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Competitive Cameras

Competitive Cameras is one of the largest camera specialty retailers in the United States serving the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and beyond. We stock the best brands including Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Nikon, Sigma, Sony, Tamron, Tokina, Manfrotto,  Gitzo, Mefoto, Profoto, Elinchrome, Bowens, JTL, Epson, Lexar, Sandisk, Think Tank Photo, Tamrac, Tenba and many, many more. We pride ourselves on professional one to one customer service in our store so that best meet your needs as both a professional, enthusiast and beginner photographer. We invite you to stop by the store to learn more about what Competitive Cameras can do for your photography!

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Competitive Cameras keeps its business in focus

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CHERYL HALL

cherylhall@dallasnews.com

Eugene Jabbour recently went to Alaska with a group of customers to take up-close photos of wildlife with really expensive camera equipment.

“I’ve seen the photographs that my customers have taken and heard their opinions,” says the 35-year-old owner of Competitive Cameras. “But to be 20 feet away from the big bears in the wilderness and take photos of them made me truly feel like a National Geographic photographer.”

Laurie Excell, a loyal Competitive Cameras customer, guided the eight-person safari to Katmai National Park and Preserve in August. The entourage carted $300,000 in cameras, lenses and paraphernalia, all bought from Jabbour.

The fact that Jabbour and customers from around the country — many of whom he’d met only on the phone or through email — went on a vacation together shows that Competitive Cameras isn’t your typical camera retailer.

If it were, the cramped, 5,000-square-foot store on Irving Boulevard wouldn’t be enjoying another profitable year with sales of about $13 million. It wouldn’t even be around, for that matter.

In a world of big boxes, huge online merchants and omnipresent iPhones, Competitive Cameras, started by Eugene’s parents in 1982, has weathered three decades of industry upheaval and is one of the last major specialty camera retailers in the country that doesn’t sell online.

It stays relevant by adapting to the times and maintaining its reputation as a hands-on oasis for equipment and information.

For the first 20 years or so, professional photographers and avid enthusiasts accounted for 75 percent of its business. Competitive Cameras still sells to them and to major corporate clients — J.C. Penney Co., Neiman Marcus, National Geographic and The Dallas Morning News, to name a few.

Now moms are its lifeblood. Women who want to document newborns, soccer games and family moments account for about half of its sales.

“They’re our largest segment, and we love them 10 times more,” Jabbour says in his closet-like office in the front of the store. “The moms come in and say, ‘Teach me everything.’ And we do.”

That’s why the first thing you see when you walk in the store is a display of camera bags that look like designer diaper bags. They come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes and cost up to $250.

“Selling a camera [to a mom] takes five minutes. ‘This is the right one for you. Here’s how you use it,’” he says. “The bag, they’ll stand there for an hour, seriously. I offer coffee while they make their decisions.”

Yes, smartphones have hurt low-end camera sales, Jabbour says. But they’ve also spurred interest in photography and moderately priced cameras that can wirelessly send photos to smartphones. “A lot of the people we’re seeing now are coming in and saying, ‘I’m sick of my iPhone photos. I want something better.’”

Ten years ago, film accounted for $2.5 million in annual sales. Today Jabbour sells about $2,000 worth of black-and-white film a year that’s stocked for beginner students at two local high schools.

Instead of film, people come in for memory cards, backdrops for in-home studios, printers, photo paper and gizmos.

A woman at the counter is buying a $50 plastic tripod. The salesman answers questions about how it works and suggests that she might want to get a slightly more expensive and more stable metal one.

Customers certainly aren’t drawn to the store by flashy decor. Floor-to-ceiling boxes give it the ambiance of an auto-parts dealer. It was recently “updated” with new, unscratched glass so that patrons could actually see the Nikons and Canons in the display cases.

Hooked as a child

Jabbour, a shutterbug since he was 4, was captivated when the autofocus Minolta Maxxum 7000 came out in 1985. The 7-year-old schooled himself on every newfangled function.

“When people came to the store, I said, ‘This button does this. This button does that. Here’s how you do it.’ I could barely see over the counter,” he recalls. “They got me a little stool so I could be a little higher up.”

He sold six the weekend the camera was introduced.

His parents were stunned. Eugene was hooked.

When he graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2000 with a degree in finance, he interviewed with investment banking firms in New York, Connecticut and Dallas.

“My parents and I sat down and had serious talks,” he says. “They said, ‘You’ve got this golden opportunity with the store. If you want it, it’s yours. You can build it up and be your own boss at 21.’ That’s pretty much the avenue I chose to take.”

Eugene officially took over the family business as owner on Jan. 1, 2012. But his 61-year-old father, Ramsey, still comes in most days. “I tried to retire, but I flunked it,” he says. “Besides, I’m with my son. It can’t get better than that.”

Eugene looks at his dad and says, “There are some people who were kids when they first bought a camera from him. They still only want to talk with him. That’s fine by me.”

