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Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Comments

I think the biggest reason B&H thrives to the extent it does is the Internet tax policies -- our local camera stores here in Minneapolis have to charge 6% on sales, so unless you're an idiot, you buy your big ticket items from B&H or some other out-of-state source. So a guy'll go down to the local store, compare Nikon to Canon, pick the knowledgeable saleman's brain, and then order the camera of his choice from B&H. On a D2x, that'll save you about $480. In fact, B&H can take more profit than the local store, because it doesn't have to undercut by the full $480 to win the sale.

That's why local camera stores are going away, along with the jobs and the resources they provided to local photographers.

I disagree -- I live in NY and often buy from B&H, and I get charged tax. Tax or no tax, their prices are still very competitive and their service is outstanding. That's why I shop there.

I love B & H; I've been shopping there since the early '80s. I always know I'll get a great price, and the service is beyond reproach, and priceless is that there is no anxiety about making a mail order purchase, whether it was a couple Leica M6s and a brace of M-lenses, or my recently purchased Nikon D700. A photographer's best friend.

In my case, it's because we don't have any local stores, big box or otherwise, who carry photographic equipment. The nearest one is an hour's drive away - so, at that point, "shopping local" becomes a rather abstract exercise. (Besides, that particular store also has a web presence, which is how I was able to obtain a very nice used tripod for a reasonable price.) The internet is a blessing for those of us who are off the beaten track.

Actually, I misspoke. We do have a Meier's and an Office Max - but neither is my first thought for photographic stuff, aside from printer paper and compact discs and the like.

The key is to resist the urge and grow too large. That and clean your store at least twice a year! Few companies can maintain that level of growth and still provide a useful shopping experience. I will not be surprised if Best Buy is gone in 10 years.

Circuit City stores always seemed filthy to me. I think I only ever bought cassette tapes and a cheap pair of sennheiser headphones there.

Abt electronics (here in Chicagoland) while not the same as B&H is a very successful family owned consumer electronics store that was packed to the gills with people spending money on Saturday.

Tax schmax

Personally, I've spent a lot of money at my local camera store; I figured it was in my interest if they spent time with me, to buy from them. But, at this point in my life, I'm pretty sure my momma did raise at least one idiot.

I buy from B&H and Adorama because their prices are excellent, and I get it right away, even by UPS. I buy 90% from those two.

I detested going into a store like Circuit City, and have the clerk hound me about an extended warranty.

Mail order has been going on for decades. I remember in high school the back pages of Pop Photo. It's just gotten more sophisticated. You can't stop progress.

I have been buying from B&H for many years and have never had a problem that was not resolved fairly. In fact once I ordered the wrong item in error. B&H shipped the correct item overnight at no shipping charge. My account was credited for the returned item as soon as they received it.

Last November I was looking at a 50D in my local camera store. I decided to buy the camera on the spot paying about $100 more than the B&H price, plus an additional $84 in local sales tax. When I got home I discovered I had purchased a used camera, put back in the box with someone else's name embedded in the EXIF data! So much for supporting your local store.

One of the few places I'll order gear from sight unseen. And the used stuff turns out to be even nicer than the description says.

I use to live in Northern NJ and shop B&H at their store and now live in Tennessee and order on-line. They are great.

But in the Circuit City close out, I did make a find. I got a Sony keepsake. I bought the Plexiglas camera mockup used to display their vertical grip for $10.

http://webpages.charter.net/rgmcanally/CC%20Find/RGM_PIC3_20090211_0702.jpg

D700 body only:
B&H $2699.95 after $300 rebate
Amazon $2,352.74

Both accessed through TOP

As a New Yorker, I would pay tax on both. (Conditional statement: IF I had $2352.74 I could spend ...)

I also buy from them, although most of the gear I buy these days is used. One thing that the on-line piece said is not quite right. They probably don't, any longer, have the absolute rock-bottom price on most items. A quick survey of internet-only retailers will confirm this. BUT, what they do have is a pretty good reputation for customer service and for the few pennies/dollar more that they do charge, I'd rather go to a trusted source than to some Pop-photo "check rated" scam shop. Also, their used gear is, well, VERY used (probably because it comes from the NYC market of hard-working pros . . . speculation on my part). KEH is a better bet for used stuff, in my humble and gear-obsessed opinion. BTW, I do buy through my local shop when I can and usually saunter through about once a month, just to see what's on the shelves. It is important to me that they are around.

Ben Marks

Another comment. I recently went into our local Best Buy, pricing TVs; salesman listened to the problem, and sold me a 10% solution to the problem. Told him sincerely when I needed the 100% solution, I was gonna track him down. I will. CC was always, even in their new stores, somewhat marginal. Rarely have I known less than the salesperson (see above), though I always attributed that to Our Community's well known "cheerful incompetence".

