I think it is fair to say that the exorbitant pricing for some new camera gear is driving the expansion and popularity of the secondhand market. It has been a very long time since I purchased use gear or sold any for that matter, so I wanted to reach out to an expert. My conversation in this episode is with Mr. Phil Kaplan. Phil is the Product and Marketing Manager for KEH Camera in Atlanta, Georgia.
You may have heard of KEH or seen their ads online. KEH has been around since 1979 and they are the original reseller of professional, collectible, and everyday camera gear. They have over 60,000 items in stock at any given time. Much of which is sold at up to 40% below retail, and they offer the KEH Gear Assurance Guarantee which is a A 180-day warranty on most equipment. I reached out to Phil because I knew he would give me the straight scoop on today’s used camera market and also provide us with some great tips for buying and selling used gear.
Buying Used Camera Gear. Advice from Phil Kaplan of KEH Camera
For as long as I have been into photography, there have been debates over the value and sensibilities of buying used gear. It’s been decades since I’ve purchased any use gear. So I wanted to talk to an expert and learn the latest on how to buy and sell used camera gear and to find out if it even makes sense. Stay tuned.
You’re listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS, behind, creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.
Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. I am your host, Joe Edelman. And my mission is to help photographers like you to develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind great photography.
My photography thought for the week: Recently, I was speaking to a young photographer, and he admitted to me that he was upset at himself. And he’s one of those young hipsters who thinks that his pictures are a little bit cooler because he shoots film. He just did a session with a model. And after she left, he realized that he forgot to load film into the camera.
I told him not to worry. Back in the day, when I shot film, If I forgot to put film in the camera, I just called it a test shoot.
Next up is a TOGCHAT exclusive interview.
My guest this week is Mr. Phil Kaplan. Phil is the product and merchandising manager at KEH camera in Atlanta, Georgia. You may have heard of KEH or seen their ads online. KEH has been around since 1979, and they are the original reseller of professional collectable and everyday camera gear.
They have over 60,000 items in stock at any given time, much of which is sold at up to 40% below retail. And they offer the KEH Gear Assurance Guarantee, which is a 180-day warranty on most equipment. I reached out to Phil because I knew he would give me the straight scoop on today’s used camera market and also provide us with some great tips for buying and selling used gear.
So let’s dig in Phil Kaplan. I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me on TOGCHAT today. How are you?
Phil Kaplan: [00:02:31]
I’m good. I’m good. It’s great to be here.
It’s great to see you again, man. It’s been a while you and I usually run into each other at trade shows and haven’t been to any of those in quite some time.
So it’s glad to actually see you and be able to talk to you.
Phil Kaplan: [00:02:44]
Yes, same here.
Let’s talk about the big debate. Do I buy used? Do I buy new when I was a teenager? All of my gear was used. I couldn’t afford new gear. I really, we want it to be a newspaper photographer, which meant I needed motor drives on a Nikon F and I needed longer lenses.
And, so I bought everything used and that gear served me incredibly well. As I got older, I think I did what a lot of photographers do because I could afford it, I kind of got away from that idea of even considering used gear and now fast-forward, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a little bit about disposable mentality that some people have about camera gear with the idea that, Hey, if it’s time to replace something or if something breaks, why get it repaired?
Or why would I sell it or reuse it? Let me just go buy a new one. And that means there’s a lot of really good gear that’s sitting around on camera store shells. It could save people a ton of money. So why should I consider one over the other? What’s the big pitch for used gear?
Phil Kaplan: [00:04:00]
Used gear…One, it allows you to go back in time if you so desire, but let’s say you want film gear.
For the most part, you’re not going to be able to find new film gear. And one of the great things we do is we’re always on the hunt for that. And when we get it in, we check it out. We have a full process to look at the gear, test the gear, clean the gear, and if we need to service it, we can do that as well in respect to new gear.
And I’ve been in this industry 35 going towards 40 years. And most of it was on the true retail side where we needed to sell. New gear. It was never around use. It was just sort of, oh, you want to trade your gear, and we’d be happy to do that. But very early on, when I got into the first company, I was with the Wolf camera, I realized same boat you were in.
