Ritz Camera Centers
Ritz Camera Centers
Sales: $650 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 812922 One-Hour Photofinishing; 812921 Photofinishing Laboratories (Except One-Hour)
Ritz Camera Centers is the nation’s largest photo-specialty chain with more than 1,000 stores. The stores are located in 47 states and the District of Columbia. A privately held company, Ritz Camera Centers is ranked 369th on the list of the Forbes Private 500. The company reported 1998 sales of $650 million and employed over 6,500 people. Located in Beltsville, Maryland, the company is led by President and CEO David Ritz.
Small Beginnings: 1918
Not until the late 19th century did photography become accessible to everyday people. What had formerly been the photographic options of the wealthy became available to everyone with portable cameras.
In 1918 another advancement began quietly in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the future of cameras and photo developing experienced another step ahead. The first Ritz Camera Centers began with a single studio on the Atlantic City boardwalk. At the studio, customers could have their photos taken as well as their film developed. Started and still operated by the Ritz Family, that first store was founded by Edward Ritz and introduced a concept that had plenty of growth potential.
Slow and Steady Growth: 1930s-80s
As Ritz Camera Centers expanded from that one location in Atlantic City, the firm reached out to nearby states, especially Maryland, where a Baltimore store was added in the 1930s. As stores were added, so were services and retail goods. Not just a place to have a photo taken or have a photo developed, the stores became one-stop shops for all photographic needs. From cameras to photographic equipment, accessories, and service, Ritz Camera Centers offered it all.
The company enjoyed ongoing success, but as a new generation of the Ritz family took over the business, change was on the horizon. David Ritz became president and CEO of Ritz Camera Centers in 1978. He helped launch the next era in the company’s history, a time of careful planning and controlled expansion. By the mid-1980s, Ritz Camera Centers had grown from that one Atlantic City store to nearly 100 locations.
Diversifying the Company: 1980s
In the late 1980s, Ritz Camera Centers diversified into the marine retail business with the addition of Boater’s World. A division of Ritz Camera, Boater’s World also began with a single location. Boater’s World was a full service boating and fishing accessories superstore, located in some of the hot-spots for boating and fishing along the East Coast from Maine to Florida as well as the Gulf of Mexico, the shores of the great lakes, and the West Coast. Boater’s World was the second largest company in the marine accessory industry. With fishing equipment representing one of the largest specialties at Boater’s World, the company carried a vast selection of lures, baits, nets, line, hooks, and tackle.
In addition to the smaller stores, Boater’s World also added two superstores in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Warwick, Rhode Island. These two larger stores carried a wide variety of all types of equipment and accessories. They also offered motor parts for common marine engines.
Boater’s World had two divisions of its own: Outer Banks Outfitters and Chicago Yacht and Navigation rigging shop. Outer Banks Outfitters was one of the mail-order leaders for marine outfitting and fishing. The Chicago Yacht and Navigation rigging shop took care of all of the sailing rigging for Boater’s World.
Ritz Camera Centers also added, in its own retail stores, a diversified line of merchandise. Although most were photo-related, the stores also offered such items as binoculars and cellular phones. The stores also offered the still-popular 1-hour Ritz “Big Print.”
Besides the headquarters and merchandise distribution center in Beltsville, Maryland, Ritz Camera also operated a second distribution center in Topeka, Kansas. Together, the centers stocked over 4,000 products for delivery to the store locations.
Full Speed Ahead: 1990s
In the 1990s, Ritz expanded Boater’s World as well, adding inland Boater’s World stores in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Kansas City, Missouri; and Topeka, Kansas.
In 1997, Ritz Camera Centers acquired one of its biggest competitors, Kits Camera Inc. of Seattle, Washington. This move strengthened the company’s presence in the West Coast market, providing broader coverage of the entire nation. The purchase of Kits Camera Inc. gave Ritz 140 more retail stores. Located in eight western and southwestern states, Kits Camera Stores continued to operate under their own name as part of the purchase agreement between the two companies.
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Ted Fox, the operations officer with the Photo Marketing Association International at the time of the purchase, said, “They’ve been growing steadily for some time … it was a strategic acquisition which opened up the West Coast for Ritz. Ritz has had a presence in the West Coast, but with 140 stores of Kits, they really get market penetration.”
As in many of the acquisitions of the 1990s, the owners of smaller chains or individual stores were ready to move on and were not interested in investing in the new technology and equipment of the retail photographic business.
In 1998, Ritz acquired 83 more stores from affiliates of Fuji Photo Film USA, Inc., and in 1999, Ritz Camera Centers continued its expansion with the purchase of The Camera Shop, Inc., a 72-store chain.
The Camera Shop was, until the purchase, the nation’s third largest camera retailer, behind Ritz and Wolf Camera. The Camera Shop stores, purchased by Ritz, were located in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. As a part of the agreement, former Camera Shop President John Bogosian agreed to serve in an advisory capacity to Ritz, and his daughter, Karen Bogosian, became Ritz’s regional manager.
