Ritz Returns To Growth Mode

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Washington - The nearly 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 has re-opened shuttered stores, added Verizon Wireless to its expanded CE offering, and secured a $25 million credit line with PNC Financial Services to help refinance existing debt and fuel future growth.

"Despite an economic environment that has weighed heavy on so many retailers, Ritz & Wolf Camera & Image is poised to succeed," said president Stephen LaMastra in a statement released on the eve of the PMA 2010.

"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," continued LaMastra, formerly president of Wolf Camera. "We will continue to lead this company, its stakeholders and our customers through these tough economic times, and we are confident that a bright future is ahead."

His optimism is based partly on the outlook for the imaging category, which is up double digits industrywide since the chain re-emerged last summer, the company said.

Ritz & Wolf is also encouraged by a surge in online sales during the holiday season, when its print services site, Ritzpix.com, was up better than 30 percent. Indeed, the company's photo books, calendar and greeting card business is up even higher than overall imaging, it reported, and the trend is expected to continue well into 2010.

To further bolster the business, Ritz & Wolf has expanded its CE assortment to include home theater, PCs, video gaming and portable devices, and became an authorized Verizon Wireless retailer. Explained LaMastra, "The Verizon Wireless partnership signals an increased commitment to delivering the instant gratification of memory capture.  With the explosion of imaging through smartphones and cellphones, and our leadership in the imaging industry, the Verizon relationship is a natural extension of our brand and our strategy."

To help keep it on firm financial footing, the chain secured the credit facility with PNC in November; restructured deals with such key vendors as Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony; and renegotiated leases and formed "strategic partnerships" with landlords - which allowed it to re-open five locations in December, for a total of nearly 300 stores in 36 states.

"With the legacy of our brand and our drive for success, we believe we can accomplish what we have set forth to do and make this company the premier destination for America's imaging needs," LaMastra said.


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