I couldn’t afford everything now. So I bought a number of Nikon glass used. I think I got 35mm F1.4 and 85mm F1.4 all of the AIS lenses. And I loved those. And then I started buying some new as my wallet got a little thicker and I could afford a little bit more. But to your question, They’re both good to the marketplace.
We love having, in the digital arena equipment that some people can afford. When you look at even an inexpensive camera at say $499 with a kit lens, sometimes that’s a little expensive for somebody. If we have something, that’s used that we’ve brought in tested, confirmed that it’s operational, we give it 180-day warranty.
We also give you a 21-day unconditional return policy. So we really try and make this a very easy process. And in many respects, we do purchase use here. As a society, we buy used cars are so many forms and places out there where you can go out and find opportunities when you know that. You’re not looking to buy something new because there’s true value in it.
Some of our gear is off up to 40% off retail, new retail, just depending on what you’re looking for.
180 day return policy and a 21 day, like our, excuse me, 180-day warranty and a 21-day return policy. That’s amazing. I mean, that’s really essentially a big burden that you guys are taking on in terms of the responsibility for that gear. So that’s great.
In regard to film cameras, are you finding, and maybe it’s just because of the resurgence and the popularity of film, especially amongst younger shooters. Are you finding that there is somewhat of an age divide amongst people who will think used first? Is it maybe being driven by the demand for film cameras or is it still really pretty much a very universal thing?
Phil Kaplan: [00:06:46]
It can be universal recently ran into a photographer. I’ve known from a previous, retailer showcase days. And he’s getting back into film. And he’s in my age, and he’s trying to offer it as a unique service for portraits and a variety of other things. So he’s looking at a recently purchased some Veronica gear.
We can’t get enough used film gear is the one thing we’re looking for. Medium format, large format people are, I think, finding a Renaissance similar probably to how albums were in the day. If we could, if manufacturers could put it into their routine of saying, okay, we’re going to have a K1000 type of camera. That it would be fantastic. We need film to stay around and I buy film for our company, and we get directly from Kodak, Fuji, Ilford and then there are a lot of other film brands that are out there. So the real key is we’re trying to recycle it in a sense, but we want to do it in a good way.
In other words, we want photographers to, as I see, grow the pie again, it was so dynamic in the eighties. It was just exploding. Probably the greatest thing that helped photography was the one-hour lab. We had people coming in every Monday dropping off one roll of film to half a dozen rolls, picking it up a day or two later, but also buying more film for the weekend.
And it was just a cycle that was just hard to beat. And I remember seeing in 1995 at the consumer electronics show, the first digital camera Casio, that was a VGA camera. And I go, oh.
I think you just triggered some PTSD. In my early twenties, I had a part-time job working in a one-hour photo lab and Mondays were the worst. Just absolutely the worst. So yeah, I think I completely forgotten about that.
Phil Kaplan: [00:08:36]
You could have a hundred roles come through and one day, if not more, yeah.
Easily. So if I’m going to go used, there is a perception amongst some people, and I’ll admit it’s a perception that I held for a while that why would I go to a camera store or a photo retailer instead of going to eBay?
If I go to eBay, I can do it myself. Now I want to give, I’m going to get part of the answer for you, because I want to share a quick personal experience. At first, I used to sell my use gear on eBay and thought, Hey, this is great. The last three times I’ve sold anything on eBay. I had people work very, very hard and almost successfully to scam me.
In fact, I’ve managed to lose a GoPro. Fortunately, it was just a GoPro, but I lost a GoPro because of an eBay scam. So I’ll put that part on the table to say that eBay, in my opinion, at this point is like the wild, wild west, literally, but there’s still the ability to sell, like via Facebook and all those places.
So aside from your warranty, which again, the warranty and return policy, I was not aware of that. That alone is amazing. What are the other benefits that I’m getting? If, if I’m going through somebody like KEH to get used gear.
Phil Kaplan: [00:09:54]
We’re a true brick and mortar facility, we do post our address. We haven’t opened our retail store and due to COVID-19, we had to close the doors for anybody to walk up. You know, with our opening, our retail store, people will be able to come in touch and feel. And I love that. I am old school in that respect, I do shop online. I’m probably more commodity driven in how I shop.