B&H is a great operation, Adorama is great, but I will try to buy local, just like I drive non-foreign vehicles. World economy, my ass. That chicken has come home, and in another 5 years, it's going to visit Toyota and Honda the same as here. Hint; health costs.(I come from a family where John L. Lewis was a Saint) I blather. No, I curmudge. Aside from the need to curmudge, the article mentions the elaborate merchandise movement; there once was a hardware store in the south Loop of Chicago that did something similar for money. Long gone, as are most hardware stores; change is the constant.

I guess my real thought is: don't be a woozle, if you want that local store to try out stuff, you damn well ought to buy from them.

I'm very honest with my local shop that I buy film and some supplies from B&H, and they know full well that many local pros do the same. But I tell them that if they can get within 10% of B&H prices, including the cost of shipping to me here in New Zealand ($$$), I'll happily buy from them. For film in large quantities, they can't beat B&H prices, but for some supplies and gear, they can, so I support them. They appreciate the honesty, and I appreciate their discounts to get my business.

Here in the Philadelphia area even most of the so-called pro camera shops leave a lot to be desired. Take Calumet for example. There's more stock than you'd find in the smaller independents, but a surprising number of items are out of stock--even Calumet branded items--and have to be ordered. Given that reality, I can do the ordering myself from B&H or Adorama. Although I pay a shipping charge, I save on sales tax.

It's not all about saving money, though. I completely agree with Joel Spolsky's basic point, which is that companies that care more for their bottom line than their customers eventually sacrifice both.

We're losing our local Ritz Camera affiliate and I hate it for the kind, knowledgeable people who work there but on more than one occasion I was told by them to look online because they didn't have what I was looking for or because of the local 10 percent sales tax retailers in the city where I live have to charge. Circuit City was horrible and will NOT be missed. Best Buy is slightly better. B&H Photo is the only site I recommend to people.

I have delt with B&H on the phone since the 1970s and they have improved tremendously. Back then I was reluctant to call because I knew the salesman would be abrupt. It was like, "Give me your order, do it in less than 30 seconds, and I let you live." Also that was the time people were discovering that gray market camera equipment didn't have a U.S. warranty, and B&H wasn't making that clear enough. Now they do. Now they let you complete whole sentences and even provide advice based on what they heard. I think someone actually set a policy saying, "Let the customer go through his whole explanation before you say anything." When you see B&H reps at photo shows like Photoshop World or a NAPP seminar, they seem just like friends. It is also the extra activities, the in-store training classes I can't attend because I live in Maryland, and the online photography information, that makes a difference. Adoroma does that, too. There was a time when I put Adorama on the list with the worst of the mail order companies. But for at least six or eight years I haven't felt that way. Only when they tried to talk me into a Nikon 18-200 that I didn't want, and answered my reasoning with, "Ya read too much!" It was meant to be funny and I appreciated the humor, but it was still pressure to go against my research. That was recent and only then did I recall that I once did not trust them. Adorama is the leader when it comes to extra photography training and help with taking better pictures, and is the leader when it comes to selflessly putting up the money to preserve Joe McNally's huge-size photos of our 9/11 heros. I respect that, and respect that they have teamed up with Bryan Petersen to teach photography. Now, as to all the others in New York, and the comment above that Amazon.com has less expensive prices on cameras. Look at who you are getting the camera from when you find it on Amazon. If it is Amazon, then ok. It's not the same as Adorama or B&H (who are you going to get advice from at Amazon?), but it is something you can trust. If it isn't, it is probably someone who will call and say the camera is cheaper if you purchase a bunch of stuff with it that you didn't want. Or they will say it is out of stock and you have to wait, and you call 50 times begging for information on the order. So if it is less expensive than Adorama or B&H on Amazon, look at who you are REALLY buying from. The local camera store in your home town is worthy of support and usually has very knowledgeable folks working there. But they are more expensive and in my case, in Maryland, I have to pay tax that I don't pay to B&H (or Adorama). Things can go wrong even at the local store. One accused me of expecting too much from my point and shoot when actually it was broken, like I said in the first place, and Canon ultimately said later. That made me furious (or at least what passes for me as furious--my serious look) and I never went back. The guy who said it was the same guy who sold me my first digital camera, a 20D, but he didn't remember my face. At another, I paid $100 for filters and the guy seemed irritated about life in general and never said thanks. So I said "You're welcome" and that made him angry, and his buddy salesman standing nearby angry. I had chatted with both of them amiably for months. Now the buddy salesman won't speak and, not surprisingly, I don't go there anymore. I was willing to pay the taxes to support the local store, but not if an attitude comes with it.

Note to C. Vickery - Just an FYI, but if you add the D700 to your "cart" at B&H the price shows as $2369.99 as of a minute ago - 8 P.M. EST. Apparently they hide the best price until you order.

Circuit City and CompUSA were the lowest of the low, but Best Buy is nearly as bad. The guy checking the your receipt at the door when you leave? His purpose is not to prevent shoplifting but to make sure the cashiers aren't cheating the store. The salespeople don't work on commission, but they're treated as if they were (worst of both worlds, in my opinion).

