The high street camera chain has become the latest victim of the economic downturn. Jessops staff – past and present – and customers got in touch to tell us what’s gone wrong
• What are your rights? Our explainer for Jessops customers
High street camera chain Jessops became the latest retailer to fall victim of the ongoing economic downturn, and fell into administration on Wednesday. Up to 2,000 jobs are at risk, with administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers admitting that at least some of the 192 stores would close.
Our story attracted comments from Jessops staff members both past and present, as well as from consumers, who debated the reasons for its demise and what this means for the future of the high street.
We heard from bronica123, a current Jessops store manager:
I am a manager of a small branch of Jessops, and my little store is (was, or may continue to be, who knows?) doing a roaring trade. There’s been lots of talk on the news about where Jessops went wrong. But in my opinion it did not put a foot wrong. The new team that took over back in 2009 did all it could to embrace the new consumer habits, with a real push on the buy on line then collect at store process. Jessops never made money on hardware, and always treated cameras as loss leaders in order to get the customer in the shop so we could sell the margin rich products like memory cards, bags and the like. There was a huge emphasis on the photo printing side of the business, with large format in store printing now widely available, very cheap and of superb quality. My store does well because we were very ‘local’, and as manager I was able to aknowledge that the customer could by cheaper on line, while gently reminding them that a comprehensive aftercare was worth paying that little bit extra for.
And this recent employee added:
I worked here in a flagship branch from 2007-2010. Can’t remember a single day when there weren’t “administrators” waiting in the wings to take over. It’s the small stores which drag the company down. My store was a superstore and departmentalised and did very well and we always had a good level of trade. Most of my colleagues have now left the company but I hope those that are left are OK
We also heard from many former Jessops employees who attempted to explain why the company is now finding itself in difficulty.
I used to work at Jessops. The reasons it led to this were because they can’t compete with Amazon and other online stores and also they opened too many new stores and refurbished others too much. They effectively increased costs but saw revenue barely increase. I feel for the staff and my former colleagues who are some of the best people I know but upper management i.e. the directors and board members made ridiculous choices. For example a £1 million (rumoured figure) refit of their New Oxford Street branch only a few years after a previous refit during a time where money is tight was a completely wrong idea. However I don’t think they will go under. Canon and the other camera manufacturers may bail them out by buying shares from HSBC (who own jessops) because Jessops is a major launching platform for new cameras and accessories. If they go under the manufacturers will not be able to display and demonstrate their new products (with the exception of events etc) and thus sales and profit in the long run might be affected. Either way I wish all the Jessops staff (except upper management of course) the best and hope that whatever happens everything will work out for them.
While another felt the flaws in the company’s business model were long-standing:
I worked in a branch of Jessops about 9 years ago and you could see a lot of the problems coming even then.
People came to us because the staff were generally knowledgeable and passionate about photography and knew enough about the cameras we sold to help customers make an informed decision. The problem was that management wasn’t particularly interested in cultivating knowledge and a lot of older, highly experienced staff weren’t treated well or paid well so they didn’t stay. There seemed to be a drive to promote very young people who would do exactly what the often useless middle managers would say even if they lacked the specialist knowledge and experience to be any good at the job. There was a huge boom in sales when digital cameras entered the mainstream and people were replacing film cameras but prices fell, margins fell even faster and it became very difficult to make money selling a camera. The real profit was in accessories like bags, space batteries and the like but it’s hard to run a shop on that. We also struggled to get enough stock that was in high demand. Certain camera models would fly off the shelves and would drive sales of add on lenses, flashguns, tripods, etc but we often struggled to get stock.
Sadly the company has been on a knife edge for a while. It’s very unfortunate for the staff but I’m sure those at the top will do just fine.
And a former customer lamented this loss of knowledge and, like many, sympathised with those under thread of redundancy:
My experience with Jessops is that as they’ve expanded they’ve lost the in-store experts that could have guided you through a purchase or could actually speak the language of a photographer. When you’re going to spend several hundred pounds on a new lens you want to be able to talk to someone who has used that lens, or even one who just understands a bit about exposure. Sadly Jessops hadn’t invested in staff training. I was in the market for a new zoom last summer and went to Jessops, but none of the staff could tell me any more about the lens than what was on their website. Nor had any of them used it. In the end I went to a camera specialist on the Internet and chatted to the sales person for a good long while, I was pointed to useful resources on their site, spoke to another user of the lens and so on. It was like the Jessops of old. This company might have survived with more imaginative management – why not offer masterclasses with local photographers and photography clubs in the style of the Apple classes? A crying shame for those people who are about to lose their jobs. Thanks to those with Jessops who helped me get into photography.