In other words, I need to replace this or just get that. But when I am looking for something that’s important to me, it used to be full of equipment, which I’ve purchased from KEH myself. So my gear sent to KEH, I realized I had to let go of some of my older manual focus products, such as that 85mm F1.4 and 35mm, you know, and get something newer.
But I’m still used having that great warranty and exchange or return policy, but the customer service side of it is I think one of the things we push the most, we have people on the phones. We even have a gentleman who has been, I’ve known him for 30 almost since I got into the business here in Atlanta, he is in Israel.
And he moved there last year. I think it was. And he is our customer service team. So that allows us to have somebody who’s about six, seven hours ahead of us to be able to answer questions and help customers. So we try and give the best customer service we can with answers on why a product isn’t working.
If we need to just get it back and repair it, if we need to replace it, if we have some depth in a particular product, such as let’s say a 5D Mark II, and you purchased a certain grade, and we have more of them, we would just turn around and exchange it out. So our objective is to make you a happy customer.
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I’m guessing that not all of you use gear is just coming directly to you, or are you also picking up use gear from other sources?
Phil Kaplan: [00:11:55]
We have the ability for a customer to just go right online, click sell your gear. And it’s a very simple process where you’ll turn around and start to type in the camera.
The lens that you might have, we’ll ask you what you might have with it such do you have the battery charger and the caps and hoods and cases we’ll then turn around and ask you to assess a grade to it. We look at things pretty much from a what we’ll call an E X quality grade to a like-new minus. And we explain on our website what those grades mean and how to look at that.
So that person can then wrap all those prices in and then say, yes, I want to sell my gear to KEH we then provide a label. We pay for the shipping to KEH. So again, we’re trying to give you an easy approach. To how to sell your gear. All you have to do is box it up. I think even during this last year, we had, if you needed to have a FedEx pickup, you could have that, but if you could take it to a FedEx location and drop it off, when it came in, you could track it.
It would then be immediately expedited through our system to try and assess what you said, the equipment looks like and the grades and the things that you included. And sometimes we grade up and that means you get more value. Sometimes we agree with the value that you assessed your equipment at. And then we sometimes occasionally have lower.
But again, if we do, we contact you and say, this is what we see as the difference and explain the reasons why. And then we send an offer to them. So if it’s just, as they said it was, we then send an offer and say, would you like to sell your gear? And if they agree to that, and we have different payment platforms from, I think, PayPal to sending a check to make it very simple for the individual, that platform right there alone. That’s one way of doing it.
Let’s just say, hypothetically, somebody has over graded their gear. And you can’t accept it at that grade. So you have to notify them and say, listen, for these reasons, we feel it’s at this grade, and we can offer you this much. And they say, no, I don’t want to sell it. So obviously you’re going to ship it back to them. Are you footing the bill for that as well?
Phil Kaplan: [00:14:01]
Yes we are.
So essentially then it’s completely no risk for somebody to take a few seconds, fill out the form online with the information, ship, the gear to have it looked at.
Phil Kaplan: [00:14:12]
And if they’re not going to get what they were hoping to get. You’re going to send it right back to them.
Phil Kaplan: [00:14:17]
That’s awesome. Did I see on your website that if somebody wants to make a purchase, essentially, as part of that whole transaction, where they’re trading in gear, you’re giving them an additional discount. How does that work?
Phil Kaplan: [00:14:31]
What we do is we give them a 10% bonus to their used gear. So hypothetically the value is a thousand, and they say, well, I’d like to trade that in and purchase something less expensive, the same value or more expensive.
So all of a sudden they now have $1,100 worth of value. If let’s say they only wanted to purchase something at a thousand, we give them a hundred dollars gift card so that they can come back and utilize that at a later time. If it’s more, let’s say it’s $1,500, then that gets applied to the purchase of the new gear.
And we would be happy to do it against our used gear. And as we migrate into selling new gear, be able to use it against new as well.
As you open up your new retail space, will you also be adding new gear to your online presence or is that going to stay primarily for the use gear and repairs?
Phil Kaplan: [00:15:19]
We will add it to our online presence. We will be similar to every other online retailer. So if it’s Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Leica, Hasselblad, if they have an instant rebate going on at that time, we’ll offer those. Let’s say there’s a very aggressive, instant rebate of $500 on a body. You will immediately take that off the retail price. And then if you’re selling us your gear and you’re using it as a trade-in you get your 10% bump. So you can see how that really squeezes down what you may be pulling out of your pocket to pay for something.