Typically I don't buy from any of those places unless I know exactly what I want and I know they have a decent price. Since moving to Toronto I've mostly been buying at Henry's, though.

I found it interesting. Recently my local camera store where I purchase my Olympus gear told me to go to B&H. Apparently Olympus is making all stores go to a regional person, so there is little or no savings in purchasing gear. Plus it is more difficult to get some items. I'm really disappointed as I prefer to help my local shop stay in business.

C. Vickery, the D700 is $2,369 at BH after rebate. The price in the listing is the MSRP, not BH's regular price. Free shipping, too.

B&H and Freestyle Photo are my two main sources of photo stuff. Great service, great stuff, great prices, and a good old fashioned "the customer is always right" attitude.

IMO, most of what Spolsky said about Circuit City applies to Ritz Camera.

"It was like, 'Give me your order, do it in less than 30 seconds, and I let you live.'"

[g]
I remember that era. Especially at 47th Street Photo.

Mike

I was just at the store today and B and H is a pilgrimage every photographer needs to make in his or her lifetime. I agree with everything said.

I don't know how Helix is doing, but I loved to go into the main Chicago store years ago. I bought some Domke products from them a few years ago, but now prefer to buy through a TOP link if possible. Being in NY, I can't avoid tax; Mike, hook up with Helix, Popflash, Gandy or someone else!

It makes me laugh when someone uses Best Buy as an example of a good electronics store. I went there (Bellevue, WA) last weekend to buy a 40-inch LCD TV. I wanted to hook up a DVD player to see the picture quality with known source material. The "salesman" spent several minutes mumbling about 10 different reasons why he probably couldn't do this, in the form of incoherent sentence fragments. Except somehow all of those reasons were false because in the end he did succeed in doing so; it was not very difficult: grab one of several demo DVD players, grab a cable from a drawer, plug it into a TV. The funny thing is that when he needed to reach a TV in the 2nd row (above another TV), he climbed on top of the box of a fragile LCD TV so he could reach. I wonder who ends up buying that box. Not me, because the "salesman" disappeared and was of no further help -- so it was impossible for me to evaluate different TVs.
The other thing that bugs me about Best Buy is that it takes a long time to go through the checkout because the cashiers spend a lot of time pressuring every customer into buying some kind of extended warranty.

The main reason that B&H and Adorama have thrived is because they slowly became the best in a business dominated by a horrible reputation and service. Photographers have always liked purchasing via mail, spending hours and hours perusing and comparing items and prices in the back of Popular Photography, only to be cheated, burned, ripped off, lied to and every other negative that you can think of by the company that they ended up doing business with. The words "Cambridge Camera" send chills up my spine.

Most of those companies are now gone, mainly because the Internet spread the word about how much they sucked, and how, if you were going to do mail order, basically only B&H and Adorama could be relied upon. And their owners saw what was happening, and in a business known for crappy business practices, they realized that good customer service pays back tenfold.

Many of our local camera stores never got the message. There is a big camera store in the area that I avoid at all costs, because their salespeople are all frustrated know-it-all photographers that have a "you are lucky that I talk to you" attitude. Add to that the fact that I have to add 9.25% in tax to their already high price, and I will buy the stuff online, after reading about it online and talking about it online. If I want to see it in person, someone in the local photo club probably already has it anyway.

Wow - what a comparison ! A specialty retailer with a single location in Manhattan that does most of its business online (once "mail order") versus a strip mall chain ? Why not compare B&H to Walmart and say Walmart went out of business because their employees weren't knowledgeable ? Oh, because they didn't.

I don't know why CC failed. And why Best Buy didn't. (A much more reasonable comparison than B&H). They occupied big brick & mortars with good sized parking lots and presumably paid a lot in rent. Their prices were high (to cover the rent). They always had a lot of employees floating around (doing what, I don't know, but more than Best Buy ever has). More cost. Maybe there are only so many people willing to pay high prices to buy something at CC rather than get it online. Maybe they lost too much money on Divx.

Anyway, a quick google search turned up
http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1858079,00.html
and
http://blogs.bnet.com/ceo/?p=1493

which are more sensible analyses of why CC went bankrupt. In hindsight, this was just an excuse to rave about B&H and that's ok.

B&H is a very cool place. I've visited the store maybe 3 times in the last 5 years, but previously shopped through them online (and yes, via mail order before that). I appreciate B&H. They're my first choice for camera gear. But I can't say that they thrive because of how they "treat their customers". They can be ... brusque. And it's hard not to get the feeling that they don't trust you while you're there. But that's fine. They're on 9th Ave, not 5th. They're efficient and have the right blend of service, selection and low price.

B&H is one of the few places that takes the effort to ship out of country. The number of shops/sites that treat Canada like a 3rd world country astonishes me. It's as though Visa, MasterCard and Amex in Canada are different from the credit cards in the US.

While things have gotten better, with respect to the exchange rate. It is a sad statement that I can buy from B&H cheaper than I can here in Canada. Consider that for a moment, with the exchange rate, ridiculous shipping charges from UPS (anywhere from double to triple shipping domestic), and still paying taxes, it's cheaper than buying local. The shipping part always kills me... I could get something shipped from New York to San Francisco for 1/3 the price of shipping the same item to Toronto...