As camera prices fall, the store has to sell many more of them to maintain sales and profits. For example, a popular Canon that sold for $1,000 last year now fetches $700.

This year, the store will sell $6 million in cameras — about 130 a week — at a typical cost of $600 to $800. The most expensive model is $6,800.

They even come in colors. Jabbour pulls out a pink Nikon. It’s purse-size but high performance, capable of taking 10 frames a second and high-definition video. It costs $400.

Video is nearly 10 percent of the business, up from zero in 2008.

“Everyone wants to be the next George Lucas or Steven Spielberg,” Jabbour says. “They come in with big hopes. That’s expanded our business on both the professional and consumer side, especially since Dallas is developing into a movie production place where they film a lot of TV shows.”

‘Absolutely painless’

Lyn Berman, the executive director of Attitudes & Attire, went to Competitive Cameras for a camera two weeks ago. With Jabbour’s guidance, it took seven minutes to select a Nikon that suits the nonprofit’s needs.

“It was absolutely painless,” Berman says. “Just how I like to shop.”

“We always try to stay one step ahead of the curve,” Jabbour says. “If there’s a new product that we think our customers are going to like, we’ll buy into it, promote it and support it. We do a large volume, so we’re the first to get brand-new merchandise.”

Last year, about a half-dozen new cameras came out. One group of doctors from Medical City tries to beat each other out to buy the first one.

“I call them all at the same time so I don’t play favorites,” Jabbour says. “They race down from their offices to make sure they’re first to get it. No. 2 shows up 30 seconds later.”

A few years ago, Barbara Hollweg, an avid amateur wildlife photographer who lives in Dallas, went to India to photograph rare tigers. She took hundreds of photos, then couldn’t get her memory card to download.

In a panic, she emailed Jabbour, who told her not to do anything.

After she landed back in Dallas, she went straight to the store. Two hours later, he’d recovered 485 images.

“My trip was saved, thanks to Eugene,” Hollweg says. “He’s always willing to go the extra mile to help.”

Steve Seligman, an Arlington OB-GYN, and Scott Allen, a Fort Worth surgeon, strong-armed Jabbour into going on the Alaskan adventure. Over the years, they’ve become more than customers. They drop in early most Saturdays for coffee and guy time. Seligman bought a Keurig and supplies the coffee pods. It’s become sort of a Cheers with caffeine.

The doctors leave around 9:15, when the real shoppers show up.

“How does Competitive Cameras go up against the Amazons and the B&H Photos?” Seligman asks rhetorically. “Service and long-term relationships.”

He says he’s constantly amazed when young couples take photos of their newborns in the delivery room with an iPhone.

“Then they show me the picture and ask me why it’s all blurry when they printed it,” he says. “It drives me nuts.”

AT A GLANCE

Eugene Jabbour

Age: 35

Title: Owner, Competitive Cameras

Resides: Far North Dallas

Born: St. Louis Park, Minn.; moved to Garland when he was 3

Education: St. Mark’s School of Texas, 1996; finance degree, Southern Methodist University, 2000.

Personal: Married to Melanie with a 7-year-old stepson and a 17-month-old daughter

Featured on the Dallas Morning News on November 2, 2013.

http://www.dallasnews.com/business/columnists/cheryl-hall/20131102-competitive-cameras-keeps-its-business-in-focus.ece

 

How It All Started @ Competitive Cameras – ” Pulling Out all the F-Stops” 

“Pulling out all the F-Stops”

Feature article from The Dallas Morning News – February 16, 2003

Competitive Cameras is the pro’s answer to high-gloss retailers

It’s hard to imagine a store with less glitz than Competitive Cameras, a 5,000-square-foot-strip-center establishment unceremoniously wedged between a sandwich shop and a diner on Irving Boulevard.

Floor-to-ceiling boxes give it the ambiance of an auto parts dealer, while refrigerated cases of film add a touch of convenience store élan. The main display case is so etched by daily abuse that it’s difficult to see the array of natty Nikons beneath the glass. In a world dominated by high-gloss, big-box retailers, Competitive Cameras is definitely matte finish. But for many professional shooters, this is photography heaven, and owners Ramsey Jabbour, his wife of 26 years, Mary, and their son, Eugene, are the attentive keepers of the gate.

Since its humble beginnings in Garland in 1982, Competitive Cameras has weathered two decades of industry upheaval to become one of the last major specialty camera stores left in the Southwest and among the largest in the country. Early on, Ramsey Jabbour figures there were two dozen independents around town. Almost all those names have vanished, including Barry’s Camera, the largest and most formidable of the lot, which sold out to Atlanta-based Wolf Camera & Video in 1992.

“We’ve stayed alive by keeping our overhead very low, working extremely hard, knowing what we sell and concentrating on volume, not big margins,” says the patriarch. “We’ve built that volume one customer at a time.”