We all know manufacturers control discounts aggressively. So that is actually a bonus. When you can get additional percentage points on purchasing new gear, because it’s not easy to do.
Phil Kaplan: [00:16:00]
Internally for myself, I always called it trading gear. Now sometimes I had to pull a little money out of my pocket, but the idea is if I purchased something that I liked and then realized it was no longer using it, I said, why don’t I keep it in the fold of my gear? And so I would do that all the time.
Let’s flip the script a little bit. If I am in the market for used gear, regardless of where I’m going to get it. So this isn’t about the source, but this is just the concept of picking up a used camera body. Okay. What are the things that as a consumer, as a photographer that I should be looking at closely and being most concerned with, because obviously it’s not just “Oh, I want that body and Hey, that’s a great price” because a great price is not necessarily going to mean that it’s a great body to get. So what are the things that I need to be looking for? Like, what’s my checklist?
Phil Kaplan: [00:16:46]
One of the things that we try and convey to the customer is whatever gear we sell you is operational.
It is working a hundred percent. So if I happen to buy something that will qualify, even though when we do trades, we have from the EX to what we’ll call the Like New Minus, we have a few grades that one goes above that. And one, one goes below that we call it Bargain. It’s just really well-used equipment, but it works.
And it could work for who knows how much longer, but that just generally means that somebody has used it a lot in, you know, so to speak, shop-worn and should not worry about it. I would say the approach for us on our grading. It’s somewhat of a cosmetic approach, such that if you are buying Like New Minus or you even see like new gear on our website, it is.
Generally as pristine as you can find it, literally no marks, things like that. We also purchase from some of the manufacturer, some refurbished gear and in the industry, you open up a box, a new lens, and it turns out that that particular one didn’t operate, send it back to whoever the manufacturers, and they turn around and find out what the problem is and repackage it. And then they turn around and call it refurbished, and they give it their 90-day warranty. Well, we purchase those at a price that works for us, and then we turn around and sell those. And again, it’s a good savings to the consumer, the individual, they get the 180-day warranty and sometimes, and we’re working on trying to see if we can extend our warranty’s out to a year.
And then the upside is we also sell extended used warranties so that the consumer can have a greater degree of protection going forward.
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When it comes to looking at a piece of used gear and evaluating it, back in the film days, we never heard the phrase shutter actuations because there really wasn’t a way to tell how many shutter actuations the camera had. Now, of course, the minute you start talking about selling or buying anything used in a camera body, that’s the first thing everybody’s talking about.
Every camera manufacturer, there is a hack to get into the menu and figure it out. Or you can use a piece of software and put an image through it. And it’s going to tell you, which is fine from your experience since you guys obviously see thousands upon thousands of used camera bodies going through. How accurate are the shutter actuation ratings that manufacturer is given. When I say accurate, I’m very aware, I’ve had cameras that have gone eons past the number, and then I’ve had cameras that have barely made the number. So I realized there’s a big variable, but is there on average, a percentage that you find a camera’s going to hold out past that number or is it really just all over the place?
Phil Kaplan: [00:19:43]
It’s probably more all over the place. I think easily as we get into mirrorless, we’re probably getting away from the mechanical shutter that used to be on the DSLRs as well as the SLRs in its day. So I think as we take away more of the moving parts would probably give a greater life.
And the manufacturers like anything are probably being conservative. In their numbers. And then it’s how the camera was used. It was it thrown in a bag and went all around the world? Or was it occasionally pulled out of your closet? And maybe you did take a lot of pictures, but it was just family, kids, like sports, vacations, and so forth.
That’s one of the reasons why we give the 180-day warranty and then the 21-day return. So it allows you. To get it in your hands, use it. At this point in time, we are not putting our shutter count numbers up there. We found that it’s almost like miles on a car.
You do choose that as, because it does have a lot of moving parts in it’s wear and tear. But as we know, cars have gotten much better and if you buy a car that’s been taken care of, and it has a hundred thousand miles. It may go another a hundred thousand miles and it’s just oil changes that you have to do.
