When digital cameras first came on the scene, I was hesitant to switch to this new format. Not for fear of technology, but for fear of making the wrong investment. I was lost, I had no idea where to turn. I tried to research online, but I didn’t know what questions to ask. I visited our local camera store but they were overpriced. Best Buy just opened in our town but their sales people had less knowledge than I had. In desperation, I made the mistake of going to a local computer store. Based on the owners recommendation, I purchased a camera he said was perfect for my needs. The quality wasn’t close to my expectations so I returned it the next day. They had the nerve to charged me a 25% restocking fee even though the owner himself recommended it. I was frustrated and felt lost until a friend of mine, Michael Pruitt, mentioned he too had a strong interest in digital photography. My luck finally changed!

Wise advice from a savvy businessman.

Michael owned one of the largest Real Estate companies in Melbourne Florida. Not only did he have the means to make a large investment, he also had support from spouses and significant others take note when dealing with household incomehis loving wife. Talking with Michael, I was amazed he learned so much about digital cameras in a short time. I was fortunate he shared his knowledge with me. He told me he had a connection with a guy named Todd at the local camera store, the same store I walked out of. I told him their prices were at least a couple of hundred dollars more than prices I found online. He asked me why I didn’t buy online then. I said because I didn’t know which camera I should buy. Being the savvy businessman he is he said, Wouldnt you agree the knowledge and peace of mind youre receiving is worth paying extra for?. It dawned on me, he was right.

Support those who give you valuable advice, especially if its free.

Before you say, Why didn’t you get the knowledge from Todd, then go online and buy it cheaper?. Okay, read that sentence again but this time out loud. Yeah didn’t that sound bad. Now I have to confess, my first purchase based on his advice was a light meter. I bought it online and I saved about $25 bucks after shipping. I had no clue how to use it. Guess who knew how to use it? Yup, Todd. I returned the light meter and re-purchased it from him. He taught me how to use it and from that point on, I bought everything through him. Imagine if everyone went into the store and received purchasing advice, then they bought elsewhere. The store would close and you would lose your resource. Bottom-line, support those who give you valuable, free advice.

Build a loyal and trusting connection.

Let’s fast forward to the present. Todd no longer works for the local camera store, so my connection is gone. My knowledge has increased and now I’m the one giving advice. So where do I purchase my gear and why? Over the past several years I’ve developed a great relationship with Gary Farber from Hunt’s Photo and Video. When the new Nikon D810 hit the shelves and backorders piled high, Gary made sure I had mine. When the same camera was recall, Gary overnighted me a brand new one. When I need a new lens, Gary tells me which rebate will give me a better price. Before you think I’m special, I witness the same interaction with our Publisher and Producer Richard Harrington. His connection is Jeffrey Snyder from Adorama. An expensive piece of video gear broke on set while we were recording a series for Lynda.com. Rich made a call and the new gear was sent overnight. His connection with Jeff is similar to my connection with Gary. A connection built on loyalty and trust.

How can you build the same connection.

When I travel, I love to stay in 5 star hotels but I’m not willing to pay up to three times the price of a standard hotel. A friend solved the problem. He’s in charge of purchasing hotel rooms for his employees. He normally books over 40 rooms a year. He makes sure he uses the same chain of hotels and he even opened a special credit card that gives him extra points when he uses it to pay for the rooms. Guess who gets to stay at 5 star resorts when we travel. The same concept applies to camera stores, Find one that you trust and build a relationship with them. Make sure you sign up for their monthly newsletter. When rebates or new pieces of gear are available, you’ll be the first to know. If you travel to events such as Photoshop World or WPPI, chances are the camera store will have a booth at the event. Stop by and introduce yourself to them. I’m amazed at the number of people Gary and Jeff know from having a booth at trade shows.

What about Amazon or Ebay?

I use Amazon Prime when I need to buy smaller items such as batteries, chargers and inexpensive flashes Youngnuo that Gary doesn’t stock. When I do, I use my PayPal account to receive cash back. Ive received a Lifetime cashback of $547.51 over the past 5 years. Not a life changing amount, but hey it adds up.

Is Photography your career or hobby?

If Photography is your career, I can’t stress enough the value of building a connection with a camera store you trust and can rely on. There may come a time when you need to call in a favor for a piece of gear to save a job. Your relationship can make a difference.

If Photography is a hobby, building a solid connection with the right camera store will save you from making a bad investment on gear you don’t need. In either case, building the right connection gives you peace of mind knowing you have a friend in the business. The right camera store can be that friend. If we support them, camera stores won’t be a thing of the past.

*Feature image Pumba / Dollar Photo Club