Core customers include retailers, colleges, hospitals, advertising agencies, catalog publishers and newspapers – names that include J.C. Penney Co., Baylor (the university and the medical center), The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But the customer mix also includes rank beginners who’ve simply been urged by someone to “go see Ramsey”.

They come for everything from a $200 point-and-shoot camera to an exotic $9,500 600mm f/4.0 Nikon lens that can capture the grimace of a football player 50 yards away.

Mr. Jabbour says he wants to help customers avoid buying the wrong equipment, and that’s hard to do online. Besides, if he sold on the Net, he’d have to list prices, and that’s another thing about this shop – there’s not a price tag on anything.

“With Ramsey, it’s all about the sale,” says professional photographer Scott Keith. “He keeps a formula in his mind: ‘I paid this much for it. I need to sell it for this much. Are you going to buy it or not?’”

Personalized service

Mr. Jabbour, who was born in Lebanon, admits to friendly Old World negotiating, but draws the line at calling it haggling. “Our price is earth-bottom, so there’s nothing much left to negotiate.”

Mr. Keith has bought $100,000 in cameras in the last eight years, not to mention routine supplies. “I’ve checked. You can’t beat him on price for equipment. Soft supplies, sometimes,” he adds. “But even then, Ramsey’s always very close.”

In the three years John Pippar has been coming into the store, the 58-year-old real estate executive has worked his way up from entry-level gear to a top-of-the-line Nikon digital and a slew of expensive lenses. In the process, he’s discovered a hidden passion and now makes his living as a sports photographer.

“It’s all because Ramsey recognized the value of a novice customer and gave me the help, support and guidance that made me want to come back,” he says.

Mr. Jabbour got his start in the camera business nearly 30 years ago in Minneapolis with his brother. But when Mary became pregnant with child No 2, the couple decided to plant roots elsewhere. They spent their vacation in 1980 traveling the country looking for the land of opportunity. They thought the shining skyline of Big D looked a bit like Emerald City.

“Dallas was looking new and booming,” recalls Mr. Jabbour. “Growing up in the Middle East, everything was antique … you know, 2,000, 3000 years old. Having all these modern buildings was very, very impressive to me.”

The next year, the Jabbours put 2-year-old Eugene and 3-month-old Georgina into the family Cutlass station wagon, loaded their worldly belongings into a 24-foot U-Haul and headed to a place where they knew absolutely no one.

“We believed in the good God, or maybe we were just naïve,” says Mr. Jabbour.

For the next six months, he worked in the camera department of the Valley View Mall’s Sanger-Harris department store in North Dallas while Mrs. Jabbour drove around looking for retail space. Rents were running a hefty $18 to $20 a square foot, so it took a while to find an affordable shoebox location in Garland (a suburb of Dallas) on Forest Lane.

“It wasn’t that we chose Garland,” says Mrs. Jabbour, “We chose Forest Lane. I looked at the Mapsco and saw that it runs all the way across town. Everyone knows how to get to Forest Lane.” Well, yeah, but the store was way the thunder out on Forest.

“People would joke that they had to pack a lunch to get there,” says Mr. Jabbour, who spent several years as a one-man operation. “When I had to make a delivery, I’d put a sign on the door and go.”

The big break

The store’s big break came in 1985, when the Dallas Times Herald called looking for a hard-to-find $3,000 Nikon lens. Mr. Jabbour had several in stock, closed the store and delivered downtown that day. The newspaper, which had been buying its equipment and film from various sources around the country, shifted its business to him. A similar scenario played out in 1987, when The News needed a specialty lens for the papal visit to San Antonio.

Plano-based J.C. Penney Co. buys almost all of its film and camera accessories from Competitive Cameras because of reliability and pricing, says Ray Parker, manager for marketing photography. “First and foremost, Eugene and Ramsey are real pros who understand the needs and requirements of a professional studio. They follow up with real-time speed to make it happen for us.”

The Jabbours moved to their current location four years ago – taking the advice of a first-time customer. A planner for the city of Grapevine said he would have made it to the store a year earlier but it had taken him that long to decide to drive that far. He went next door to a Stop-N-Go, made a copy of Mapsco’s page 44, drew a circle that included Irving Boulevard and said, “That’s where you need to be.”

They wish they’d made the move years ago.

Family operation

Competitive Cameras is now a mom-and-pop-plus-son operation. Eugene, who earned a business degree in finance from Southern Methodist University in 2000, has joined the family business as a partner in charge of digital. Proud parents say he’s a natural. “He’s our missing link,” says Mary. “Eugene grew up with a Commodore 64 when he was like 4 years old, so here was the master of digital stepping through our doors.”

Eugene is equally gushy about his folks. “No teacher in school could ever teach what I learned from my parents growing up in the store,” he says. “They gave 1,000 percent to make sure everything was perfect for the customer.”