You talk about the cosmetic aspect of the camera? I remember when I was a teenager, the more brass that was showing the cooler that camera was. So that’s cameras. What about lenses? If I’m in the market for a used lens, other than the obviously scratches and things like that, what are the things that I need to be checking out in that lens to make sure that I’m not picking up something that’s going to cause me problems?
Phil Kaplan: [00:21:18]
It’s really the optics cosmetically on the outside. If it’s got a mark here to you and I’ve probably marked up our outside of our lenses, time and time again. But as long as we protect the front and rear elements, and as long as we don’t really get any fungus or haze or anything of that nature. So it means keeping in a humidified environment, cleaning the lenses appropriately, all of these little things, you should be fine.
And again, that grading scenario plays into it. Now it’s a little bit different per se, on lenses because you have to take into account the optics. So, you know if you’re getting Like New, Like New Minus probably EX plus. There are probably no marks period on that. In an EX it might have something to say about that, but.
As we know dust inside of your lens has really no effect unless it’s all the way across and heavy. So in the big picture, and these are things we’ve even learned from the manufacturers, be it Canon, Nikon and so forth. We have had discussions with their technicians about what they see and what they consider it’s coming out as new and the rooms that they probably package and try and control.
And even then a straight piece of dust is going to find its way into the lens and on any given manufacturer’s such nothing is perfect.
So that’s an interesting thing that you just said. So the companies like Nikon, Canon, they’ve actually given you access to their engineers to learn more about how those cameras go together and repair them?
Phil Kaplan: [00:22:39]
We have our own service. So we do interact with them. Sometimes we have to send equipment to them because of maybe unique testing or a repair equipment, but over the years, maybe so more on the lenses. When you have one technician here at KEH talking with a repair technician, there they’ll explain certain things to you. It’s not a formal scenario.
But it’s still, nonetheless, something is learned information from somebody who you would call the expert. We’ve had our repair department, that just jumping to that for about 20 plus years. And just recently we became authorized a Sigma service center.
I do want to talk about the repairs? But before we do that, I want to go back to the used stuff again really quick with lenses. I mean, obviously a camera. There’s some very basic testing you can do as soon as you take it out of a package. Right? I mean, making sure that it fires and it shoots images and that kind of stuff. Are you doing any kind of testing on your end with lenses when they come in to determine the sharpness and the contrast quality of the lens and that type of thing, what do you do to check them out?
Phil Kaplan: [00:23:38]
Basically as our product comes through, it’s cleaned, and we do this even for gear that we won’t buy. So the consumer who turns around and says, I don’t want to sell my gear to you. You know, that either I had seller’s remorse or the price wasn’t right. The gear going back to them, it’s clean.
But we do have technicians who test the gear. They will look through it. We found a way of checking for fungus, haze, spots on elements, any number of things. They also, because they’ve been handling this day in day out, if it’s a Nikon 50mm F1.8, be it from a manual focus, AIS lens to a D lens to a G lens.
They get used to what to expect and what there should be looking for. So we’re very meticulous in trying to have continuity and consistency in everything we say. So if it’s a true EX plus lens, you could look at 10 lenses all the same, a 50 millimeter, one eight D, and you would go, oh, Nothing is different between any of them.
Let’s go ahead and get into the repair thing. Cause that’s another thing I mentioned before, the idea of, kind of a disposable mentality with camera gear today, which I’ve even been a little bit guilty of as my career has progressed when it comes to repairs. Especially as we’re moving into the mirrorless round, where in theory, there should be less to repair in the camera.
Cause not as many moving parts. Does it still make sense from a cost standpoint to send a camera that’s not working properly or lens it’s not working properly in for repair? Cause I noticed also when I looked at your website, you have kind of pre structured prices. If I’ve got a mirrorless camera, body, you’re already telling me the price for the repair, unless it needs a specialized part that would have to be ordered. Where does the repair concept fit in with gear these days? Where does it make sense? Where does it maybe not make sense and part two. Talk about all the film cameras. Are you still able to find parts for all of them?
