Argus Camera turning attention to mass retail

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Argus Camera, shifting emphasis toward mass retailers in an effort to re-establish its brand, will unveil new products and packaging at the Photo Marketing Association Show in Las Vegas this week.

The private company has positioned itself as a marketer of affordable cameras since 1936 and primarily has directed its sales efforts toward catalogs and TV shopping networks, including the Home Shopping Network and QVC. "Because of that, the recognition of the brand being out there is nowhere near where it used to be," said Argus Presi-dent William Pearson. "We're dusting off that image and targeting mass retail again."

NEW OFFERINGS

To attract new retail channels such as Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores, Argus is rolling out new products, including 35mm, digital and APS cameras priced from $10 for 35mm to $200 for digital products. Those are attractive price points in today's market, where "roughly 60% of all cameras sold are sold for $60 or less," said Michael Ellmann, an analyst at Schroder & Co.

And in the booming digital camera market, almost 900,000 of the 3 million digital cameras sold in the U.S. last year were under $200, according to Kevin Kane, an analyst at research company IDC.

With low prices and kits that include Eastman Kodak Co.'s film and batteries, Argus also hopes to capitalize on consumers buying cameras as gifts at mass merchandisers.

Argus transfers a low cost to consumers by avoiding a big ad budget. "Our overhead is considerably less than the folks in Tokyo and Rochester, N.Y.," Mr. Pearson said, in reference to Fuji Photo Film Co. and Kodak, which spent more than $4 million and $106 million, respectively, on advertising through September of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

50,000 SOLD

Even though Argus can't compete with the industry titans in dollars or in market share, the marketer still sold close to 50,000 digital cameras last year.

"For a small company, that's not a bad business," said Gary Pageau, executive editor of Photo Marketing, the PMA's trade publication.

To maximize its tiny budget, Argus' marketing push, handled in-house, will be focused on point of purchase. Not only does the company aim to attract aisle-roaming consumers with its new, glossy, purple-and-blue packaging, it also plans to highlight camera features on the package. "In the [low-cost] category there's a lot of gift-giving, and presentation is very important," Mr. Pageau said.

"We're very careful of overhead," said Argus VP-Sales and Marketing Stuart Kalov. "The way to do this is to combine promotion of the product along with the sale of the product."

GOOD RESULTS

The strategy has worked for Argus in mail-order and TV sales. It sold out all 15,000 of its $130 digital cameras by midafternoon of its first day of sale on the Home Shopping Network in May, said Rob Ellerstein, director of merchandising for electronics, cleaning and infomercials at HSN. Total sales of Argus cameras on the network are now close to 50,000, he said.

"We prefer to look at it as guerrilla marketing," Mr. Pearson said. "We're selling the product but also getting it into millions of homes at the same time."

But the future is on store shelves, and the company hopes to expand beyond direct sales only, adding retail partners that will advertise Argus products in their weekly newspaper inserts and direct mailings.

Even without a major advertising push, however, its name is not unknown. "Argus is one of the classic American brands," Mr. Pageau said.

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