Ritz Camera Sets Growth Strategy

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The 100-year-old Ritz Camera legacy is continuing on firmer footing following last year's bankruptcy, buyout and restructuring by chairman/CEO David Ritz.

Nearly one year after the filing, the renamed Ritz & Wolf Camera & Image chain, based here, has re-opened shuttered stores, added Verizon Wireless to an expanded CE offering, and secured a $25 million revolving credit facility with PNC Financial Services to help refinance existing debt and fuel future growth.

“We have come out of the challenges of the past two years with renewed vigor and focus and with a clear imaging strategy for a new retail landscape,” said president Stephen LaMastra on the eve of the 2010 PMA Show.

“We're at the leading edge of a new golden era in imaging,” he told TWICE, “and the retail market needs a specialty chain to lead the industry.”

Driving his optimism is his outlook for the category, which is up double digits industrywide since the chain re-formed last summer. “There are so many ways to create, capture and access images that no one dreamed of years ago,” said LaMastra, a former COO at Wolf Camera. “There's an extraordinary array of hardware, and the number of products and services has exploded.”

Indeed, while d-SLR remains the company's core hardware category (“We sell millions of d-SLRs and accessories,” he said), Ritz & Wolf has expanded its CE assortment to include camcorders, netbooks, flat panel TVs and, under a new partnership with Verizon Wireless, cell and smart phones, as picture-taking migrates to mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the chain's display and services side, which includes photo albums, calendars, greeting cards, prints and enlargements, has grown faster than hardware, with holiday sales surging 30 percent at the company's RitzPix.com Web site.

Upward of 20 new products were added over the last seven months, including wall-sized framed portraits, and another two dozen are expected this year.

To help keep it on firm financial footing, the privately-held business secured the new credit facility with PNC in November and restructured deals with such key suppliers as Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sanyo and Sony.

“We have great vendor relationships,” LaMastra said. “They are remarkably supportive on every level, and embraced the new company at a level that surprised even me.”

Ritz & Wolf has also renegotiated leases and formed “strategic partnerships” with landlords, which allowed it to re-open five locations in December. Its nearly 300 stores are located within 40 of the top 50 markets in the U.S., LaMastra said, and their average 3,000-square-foot size is large enough to accommodate printing stations and a burgeoning assortment while maintaining an intimate shopping experience.

“With the legacy of our brand and our drive for success, we believe we can make this company the premier destination for America's imaging needs,” he said.

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