Phil Kaplan: [00:25:34]
Difficult number one, and this goes back to my retail days when a customer walked in and this was maybe more point shoots, but gives a sort of sense of how to look at it. They bought a camera two years ago. They spent maybe $299 and regardless of the manufacturer. And now they say, well, I’d like to get this camera repaired, and we would tell them it’s not worth it.
And they’d go, what do you mean? Well, it’s two years since then. And we’d say, think of it like a computer. The processors have gotten better. The sensors have gotten better, focal lengths have gotten longer. The shooting sequence is better and oh, by the way, it’s only going to cost you $199 to get that new camera compared to $299, which you paid.
That sort of can fall into the same arena for mirrorless and or DSLRs. You just have to look at what the cost is. So if we’re talking probably sub $500 price points, sometimes it’s better to say, okay, if it’s going to cost me extra repair, why don’t I buy something? If I could find it new and I wanted it new.
Or if not, we might have that same camera. In used, that would be the price of the repair, maybe less than the repair. So it really comes down to that. Now, when we get into the more expensive two, eight glass, long glass and bodies that are much more expensive product that is newer or manufacturer lenses and bodies that are newer, then I feel that it really comes down to.
You just have to decide what, how much pain you’re willing to take. And I don’t mean it in that way, but it’s sort of like a car. So I think the big thing that we always look at is to how we choose to do repairs.
Curious as mirrorless is becoming the standard. I think it’s fair to say that. I know some people are still diehard on the DSLRs, but mirrorless is becoming the standard.
What are you finding are the most common reasons for a camera coming to you for repairs. You don’t need to make it brand specific, but in general, given that, with a mirrorless camera, yeah they have a shutter, but more and more people are using the electronic shutters, which is not really a shutter. That’s a moment in time. So why are cameras coming in for repair? What’s usually the main cause?
Phil Kaplan: [00:27:36]
You know I’m going to have to say, I don’t know that answer 110%. You know it’s more of to your point and then you’ve been using mirrorless now for some time. I got my first Olympus about five years ago.
And it’s just knowing where the failures can be. I tend to think, you know, menu system, all of a sudden gets wacky. You have maybe pixels going out, any number of little things as we look at, what are the potential failures, as I say, we’ve now are sticking a lens on a computer or taking pictures.
So we have to sort of look at it in that same way and sort of assess what’s going on with it.
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And have the manufacturers kept up with that in the sense of even from, you know, repairing gear, since we are really thinking in that computer thought process where it’s kind of almost like a plug and play mentality.
If you’ve got a pixel that died on your sensor, you’re probably not going to replace part of the sensor. You’re probably going to replace like a unit that is like the sensor and the image stabilizer and all that together. Has it evolved?
Phil Kaplan: [00:28:39]
I don’t think so. It really comes down and then it has to be much more expensive because, if let’s say we have a product that is new, but it’s relatively inexpensive and all of a sudden a portion of the camera has a problem.
Likely the manufacturer will say, let us just replace it. If it’s in our case, it’s used and same scenario. It’s not, cost-effective, we’ll turn around and say, we’d like to replace it. You know, we have more of that product in stock it at some point, it’s just not worth it on either side. One of the few exceptions maybe might be Leica.
And throwing out a name. Recently, we were able to purchase some that had new sensors and completely reconditioned and so re-leathered and such. So, you know, under the right circumstances, right. Product. Yes.
So for the most part, even with repairs, like you’re able to handle cosmetic repairs on cameras.
I know from brand to brand, you routinely see the coverings coming off and that kind of stuff. So all of that is still doable? And then what’s the average turnaround time. And I, I realize that like, if you have to order parts, that’s going to extend the time I get that. But if it’s something you’re able to deal with in house, what’s somebody looking at in terms of turnaround time, once they’ve approved the you know the estimate?
Phil Kaplan: [00:29:54]
Again, that would be one I’d love to say. I almost need to have repair admin person in whispering in my ear to give you that answer. But I think knowing that if it’s more of adjustments as opposed to calibrations and things of that nature, we can probably turn it around fairly quickly.
If it’s a part or something that’s needed, and we can get that from the manufacturer, then thats done fairly quickly. It’s that dealing with the supply chain scenario, this last 14 plus months that has probably affected more things than any. And if it’s older equipment, at some point in time, they have stopped manufacturing it and.
