

By Christian Millman Of The Morning Call

When Dan Poresky first opened a camera store 25 years ago, he put in too many showcases for the limited amount of merchandise he had to display. But the bare spots under the glass weren't exactly empty — they were filled with the hope of success yet to come.

"I knew that, at some point, we'd be able to fill them," said Poresky, owner of Dan's Camera City in South Whitehall Township.

Turns out he was right. Over the years, the business grew from a few hundred square feet in someone else's store to the 15,000-square-foot building on Fairmont Street it's housed in today. Four staff members, including Poresky, expanded to 65.

As much as the business has changed over the intervening 2½ decades, some things have not. Dan's Camera City started by selling used camera equipment and it still does. Most come in as trade-ins on new equipment.

Of course, those used camera bodies, lenses and flash units are dwarfed by the new cameras, telescopes, binoculars, tripods and other photography gear, but they still provide a valuable service.

"The big box stores don't take trades," said Poresky.

It's that kind of thinking that has allowed Dan's Camera City to thrive amid intense competition from electronics superstores, one-hour photo labs in pharmacies and grocery stores and every other chain that sells photographic services and equipment from a corner of their stores.

Poresky also realized that you may be able to find a great price on a camera at a chain store, but it's unlikely you'll find anyone there who knows how to use it. "As big box stores become more impersonal, we do better and better," he said. "You can't run our operation in a chain of 20 stores. It can't be done cookie-cutter fashion."

It's a way of doing business that seems to have struck a nerve among the 400-plus people who shop at Dan's every day. And even though 30 percent of the business is now commercial work for professionals, the heartbeat of the operation remains amateur photographers looking for advice, tips and a good deal.

Much of the business' longevity can be attributed to the staff members, said Poresky. In a field noted for its excessive turnover, Dan's Camera City has employees who have been there more than 10 years.

"We all agree on one principle," said Poresky. "We want the business to be a success and we want to have fun doing it."

Dan's Camera City is also unusual in the level of benefits it provides to employees. In the retail world, benefits are notoriously thin. Dan's, though, provides medical, dental and vision plans, as well as a 401(k) retirement plan, staff discounts and a bonus plan. There's even a plan that chips in much of the cost of buying a computer.

It makes running a business more expensive in the short term but more profitable over the long haul, said Poresky. Good benefits, fair pay and a fun working environment tend to attract the lifeblood of any successful business: top-notch employees.

"How much business do you lose because the staff doesn't project a good image of a company?" he said. "How much business do you lose because your employees aren't happy?"

It's not only customers and staff who have noticed Dan's Camera City's way of doing business. Peers in the industry have noticed, too. The company was named National Dealer of the Year by industry publication Photo Trade News.

In the old days, shortly after he started the business, Poresky and his handful of employees would park their cars in front of the store to make it look busy. These days, they all park well in the back.

Customers do just fine filling the front spaces on their own.

christian.millman@mcall.com
610-820-6664
The MorningCall Inc., © 2002
Used with permission