Ditto all of the above. My local camera store has great difficulty with the point and shoot cameras too. For instance, the regular retail price that the Staples would sell an Olympus P&S is less than the Olympus distributor would wholesale the models to them as well. It is not just Olympus. I bought a D300 from them when they were new and no one was giving a discount off the Nikon suggested retail price. That's a little harder to swallow when the spread gets to be like six hundred dollars on some items. How is the knowledgeable mom and pop store to stay in business when the camera companies themselves undercut them at the big boxes?

Re: John Camp's comment. Well, quite a few of us have no store within 100-500 miles to handle anything. I have been very interested in the Panasonic micro 4:3 offering but if I want one I'd just about have to order it on trust. Too much of a leap I'm afraid. With Ritz on the ropes, their local shop, Kits Cameras, may not last. At any rate they carried only the most popular offerings from C, N, P & O and told me they likely would not have the G1 on site. Those who have access to a broad selection of gear...well, count yourselves fortunate.

I love B&H, but last year they remodeled their NY superstore and put SLRs and lenses upstairs, making you go through the entire store (in a rather circuitous fashion) and up an escalator to purchase said items (they used to be on the 1st floor very close to the entrance). They can lay out their store however they want, obviously, but it felt an awful lot like the Disney "experience" where every ride you go on you are forced through a Disney store with merchandise for the characters featured in the ride. I suppose because when you are picking up a D3X, most of the items in the store become "impulse" items which you may buy on a whim.

I realize a lot of people love to make the "pilgrimage" to B&H for the experience (yes, it is candyland), but for working photogs looking to pick up items for a shoot in NY city, and who are on the clock, it adds 15-30 minutes to your visit... just a heads up, it is now almost impossible to get in and out like the year before.

As a computer programmer, I find it amusing (in a good way) to see Joel (we just call him "Joel"... in fact, googling his first name yields, well, him) on TOP. He's a great writer and can really boil a lot of things down in a great way. Much like other editor/writers I know... *cough* mike *cough*

I don't have anything insightful to add, just some more anecdotes. I just bought a new scanner and some 4x5 film through B&H, through the links on this page. And I'm a feed reader! I remember drooling over the B&H ads in Pop Photo when I was in middle school. When I first went to NYC, going to their store was something of a pilgrimage. I was heavily into audio recording equipment at the time and it was great to see all the gear in person. I still buy from B&H because their prices are good and their service rocks. I buy from Adorama sometimes too, for similar reasons.

A couple things. Bought a laptop from Best Buy on Friday. The last time I did this it was at Circuit City and I spent 20 minutes saying "No" to repeated extended warranty questions. The guy looked like he would be fired (or beaten) if he failed to sell one. At Best Buy they asked once. So that's an improvement.

As to Mr. Camp's comment on the local stores. No sales tax but there is use tax. If you're a pro and buy your stuff mail order they will come looking for the use tax. If your cameras are not business expenses then you're probably golden. If they are you'd best pay up. And if I harass a West Photo employee about a camera or lens I'll buy it there. But I do check their price right away. If it is nuts I won't even talk to them about it.

The article makes the point that B&H are run by Hasidic Jews. In fact, I suspect that the original staff were extended family. It used to freak me out that the majority of them had the same red hair! An Irish sub-branch of the Twelve Tribes?

The Circuit City close out sale in Portland OR apparently had a Canon 5Dmk2 body that was marked at $1600… my friend went back the next dayto grab it. It had been "stolen".

James Mc Dermott, I noticed the red hair on the guy taking my money in B & H and on questioning its possible Gaelic origins was told it was in fact Russian in origin.
To all and any of you dealing with members of the public please remember one of the prime reasons people buy from you is because they like you. Be nice to them and they'll keep coming back, even if you are a bit more expensive. Reading through these comments that thought was heavily emphasised.

Circuit city = Investors matter more than customers approach to business.
B&H = Customers matter more than investors approach to business.

That is so true about Circuit City. I hated going to that place. I went to look at cameras once when thinking of purchasing the G10. Of course, it and nearly 3/4 of all the other cameras on display did not work, even though hooked into the display system. I asked the guy nearby why it wasn't on, he fidgeted with it for a while, then gave up, and tried to direct me to a similar type/size of compact camera that was working at the time. Disgustingly poor customer service and selection. I am glad they are gone from the American suburban landscape. One guess where I finally bought the camera over the internet - B&H :)

c

My wife and I went to Circuit City because she wanted to buy an MP3 player. She got the model she wanted, and there was a tag on the rack that said a discount would be applied at the cash register.

We go to the cash register, the clerk rings it in, and no discount. My wife asks about the discount, there was a tag, so the clerk calls back to the department and are told there is no tag.

We go back to the rack, and the discount tag is missing. Someone removed it while we were at the cash register.

