For our next In Focus, we speak to David Parkinson – MD at the award winning Wilkinson Cameras, a fine example of an independent photo retailer – with customer focused vision teamed with good old fashioned values!
Give us a little background on Wilkinson Cameras
Wilkinson Cameras was founded in 1986 by our chairman Frank Wilkinson. Frank was the managing director of a Wigan based photo retailer and with his fortieth birthday approaching, Frank felt the urge to “go it alone”. At this point I was an area manager for the same company and took the decision to join Frank as a director and shareholder – a move I’ve never regretted. Together we built up Wilkinson Cameras to its present size of ten stores and a busy online business run from our central office and distribution centre just outside Preston.
Ten years ago Frank took the decision to take retirement and enjoy his love of traveling, and at this point I became MD. Now with Paul Edmondson who has worked for us for 20 years (and appointed director 2 years ago), have plans to drive Wilkinson Cameras to being the best photo retail experience our customers can expect. The very recent appointment of Alex Wilkinson (Frank’s daughter) into the business further strengthens our team.
Alex, from a younger generation, brings with her a host of digital marketing skills and of course the passion and dedication we all need to enjoy this fantastic business of creating great images.
In 2016 we will celebrate 30 years and we are all very proud of what we have achieved “Pixel multiple retailer of the year” 2006, 2007, 2008 and again in 2013 & 2013.
Plus, a host of marketing awards and in 2014 two awards for our staff:
Sara Penwarden (Southport store manager), Pixel Salesperson of the year & Chris Everett (Liverpool Assistant Manager) ERT Salesperson of the year.
But most valuable of all, is the huge following of great photographers we have been able to serve and help over this time.
You’re still investing in town-centre stores – isn’t that a dying breed of retail outlet?
Our business is run with a very simply philosophy, what do I expect as a customer, how do I expect to be served, was the process an enjoyable and successful one and would I return for a second visit?
Let me break this down as a customer who is buying an expensive piece of equipment what am I looking for? Best price? Confidence that I’m making the right choice? The facility to look at, touch feel and even try the equipment before I purchase? The environment should be presented well and the staff helpful, knowledgeable without being pushy salespeople. And most important of all once you have made the purchase can I rely on you for ongoing help support and advice?
In a nutshell, the above is what we try to achieve for Wilkinson Cameras customers. Our range of stock is huge, our stores are extremely well presented – as are our extensively trained passionate staff.
Our direct relationships with all the major brands allows us to offer support and service beyond others. The addition of our in-store workshops and most recently our new Liverpool Learning Suite offers ongoing education and skill building events – ensuring our customers are getting the very best from the equipment purchased from us.
Vibrant town & city centres have lots of benefits from a photographers point of view. If you look at our new Liverpool store, it is ideally placed in a bustling city centre location – ideal for so many different types of photography using the varied cityscapes as a stunning backdrop.
How do you cope with grey imports and the likes of Amazon which are purely price driven
Price is always an important point in the buying process and a huge amount of time is spent monitoring our competitors and maintaining keen pricing on all lines wherever possible. Also, we’re always here to talk but remember we have to be comparing apples with apples! Are the products exactly the same? Are they designed for the European market and do they have all the relevant taxes and duties been paid? Or is the web site hiding these little surprises for when the goods are delivered and the carrier demands payment before handing over the goods? Is this a great buying experience? No. But people don’t always check exactly what they are getting and have a nasty surprise. If it looks too good to be true – it probably is!
How much ‘extra’ are customers prepared to pay for knowledge and service?
I’m not so sure these days that our customers are paying any more for our expertise, we simply have to take a much longer view of the customer experience. We offer so much more than just selling a product – what is more important to us is not selling a piece of kit to a customer and never seeing them again. We want to share and engage with our customers through physical and virtual mediums, this inspires and hopefully creates loyalty and ongoing communication between us both.
I would rather have customers for life than splitting the last penny in half to never see that person again!
You have built an award winning team – tell us more about the people behind the brand
The people are the business and as previously mentioned their skills, knowledge and passion has been recognised by national organisations and the constant positive customer feedback endorses this.
We always try to get it right – even when events beyond our control happen, the Wilki team will always try to find a satisfactory solution to any issue or problem. Our continual training with all of the key manufactures and our own customer care training, combined with the individual’s own passion makes our staff some of the best in the industry.
Good independent retailers are worth their weight in gold – a business model which many take for granted. How can you encourage people to continue shopping in store/on the high street?
A good independent business these days needs to be able to offer the structure and efficiencies of the nationals, while not losing the personal touch.
I would rather have 20 fantastic stores than 100 average ones. Our size then allows us, as a management team, to stay in touch with both our customers and staff – and affords us the agility required to run a successful business these days.
We offer so much, accreditation from all the top brands, the facilities to look touch and most importantly talk to customers – ensuring they are making the right choice buying the wrong products can be a very expensive mistake.
Our “Try before buy” scheme helps enormously with this and in 2015 we’re looking to expand this to include even more products and more locations.
Why not try that Canon lens over a weekend before you part with your money? Make sure you are completely happy before the purchase! And of course when you’re ready to upgrade we’re happy to take your equipment in part exchange against any new or Pre-owned. We have a sister brand www.webuyanycamera.com which is managed from our Lancaster branch and specialises in part exchange and pre owned equipment.
In your opinion, what makes Wilkinson unique?
Our tag line really does sum us up: “Your knowledgeable friends in photography.” The customer is central to all we do, and combined with a knowledgeable team which is totally passionate about photography – and focused on delivering the best customer experience possible.
For more information you can visit www.wilkinson.co.uk or pop into any of the 10 Wilkinson Cameras stores.
Or join the team on social media: