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Manfrotto Broadens U.S. Business, Outsources Distribution

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. – Manfrotto Distribution is out of the distribution business, sort of.

As part of a two-year-old strategy to extend its focus on pro digital imaging and video-production accessories to the mass consumer market, the Italian stand, case, bag and lighting manufacturer moved out of its U.S. headquarters and distribution/repair center in Northern New Jersey after 20 years last winter to a new, nearby office and showroom facility here.

In the process, it handed off its U.S. distribution function to global logistics provider Panalpina, and its service and repair operation to Arizona-based Camera Repair Instrument Service (CRIS). The moves helped clear the way for Manfrotto to add some new accounts to its network of specialty photo dealers and regional CE chains – customers like Best Buy, Target and, most recently, Walmart.

Marco Pezzana, divisional CEO of the imaging and staging division of parent company Vitec Group, told TWICE that the premium manufacturer had never considered the point-and-shoot market until 2010, when the growing popularity of DSLRs and the exponential expansion of social networking and online photo posts prompted a reevaluation of the mass channel.

The resulting strategy provides a complete solution that is specifically designed and spec-ed for the casual photographer while maintaining Manfrotto’s highquality standards — an approach that was missing from a market limited to cheap, mediocre and expensive accessories, Pezzana said.

Bill Drysdale, managing director of Manfrotto Distribution USA, noted that the rollouts to Best Buy and Walmart feature another element that’s unique within the mass photo accessories business: the company’s own dedicated real estate.

These include end caps at Best Buy and branded sections in Walmart that identify Manfrotto and explain the benefits of its bags, LED lighting and supports. The displays appear in 75 percent of all Best Buy flagship stores and in 2,600 of Walmart’s 3,000-plus supercenters, where sales of DSLRs are greatest, Drysdale said.

The brand is also sold on and is carried by regional powerhouses like Abt Electronics, Fry’s, Microcenter and P.C. Richard & Son. But the executives stressed that Manfrotto has not lost its focus on its core pro business, where it has been a mainstay with such leading specialty retailers as B&H Photo in New York, Calumet Photographic in Chicago and Samy’s Camera in Los Angeles.

“We didn’t just transfer distribution and cannibalize the business,” Pezzana said. “We segmented our portfolio and grew the categories.”

Indeed, despite the recession 2011 proved to be a record year for Manfrotto, which it matched again in 2012 amid industrywide first-quarter inventory shortages due to natural disasters in the Far East that impacted production, and increased pressure on the bag segment from smartphone photography.

Pezzana said the company maintained its pace last year by taking share and introducing a new generation of end-users to its product line.

The transition was underscored last week when Pezzana and Drysdale formally cut the ribbon on the company’s new headquarters and showroom here. The facility provides room for growth – something that the old, maxed-out Ramsey, N.J. offices did not – while providing a state-of-the-art showroom for visiting customers where the products can be demonstrated.

Drysdale added that outsourcing its distribution and repair functions has allowed the company to better service its retail and end-user customers, while freeing up staff to focus on new products and channels.