No MP3 player was purchased at Circuit City that day. Neither of us bought anything at Circuit City again after that.

There are reasons some of these stores are going out of business.

The Big Box business model is an odd thing. When a friend was put out to pasture by the IT industry, he got part-time work in one of those large chain hardware stores. Over the years, he noticed that they were careful not to assign him too many hours in favour of hiring new more junior part-time staff instead. Others noticed this too, and they eventually deduced that management was being careful not to assign too many hours to part-timers because they were brushing up against legislation that might have forced them to recognize those employees as actual full-time employees to whom benefits should be paid.

At the same time, those part-timers were constantly pressured to up-sell customers and to aggressively move slower-selling merchandise.

Why would you expect badly treated employees to go the extra mile? Why do you expect to retain customers when there are few knowledgeable people in the store who can help them?

We have developed an odd paradigm of what "service" is. It seems to be limited to young happy smiling faces at the return desk, and the refrain "Did you find everything you were looking for?" in place of actually helping you buy what you need or want.

Why do we put up with it?

I get the rabbi thing too, but its a different and supposedly famous rabbi. B & H is the only 100% kosher camera store in the USA.

Circuit City was not only awful to their customers but were awful to their vendors. I worked for a large TV manufacturing company in the US and hated dealing w/ CC. They were mean, abusive and didn't care.

The 900 pound bully got what it deserved. Goodbye and good riddance.

Just as a data point, I have a relative who for a while was a bankruptcy attorney. He told me once that he thinks a great many businesses are skimming along incompetently at the edge of insolvency, and that the merest bump in the road is enough to send them spinning into oblivion. (Well, he didn't put it quite so poetically, but that was the gist.) And of course what we've been experiencing in the past year is much more than mere bumps in the road.

Mike

"Note to C. Vickery - Just an FYI, but if you add the D700 to your "cart" at B&H the price shows as $2369.99 as of a minute ago - 8 P.M. EST. Apparently they hide the best price until you order."

Actually, we're not trying to hide anything. This system is a requirement set by Nikon USA's MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) regulations.

I want to say a big THANK YOU to every who's participating in this thread. We're very flattered.

Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video

Robert,

We put up with a lack of service because we aren't willing to pay for it. Walmart thrives because we're a nation of cheapskates.

And the internet (along with periodicals like Consumer Reports in the old days) make it simple for consumers to do much better research than relying on a retail store clerks advice.

We decide what we want and then search out the lowest price. Brick & mortars can't offer service and come close to competing on price. (B&H thrives on volume - they'd never succeed with their SuperStore outside a handful of large cities).

So I don't think we have an odd definition of service; we just don't expect it when we aren't willing to pay for it.

The new expectation of service (that we're willing to pay for) is "they sent the right item and they sent it quickly". If you can do that repeatedly, you can get 5 stars on pricegrabber, or 100% positive feedback on eBay.

"It is a sad statement that I can buy from B&H cheaper than I can here in Canada."

For a moment there, I dreamed of lower US pricing and the possibility of getting a brand new Canon 5DII at a much lower price.

A reality check showed that B&H sells it for $2754.80 including UPS shipping to Canada, but when converted to $CAD and after adding federal and provincial (GST & PST) sales taxes I'd have to pay a total of $CAD3716.20

The same camera can be had for $CAD3463.75 including shipping and taxes from a large retail photo store in Toronto.

Oh well, still way too much for me.


Next time you are in the store, try to remember that the brick and mortar retail environment is only a small portion of the business B&H does. It is all online - they are an internet behemoth...

My most recent experience of B&H confrmed my opinion that they are a store worthy of my loyalty. I bought my fiancee a canon g10 there and 2 days later I dropped the thing on a concrete floor and broke it. When we took it back they returned it right away.

In the past I have always had good experiences there - the staff are knowledgeable and the oddness of the shop (conveyor belts and hasidim) make buying a lens a bit of an event!


The most common questions while working at B&H:
What does B&H stand for? & Would you buy the warranty?

The stupidest question that a customer supposedly asked:
Will my ipod get heavier when I add music to it?

The majority of customers coming in the store were from Europe and South America. Before the global economy fell, they'd come in with laundry lists of Nikon and Canon products to buy for themselves and friends back home. Cameras and lenses were sometimes twice as much in Europe or Brazil as they were in the US. The money they saved would easily pay for their trips and we learned something new about wildlife in Bonaire or heard about the violent crime in Venezuelan streets and the "youth" riots in Sweden that American newspapers like the NY Times weren't really reporting on.

During my time there I did notice mistakes made by certain areas of management which had the potential to damage B&H's reputation. A newly hired sales associate in the SLR department didn't know the difference between a Nikon DX & FX lens! I couldn't believe it! Although, we taught him, and now he's a worthy salesman.

Another new employee working in the Sony kiosk queried a colleague about what the numbers on the lenses meant!!! He didn't know what f/stops and focal lengths were, yet he was answering customer questions. I found out later that this bearded individual was a VERY close relative of a head manager. (Not surprising)

One of the most interesting things I heard while working there, was that the owners of B&H and Adorama are closely related! Apparently they don't talk anymore.