While Ritz Camera Centers was aggressively buying smaller chains and stores, there were some critics, leery of the larger company becoming such a massive force in the industry. When Ritz Camera Centers purchased Sam Bass Camera in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1998, the local newspaper, the News & Observer, reported that area photographers were concerned about the buyout. The local store had served the professional photographers of the area, and customers were used to very personal and individualized attention. Juan Mendez, a Ritz Camera executive, was quoted in the article that the emphasis of the store would remain the same and that even the Sam Bass name would remain. “We don’t plan on changing anything,” Mendez said, “except we may add more inventory.”
Besides acquisitions, Ritz Camera Centers also opened new stores throughout the nation. During the 1990s, Ritz remained the leading specialty photo retailer, but Wolf Camera, a Georgia-based retailer, was quickly acquiring companies and going head-to-head with Ritz in many markets across the nation. One of Wolf’s largest purchases was in 1998 with the acquisition of Eastman Kodak’s 450-store Fox Photo Chain. Despite the substantial addition to Wolf’s stores, Ritz Camera Centers continued to lead the industry.
Embracing New Technology: 2000s
As the company embraced the year 2000, the photographic industry was in the midst of big changes. There were new advances everywhere: from the way pictures were taken to the way they were stored. In fact, it was the cost of some of those changes that prompted smaller camera shops and chains to sell to large companies such as Ritz in the 1990s.
Ritz Camera Centers approached the new millennium by implementing new technology in photographic equipment, on the Web, and with e-commerce. The retail web site, introduced in late 1999, was offered as a premier online shopping source for photographic products and equipment. An e-commerce web site was also created, in partnership with phobo.com (a privately held company founded in 1999 and closely affiliated with Ritz).
Other Ritz companies such as Boater’s World and Outer Banks Outfitters also offered phobo.com web sites and e-commerce. Phobo.com had an exclusive arrangement with Ritz Camera Centers for its e-commerce sites, which had the potential of reaching companies with a combined total of more than $30 billion in sales. David Ritz, president and CEO of Ritz Camera Centers, also served as chairman of phobo.com.
Our mission is to create a dynamic service environment that puts the customer first. We will always provide the best services for our customers. We will always provide a quality work environment for our associates. With an intense merchant mentality at the district manager level, our purpose is to grow sales year after year while maintaining operational excellence.
The Ritz retail web site was also used as a marketing and education tool, offering consumers photographic tips and advice. In early 2000, ritzcamera.com announced that it would add auctions as a part of the web site. The auctions were planned to feature new and used cameras, hard-to-find accessories, and other photographic items.
Ritz Camera Centers offered technological advances in its retail stores as well. Digital photography became more popular, and Ritz Camera Centers offered products and support for new users. Free promotional CDs on using digital photography were offered through early 2000.
“Through the CD, consumers can access information and services to help them expand their knowledge about photography. And, with the click of a button, consumers can access the vast array of photographic products and services available at ritzcamera.com,” said Andre Brysha, chief marketing officer for ritzcamera.com, in a company press release.
In April 2000, Ritz Camera announced a partnership with America Online (AOL) to offer Ritz products through AOL channels. As a part of the five-year agreement, AOL would also market its services through Ritz Camera Centers and its web site. Bob Pittman, President and Chief Operating Officer of AOL, said in a company press release, “Our new marketing alliance with Ritz and phobo.com will make it easy and convenient for our members to find Ritz’s wide selection of photographic equipment and services.”
Ritz Camera Centers started as a one-store operation in 1918 and had expanded to become the leading photographic specialty store in the nation. As Ritz continued to acquire stores and expand services, more growth could be expected in the future. With new technology constantly on the horizon, Ritz Camera Centers had proven that it would embrace change and use it to help the company grow.
Boater’s World; Outer Banks Outfitters (division of Boater’s World); Chicago Yacht and Navigation Rigging Shop (division of Boater’s World).
Wolf Camera; Walgreen Co.; West Marine, Inc.
- Ritz Camera Centers starts in Atlantic City with a single portrait studio.
- Adding 140 more stores, Ritz Camera Centers purchases Kits Camera, Inc. of Seattle, Washington.
- Ritz Camera Centers acquires 83 retail photographic stores from Fuji.
- Ritz Camera Centers purchases The Camera Shop, Inc., the third largest photofinishing chain with 72 stores and 500 employees; adds e-commerce web site.
- With more than 1,000 stores, Ritz Camera is the nation’s largest photo specialty store.
Evans, Sandra, “Top 15 Private Companies,” Washington Post, April 26, 1999.
Mirabella, Lorraine, “Ritz Camera Snaps up a Rival,” Baltimore Sun, November 26, 1997, p. 1C.
Obermayer, Joel B., “Snapshot of Industry Trend: Sam Bass Camera Sold,” News & Observer, April 23, 1998.
Von Bergen, Jane M., “Merger Enters Picture,” New York Daily Record, July 28, 1999, p.6.
"Ritz Camera Centers." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/ritz-camera-centers
"Ritz Camera Centers." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/ritz-camera-centers
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