The Photographic Research Organization (PRO) Group celebrated its 50th year in operation in 2008. Currently, PRO is the largest cooperative buying, marketing, and distribution company in the photo-specialty channel. It currently has 155 member firms and affiliates operating more than 400 stores throughout the United States.
The group, which held its annual convention in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, this July, honored one of its founding fathers with the group's first-ever Lifetime Achievement award.
ED LONDON, former founder and owner of the seven-store Fotoshop chain, located in New York City, was one of six independent retailers who joined together to create PRO, a retail buying cooperative. In 1962, London became the second president of the PRO Group, a position he held for 21 years. Currently he is the group's financial advisor. London also served as president of PMA in 1977–1978.
"Ed London was not only a founder of this great retailer organization, he has been a guiding light of PRO and its members, and it's a pleasure to have had the chance to honor Ed's 50 years of service in this very special way on PRO's 50th anniversary," said MIKE WORSWICK, president of PRO.
Along with London, the founding fathers of PRO were ED RITZ of Ritz Camera Centers, DAVE COVITZ of School Street Camera, AARON KNOPF of Eastern Camera Exchange, BEN and MANNY LEVY of Levy's, and JIM SCHWARTZ of Jay James Camera. In the 50 years of its existence, PRO has only had four presidents, which shows the depth of dedication of those running the organization. Previous presidents were Aaron Knopf from 1958 to 1962, Ed London from 1962 to 1983, and RON INKLEY of Inkley's from 1983 to 1996. Mike Worswick has been president of PRO since 1996.
Promaster Brand Product Line
In addition to its wealth of educational opportunities and buying-group power, PRO also has its own line of photographic products under the Promaster brand name. There are 1,500 SKUs in the Promaster line, which includes high-end binoculars, studio lighting kits, media cards, camera bags and cases, tripods and monopods, digital filters, batteries and chargers, cut-sheet and wide-format inkjet paper, electronic flashes, and much more.
JEFF NEAL, PRO's VP of sales and marketing, works closely with suppliers as well as the factories manufacturing Promaster products. The Promaster brand is available for sale only by its member retailers and those retailers participating in the group's affiliate test program--giving the photo specialist an exclusive range of high-margin merchandise to offer their customers.
The PRO warehouse, which covers 33,000 square feet of space in Hatboro, PA, also stocks and makes available to members and affiliates a variety of digital cameras and camcorders from such companies as Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus; media cards from Lexar; Crane inkjet media; and more. Average inventory is in excess of $8 million; 98 percent of orders are shipped same-day.
Joining the Club
RICH BRIGHT, a former high-school teacher, runs the PRO Group's Club Promaster training. Club Promaster is an online training system that provides sales staffs with the information they need to better move product. In addition to modules on specific products or product categories, topics on the Club Promaster blog run the gamut. According to Bright, about 1,600 salespeople from 2,000 stores are currently signed up and regularly use Club Promaster for training.
At the Convention
I had the opportunity to attend the PRO Group's convention this past summer, along with more than 200 member business attendees, 100-plus family members, and about 20 affiliate members. It's not surprising for a 50-year-old organization that many of its members are second- and third-generation members. The convention had a family feel, with many of the members not only growing up in their family businesses but also as a part of the annual conventions. Members' spouses and kids, from toddlers to teens, could be found around the host hotel--some of the kids even wore official name badges.
PRO president Mike Worswick, co-owner of Wolfe's Cameras, Camcorders, and Computers in Topeka, KS, kicked off the tone for the convention by reassuring attendees that in a recessionary economy, you're going to feel the highs and lows, but that it's important to keep doing those things that are working. Throughout the five days, Worswick spoke in the general sessions, with words of wisdom as, "You work harder to stand still; you must work smarter to get ahead."
And as much as industry naysayers predict doom-and-gloom scenarios for the photo marketplace, many of the PRO dealers we spoke to are trending upward. In fact, we met with a few new business owners, folks who have purchased an existing business in the past couple of years.
The five-day convention was filled with business-building sessions, networking opps, a showroom full of Promaster-branded products, and a one-day tradeshow that featured dozens of manufacturers and distributors showing their hottest new products. After its successful first 50 years, we think the PRO Group's future is bright indeed.