Camera store rides through the digital revolution

JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 11:02 22/07/2014

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It's the only job he has ever had, and Graham Boswell's time in photography has captured everything from a digital revolution to the exodus of retail from the central business district.

Set at the South end of Hamilton's main strip in Victoria St, Boswell's business Snapshot Cameras has survived for one reason, he says. It's all about adaptability.

After all, "photography hasn't changed", he says. "It's just the device and the nature of the equipment that's changing."

It is that attitude that has seen the business survive so long. It started up three doors down the road in 1928 as Bell Bros Kodak Supplies.

Boswell's father bought it 18 years later for £900, shortly after returning from World War II, and changed the name to Snapshot.

No cameras sat on the walls of the shop; strict import laws meant they were all sold in advance.

The business made its money developing film. Morris Boswell's most memorable day came on the back of the 1953 visit by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh - the store developed 200 black and white films for locals.

These days, selling cameras and equipment is the biggest chunk of revenue.

Along with digital cameras came digital photo storage and the popularity of publishing photos on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Boswell has made a hobby of convincing people its still worth it to print photos and keep a hard copy.

Canvas prints or hardback photobooks add value to the photo, he says.

He cites one woman who walked into his store asking if a mountain panorama she snapped on her smartphone could be printed for display. The photo is now on a canvas ready to hang in her office.

"That's going to give her more buzz, and more people are going to ask more about it than on a phone," says Boswell.

The digital switch also meant getting rid of film developing equipment and buying in digital photograph printers. Retail space in the store has tripled.

"We had to replace several hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue from film with digital revenue," says Boswell.

On the upside, people don't need to buy film or pay to develop every picture, which means they can get more photography practice.

As a result, photography is getting more popular with different groups of people, and a steady flow of hardware goes out the door.

He says people are getting more experimental and buying equipment for specialist photography like time-lapse and macro.

"Photography has developed more and more as a serious hobby," he says.

One struggle is competing with big malls for foot traffic. Victoria St has been noticeably slower since The Base moved into town.

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Boswell's strategy has been to focus on service. Snapshot Cameras runs classes and events, and stocks specialty accessories. Even the large electronics stores refer customers to Snapshot for specialist inquiries now.

"We have a good relationship with them," he says.

So there is no reason to blame digital photography or chain stores, malls, or digital cameras when an independent retailer shuts down, according to Boswell.

Much like the film to digital switch, Boswell says survival is all about moving with the times.

jamie.small@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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