Tom said:

"As to Mr. Camp's comment on the local stores. No sales tax but there is use tax. If you're a pro and buy your stuff mail order they will come looking for the use tax. If your cameras are not business expenses then you're probably golden. If they are you'd best pay up. And if I harass a West Photo employee about a camera or lens I'll buy it there. But I do check their price right away. If it is nuts I won't even talk to them about it."

I also buy from B&H and have for 20 years -- they are the best, I think -- but I'd hate to see West go under. I have gotten some seriously informed opinion on color printing in that place. When the Nikon D3 first came out, and I needed it RIGHT THEN (I was going to Iraq two weeks later) they did a little tap dance and got me one -- I may have been their first D3 delivery in the Twin Cities. The fact is, I could get along without B&H, but I'd have a hard time getting along without West, and I try to go there first whenever I need to buy something. I mean, choosing a camera bag for me is so difficult it's almost a philosophical problem, and buying one on the Internet isn't the answer...

B&H, of course, is the answer for anyone not living within easy distance of a pro camera store, or somebody on a tight budget where the sales tax means the difference between buying needed equipment or going without. I agree with those folks who say the B&H service is excellent -- I've never had a problem with them. I don't care for the new store, though -- it seems a little too robotic.

JC

"I found the Circuit City salesperson to be so aggressively unknowledgeable and remarkably useless ..."../.."Circuit City had fired the chain's 3,400 most experienced salespeople and replaced them with generic, untrained, near-minimum-wage workers."
Hmm, reminds me of Jessops, especially the New Oxford St branch. Anyone else in the UK hear the same bells?

"B&H is one of the few places that takes the effort to ship out of country."

Gnnnnhhhhh.... can't resist.

Okay, so I wanted to buy a couple of Pelican CF cases. $14.95, which I think is very much okay for a hard-shell, water-resistant, 4-cards case. But the cheapest shipping to Croatia for one is $46.25. International Priority Mail, delivery in 10-14 days.

Come on, people. How can the shipping be three times more than the actual item? For two cases, it's $52.25, but still almost double the price of the cases. I bought stuff from mid-America that cost three dollars in shipping and came in five days. Three kilos of books' postage was $26 and they came in about a week.

Fortunately, I had a friend in the States at the time, so she ordered, paid a couple of dollars shipping and brought the cases with her.

But still, I think those shipping charges are a disgrace. For the record, Adorama is no better nor is Cameta Camera. It doesn't matter whether I'd like to order a $500 lens or a $15 card case, the shipping is about the same.

B&H and Adorama are survivors because they have changed.

I've lived in the NYC metro area all my life, have shopped at most of the major camera stores here. I remember when the Herald Square area was camera central -- Willoughby's Spriratone, Camera Barn, Olden's, etc.

The old 47th Street Photo and Executive Photo were basically warehouses -- go to the counter, order what you want, pay and pick it up. Little on display. If you know what you want, that's the place to shop for the best price. If you don't know what you want, don't think about getting help.

Adorama and B&H have shifted from the no-service to the full-service markets. Both stores have recently remodeled their sales area, they take time to work with customers, and they have much more on display. The staff are friendly (sometimes brusque) but helpful. Both also offer extremely well-priced workshops and lectures.

CC and BB: Both are pretty miserable. Hard to get help, nobody knows anything. CC had a price match policy, but it was at the manager's discretion. The manager of the local CC was a moron, would not match prices if he thought they were too low. Made up some crap about the competitor not being in the same market, even though they advertised in the local papers. Their ultimate success was determined by the fact that they left the operation of the store to a bunch of high school students who cared less.

As to the person checking receipts at the exit at BB and CC: both Adorama and B&H do the same.

"One of the most interesting things I heard while working there, was that the owners of B&H and Adorama are closely related! Apparently they don't talk anymore."

The owners of Adidas and Puma were related and had a falling out. Nothing to do with B&H and Adorama.

--Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video

Reading through the comments, I'm reminded of two other things that are essential for me in any store, but especially electronic or photographic:

1) Don't treat me like I'm stupid, and

2) Don't treat me like I'm stupid because I'm female.

On the first point, I remember once going into a local camera store looking to see if they had any lenses compatible with my ist*DS. Their answer? Not, "oh, we don't carry that" but "Pentax doesn't make lenses anymore." I mean, whuh?

The second issue is less common in the photography shops than the electronics stores, but I've had a few occasions when I went into some otherwise wonderful dim old place filled with cases and cabinets of gear, and all the men in the place looked startled at me invading their domain, or when a salesman tried to steer me to the point-and-shoots because they were easy to use and came in pretty colors. Last time I checked, one didn't need a penis to operate an SLR!

Online, these things are not a problem.

Also, does anyone here remember Porter's? I used to spend hours pouring through their enormous catalog. Now they're online, and include digital stuff in their listings, but I think they still offer the catalog to those who request it.