We either have to go into our parts of old cameras and see if we’ve got that and, or go out and see if we can source it from somebody else. If we think it’s the right thing to do.
I just imagine this room in the back, that’s just got bits of. Thousands and thousands of cameras that somebody like me could probably completely nerd out in for like a day.
Phil Kaplan: [00:30:52]
Okay. When you can get to Atlanta, you’ve got a personal tour waiting for you.
Definitely have to check that out. I can only imagine. So tell me what your plans are for the retail store when you open up and do you have kind of a target opening at this point?
Phil Kaplan: [00:31:06]
We put some inventory in and just sort of tested, took pictures to see how things would look? We’ve moved to a point where we can do transactions because our, everything we’d been doing up to this point had been online transactions. So it’s a platform to do that. So now we have that ability, and we’re just trying to finalize how we’ll do in store from somebody walking in and wanting to buy a roll of film and just simply a scan and go to somebody who’s going to spend an hour with you. But I would say maybe within the next 60 days, if not sooner, like I said, I’ve been given the, go at the start doing things.
Oh, that’s very good. For folks that are listening, I’m not trying to plug the KEH store that much. It’s just that I know I have a lot of followers in the Atlanta area that are desperate for a camera store. There, there are no other retailers in Atlanta at this point are there? Photo retailers?
Phil Kaplan: [00:31:50]
Not really. The closest you have is a Best Buy that will have a little bit of camera gear. And it’s very limited in that respect.
Yeah. I remember there used to be a couple of retailers in Atlanta, and I was down there for a job once and of all things forgot to pack a reflector, had to go buy a reflector and it was actually, I can’t remember the name of the store was actually a really cool store, uh, had tons of stuff, but I’ve heard since that they’ve all just gone away.
Phil Kaplan: [00:32:14]
Yeah. When I got here to Atlanta in 84 and I joined Wolf camera at the time we had as a company about, 24 stores, 25 stores, but in a few other cities at its peak, we had 75 stores in the Metro Atlanta area.
And there used to be a number of singular entities and the one I worked for last, when we closed our doors in February 2017 was a company called Showcase Photo and Video. And I still have people who reach out to me and go, please, when are you going to do something?
Everything I have asked you about so far, Phil is the really basic stuff. It’s the camera and the lens. What other gear do you guys trade in? As far as used gear? Because the other piece of this is I think a lot of people will be surprised to realize just. How much gear, how many different types of gear are actually available used.
Phil Kaplan: [00:33:06]
For us, there is not any gear that we won’t take him to give you an idea. So if it’s an old Brownie, We may be only offering five bucks, but for somebody who says, Hey, the worst would be, I would throw it in the trash, and we don’t want to see that happen. Large format, 8×10’s, 4×5. If it’s certain accessories that have value, we may be.
Our main focus is generally bodies and lenses, but our warehouse with probably at any given time, 50 to 60,000 items in there, some can be button releases, it can be large tripods, it can be heads. It can be reflectors. I’m always on the, because of my relationships with the manufacturers, looking for things that they want to let go.
Just from one particular manufacturer, we did a deal a couple of years back where I purchased 26 pallets of equipment and it was mostly accessories. It gave us some great depth and things of that nature things. They discontinued things that had been refurbished and so forth. So it doesn’t matter. We really look at a lot of things, and we look at collections, we found some great collections out there. Came across something in February of last year, where a gentleman had been collecting large format lenses and cameras that dated back.
He had been a photographer in the army doing aerial photography and had passed away. And his wife had heard about KEH, and we went down and I spent three days. I’m going through a ton of inventory, and we came to an offer. She accepted and then I had to actually rent a truck and pack up boxes to be able to get it back.
I mean, we had some beautiful, an 8×10 camera that we got, it was made in Mexico. Red bellows, a nice dark wood and so forth. So now, like I said, we are in the photography business.
Really kind of a long game business because when you’re making investments like that, it’s not like you’re going to turn all that over in a week by no means.
Is it a large percentage of your business where you all have people. That, maybe they’ve got like a, an old power pack type strobe system, like a Dynolite system or something, and they’re looking for a replacement power pack or replacement head. Do you get a lot of people that are using gear like that, that are on the phone saying, Hey, do you guys have this? Is this available? Do you have a source for this?
