After graduating National Camera in 1981, Fred Dion began his camera repair career working for Sanford Camera & Projector Repair. By 1985 his desire to start his own business and his interest in underwater photography combined so he started Underwater Photo-Tech.
Starting a camera repair shop aimed at a very small niche market is no small feat. And Derry, New Hampshire (40 miles north of Boston), isn’t the center of the diving world. In fact, when he started there was only one other underwater camera repair shop in the USA and that was in Texas.
Like most of us, his was a bootstrap startup and the next three years was a juggling act ... sweat equity. Build necessary test equipment where he could including his own depth test chamber, buying tools and equipment as he needed, building a customer base, working construction to meet the bills. Finally after three years, Underwater Photo-Tech became a full time business.
Fred Dion started with a small, inexpensive classified ad in a national dive trade newspaper and by attending local Dive Shows. After some trial and error, he now advertises exclusively in Dive magazines, all of them. He also expanded the Dive Shows he attends, gradually expanding outward so that now he covers the national Dive Shows.
He keeps his business marketing up-to-date. Yes, Underwater Photo-Tech has both a store front and on-line store.
Has this marketing strategy worked? I’d say so! His business has doubled in size every year since he started. Underwater Photo-Tech has grown from a one-person 200 square foot facility to a nine-employee 2000 square foot enterprise, half of which is devoted to repair.
A Customer Driven Business
Fred believes in maximizing repair income by checking to see if the customer needs lens caps, batteries, film, etc. It’s added value to his repair and customers love the service. He understands his customer’s goal; taking pictures.
In 1989 Under Photo-tech introduced the Body Cap for Nikonos® because of customer demand. Since then the line of custom accessories has grown to over twenty. They range from lens caps to remote control shark units. All through customer demand.
His repair customers also developed the sales end of his business by asking for equipment, lens, cameras, flashes etc. He didn’t see the profit in offering equipment available through normal dive shops. Competing with businesses that were feeders for his repair facility. He saw his market in high-end equipment, which wasn’t commonly available. Nice move, dive shops can refer both repairs and high-end customers to Underwater Photo-Tech without conflict. To give you some idea, an underwater housing for a D1 camera can run upwards of $5,000 ... without camera.
Of course not everybody is ready, able or interested in such expensive equipment. But they do have the desire to capture their once in a lifetime or infrequent trip. Not to worry, rentals are available. Fred pays attention to his customers.
Building Customers through Education
Early on Fred saw the need to get more people into diving and underwater photography. Diving he left to dive shops, his job was getting them to take more and better underwater pictures. He knows that photography can be a great highly addictive hobby. He just needed to get them started and show the potential. So he started offering classes and also teamed up with the Nikon School of Underwater Photography. To keep up with his customer’s interests, a new digital section has been added. Fred spends a portion of the year on trips to Bonaire, Grenada, Fiji and Indonesia. Prices for these field trips range from $564 to $4,500. How’s that for a cherry on top.
So How’s Business
Diversification is the key. While sales are off, repairs are up. While moderately priced trips to the Caribbean are slow, more expensive trips to Indonesia are sold out nine months ahead of schedule. Overall Underwater Photo-Tech is doing very well. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $750,000 and employs a staff of approximately 7.
While Underwater camera repair is a very small niche market, there is much we can learn. First and foremost they offer a quality service. Marketing is cumulative they keep at it. They put their face out there by attending trade shows. They diversify by catering to their customers. They are involved in their customer’s goal, taking underwater pictures. They educate their customer and have figured a way to make it both a business and a pleasure. Fred Dion started on a shoestring, developed a great life for himself, his family and his employees. And his customers couldn’t be happier.