Honestly, I try to support my local camera store. But when the prices of the stuff I need to buy are marked up 120% higher than B&H (yes, items like supplies, film, filters, bags, lighting accessories). And this doesn't even include taxes!

Four out of the last five times I've been in the store, I walked out without buying anything because they either didn't have what I was looking for or the markup was stupid. They make their money selling Nikon and Canon gear. Unless I'm specifically looking to buy a new camera body, I can't even get them to give me the time of day.

I don't see buying from B&H or several other former mail-order stores to be a problem. After all, isn't this a "global economy"? Thanks to UPS and Fed-Ex, I can get things faster from NYC than I can driving into Des Moines.

It's also frustrating because I shoot with a brand not labeled Nikon or Canon. If the local store is going to ridicule my choice in gear (or even the fact that I still use some film), I have no qualms about giving my money to somebody else.

Hey look at that, I'm just about to write about Henry Posner from B&H and there he is in this very thread helping out another future client!

On a side note. I used to get a kick out the old B&H phone message, the one done by the bloke who sounded like the Count off Sesame Street

Thank you for calling B&H. Press one for......... Press two for....... Press three for........

Then they changed it to this corporate sounding voice. So now I just order from the website - which by the way is superb if you're reading Henry!

It is really sad that Circuity is not there anymore. I always used to buy things from there. I loved their offers and discounts. I almost went to buy Plasma">http://www.bestbangforbuck.net/best-plasma-tv">Plasma tv there with my coupon.

The Wiz brings up some interesting points. I'm currently working at what is primarily a sales organization, and it's been interesting. At a good company, like B&H (and like my employer appears to be), they will train their salespeople. They will also work to keep their trained, experienced salespeople around. B&H apparently does this, and it's essential. The products they sell are constantly getting updated, and frankly the "old" knowledge is difficult enough to learn even if you have some experience with the product. (I still don't know the difference between DX and FX lenses, but I've been using Canon. Then again I don't sell cameras.)

At a bad company, like Circuit City, they will let go of their experienced salespeople. As Circuit City did. Meaning that they kept around the people who were less likely to know the product lines in and out, and were less likely to know their way around the store, and were less experienced in helping customers. I'm kind of curious as to whether or not that was a desperate, last gasp attempt at saving the company, or if it was something some MBA dreamed up. I don't think Best Buy will be repeating that particular mistake, even though it wouldn't surprise me if they were next. At least they'll be less obvious about it.

I've heard the long-suffering complaint about customers who use their local shop to fondle the goods then buy it cheap from B&H or the like. So I sincerely tried using my local shop for a long time - even bought a Nikon D70 from them. As time went on, however, I would encounter stuff like this:
me: May I see the Sony (whatever model number)
they: We don't carry Sony. We only carry cameras from real camera makers, not consumer electronics companies.
And later, the amount of floor and wall space devoted to picture frames expanded, as space for real cameras, film, printers, etc. dropped. I finally realized I could find out all I needed to know by doing online research and the send-it-back-in-two-weeks policies of B&H and the like.
So I agree, if you're going to use the local store, buy from them. But if the local store can't help you (as was my case), forget them.
I envy folks who have access to good local stores. Mike has mentioned Crivello's in Milwaukee; having family there, I've dropped in once or twice and wished my local store could be like that (I seem to recall they had an E6 line on premises back in the day when I shot Fujichrome). Toronto has a great store, Vistek, and I shopped there when my daughter studied at U of Toronto (thanks to Michael Reichmann for the recommendation).
Carl
P.S. Drove through the strip mall 2 miles away from my house last weekend, and Ritz is closed and empty. Quite recent. But I gave up on Ritz many many years ago.

"Hey look at that, I'm just about to write about Henry Posner from B&H and there he is in this very thread helping out another future client!"

And I got a friendly call this morning from Issac at B&H thanking me for linking to the Spolsky article on my blog. You really do have to admire them.

Mike

Dear Henry,

Nice to see you here!

Maybe I'm just late to the party, but I never thought about the fact that MAP applies to websites as well as magazine ads. Probably that's because the magazine ads very clearly say "CALL". The website doesn't. Looking at the listing for the D700, I can see that it says "Sugg Retail Price: " instead of just saying "Price," but until this very moment I didn't realize that meant that if I added it to my cart, I would see a discounted price. So maybe there needs to be a bit of boilerplate below the suggested retail price that says "add to your cart to see your actual price."

Like I said, maybe I'm just way behind the curve, but if I didn't know this it's possible lots of other people don't either.


~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
=====================================

"Like I said, maybe I'm just way behind the curve, but if I didn't know this it's possible lots of other people don't either."

I have to admit I didn't know it either, until Oren explained it to me a couple of months back.

Mike

Ctein, the way B&H seems to do it is that if the price is underlined, it means there's a hidden price behind it. So, for example, lots of the Nikon DSLR prices at B&H are underlined at the moment.

Before B&H moved uptown it was a little tiny store about a half block west of Adorama. I think they started out selling film or at least it dominated their business, and their prices were so low that sometimes there was a line out the door to buy film.

Dear Oren,

Not exactly. The "suggested" price is a link. Clicking on it (or mousing over it) doesn't bring up a hidden price; clicking it takes you to the checkout cart where the correct price is listed.

Just to be clear, I'm not concerned with being charged the wrong price. I fear there may be a lot of people out there like me or Mike who don't realize that there is a real price that's cheaper. They just move on to another vendor, which is a loss for both them and B&H.

It's what I would've done, up until this morning.


~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================


"The Wiz" raised the question about the name but didn't answer it. I had to look it up.

B&H opened as a storefront film shop on the Lower East Side run by Herman Schreiber and his wife, Blimie (the store's name comes from their initials)

My only experience with B&H is via mail order, but I've seen that sales model,
get a ticket - pay the cashier & get a receipt - show the receipt to pick up the merchandise, used for smaller than lumber-yard sized purchases before, at small shops in the Russian Far East. There, it seemed like theft prevention. Reading the description of B&H made me think that it might allow the store to interact with the inventory for in-store purchases in a manner identical to that used for internet purchases.

When walking into a Circuit City store, I always felt this vaguely unpleasant vibe, as if I were stepping into a maximum security prison. It was the most unwelcoming environment I've ever experienced as a shopper. Needless to say, I never spent a dime in one, although I tried to on a few occasions. I'm not in the least surprised they went out of business.

Good riddance.

Circuit City was definitely more "anti-customer" than Best Buy. I bought a Samsung 2500 Blu-Ray player at Circuit City, because Best Buy only had the "custom" 2550 model, at a steeply higher price. Amazon's price was higher than Circuit City's.

But, Circuit City was doing the "UV filter thing" a level nastier. (In the days of discounters selling Nikkormats, there was more profit in the UV filter than the camera and lens.) Circuit City only had Monster Cable brand HDMI cables, and an equally expensive clone house brand. The cheapest HDMI cable was something like $60. A generic HDMI cable should be like $20. So they were ripping off the customers with overpriced HDMI cables. I passed on the cable.

I went over to the bankruptcy sale around the corner at Tweeter and bought an HDMI cable there.

Went back to Circuit City 28 days later when the price dropped $50, and got the price protection. A month later they were in bankruptcy.

No idea if Samsung made a cent off the purchase -- they were one of Circuit City's largest creditors.

Best Buy at least has reasonably priced accessories. The staff is helpful. Not that it's probably a very fun place to work, there's some nasty "employee gripe" sites out there about Best Buy.

I finally got to shop at the B&H store last year. It's impressive. Huge number of people working there. Photography is still a key item there, but a lot of the rent is paid by selling HDTV's to the local New Yorkers.

I love B&H, but last year they remodeled their NY superstore and put SLRs and lenses upstairs, making you go through the entire store (in a rather circuitous fashion) and up an escalator to purchase said items (they used to be on the 1st floor very close to the entrance).
When we first opened our 9th Ave store, the camera section was as far from the front entrance as could possibly be. One entered, walked down our central aisle, and then made a slight right all the way to the back where we had camera equip.

Now, you walk down the same aisle, turn left twice and up the escalator. Lots more floor space and room for more display goods and more sales staff.

Maybe I'm just late to the party, but I never thought about the fact that MAP applies to websites as well as magazine ads. Probably that's because the magazine ads very clearly say "CALL". The website doesn't.

There are now quite a few different MAP rules, varying by brand. Some permit "call for lower price," or "email for lower price," and some do not. Some permit an "add to cart for lower price" notice and some do not. It'd be great of there was one rule for all, but each manufacturer makes its own. We're always sorry when this causes confusion.

Reading the description of B&H made me think that it might allow the store to interact with the inventory for in-store purchases in a manner identical to that used for internet purchases.

We have thousands of items on display in our store and hundreds of sales associates. You can "interact with the inventory for in-store purchases" all you want.

--
Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video

Agree completely. CC here in Dayton had terrible CS. I was also unimpressed with the level of photography and videography knowledge.

I used to patronize local camera stores till I bought a new Nikon F2 that had a flaw. When I took it back to the store and was told to take it to a repair shop, I figured that for that level of service, I might as well buy by mail. Now that cameras are basically computers with a lens, I've gone back to buying locally, on the assumption that I can return it to the store if there is a problem, though for accessories I still deal with B&H. It helps that here in the Twin Cities we have two stores that carry a lot of pro gear: West Photo and, to a lesser extent, National Camera Exchange.

I've shopped at BB since they were a local chain called Sound of Music, and my experience is that the sales associates have been slightly -- and sometimes much -- more knowledgeable than the CC sales associates, especially since CC got rid of their most experienced sales associates. However, I did get a good deal from CC at their going out of business sale: a demo Nikon 55-200mm lens (non-VR) for $50 and a handful of Nikon camera batteries for $15 each.

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