Phil Kaplan: [00:35:24]
Yeah, I would tend to say that a lot of that when it comes in, it goes out the door just as quickly, because it was never that in the marketplace has many sold. So for somebody looking at some of the premier brands, be it a ProFoto, Elinchrome, companies of that nature.
If we get something in, we see those go out the door very quickly,
This has been very eye-opening, and I hate to say you’re probably going to cost me money now because I’m realizing, there’s a couple of things that I’ve been thinking about picking up. And just the fact that I don’t desperately need them means that looking at them used is really perfect because, they are pieces that I’m not going to use a ton, but I’d really like to have them.
Phil Kaplan: [00:36:00]
So. To give you an example for myself, I’m on the hunt for an MC20. I keep checking our system all the time. I haven’t found one yet.
I’ve actually just started talking to some software manufacturers and now folks like yourself and. I want to try and take some of my listeners behind the scenes, a little bit of different parts of the industry. I appreciate your transparency. It’s been really fascinating to hear just really how expansive the nature of your businesses. I mean, I think of a used camera to use lens, but definitely not on the scale that you’ve presented. What other thing, is there anything else that. Maybe I’ve missed that I haven’t asked you about that you feel is really important for people to understand about Keh and or about purchasing and selling used gear.
Because I do think we’ve opened up a lot of people’s eyes and hopefully open up their minds to realize they can. Save themselves a lot of money by considering going that route and even trading in existing gear. So they’re not just disposing of it, but is there anything I’ve missed?
Phil Kaplan: [00:37:01]
I think we’ve covered a lot and I tried to emphasize that our approach is if we have a great customer service approach, hopefully we’re making that any individual who wants to interact with us very happy.
Even if they don’t buy from us and even if they don’t sell to us, we want them to come away with a very positive feeling about KEH and, and that’s one of the things we do. We are passionate about photography pretty much, and it’s harder and harder to find people who’ve been in the industry and doing this for a long time.
So, uh, be they young or old. I mean, there’s a gentleman who. Is a little senior to me. And he’s probably been with the company 30 years, and he’s in the repair side. So for photographers, there’s a uniqueness to us. I think we have a passion that just transitions through the years and for you and myself, we’ve first started with manual focus and you’ll advance.
When you get our drive put on that. I remember when three frames per second was, oh my God. And now 60 frames per second with the Olympus. You know, I, like I said, just a great relationship, great customer service experience, I think is the real critical thing for us.
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Phil again. I have to thank you for taking the time. And I got to tell you not to sound sappy. It’s heartwarming to see a photo retail company that’s doing well in today’s market, because as you know, we’ve lost so many photo retailers and I’m a person I believe in evolution. The world changes things move forward. But the thing that I really enjoy is the companies like yourselves that are surviving and who are prospering today. Are companies that really understand the value of building relationships with our customers.
And I just, you know, I think that that is something that existed maybe. Maybe we didn’t look at it that way, but even when I was a teenager, my very first job was in a small town camera store and it was a little hole in the wall, that was always a complete mess, but the owner could find anything like it, you know, in a second, but that little tiny store.
It was a hangout. It was where the photography nerds went. He never went to the store to just get a roll of film. And even if you only needed a roll film, you’re going to be there for an hour and you talked and you nerded out over things. So I love to see companies that really understand the value of that.
And I got to say, you really have, you’ve changed my outlook on used gear at this point, because. One of the things I think that you guys have done very, very well as you’ve taken away. So much of the friction with your warranty, with the return policies you’re covering the shipping costs. It’s really a no risk proposition to, you know, have your gear checked out, see what it’s worth, and then to get additional discounts on top, to be able to turn around and purchase new gear.
That’s awesome. I, for one am really looking forward to your Atlanta store. I know that quite a few of my followers are going to be really excited when your Atlanta store over the, every time I see them, and they happen to be some fellow Olympus user, but every time we see them, like, have you heard from those guys yet?
When are they going to open what’s going on?
Phil Kaplan: [00:40:08]
As soon as we re we opened the retail store, I’ll send you an email to let you know. So if you’d like to let anybody that is Atlanta or the Metro area, uh, that we’re open, that would be fantastic.
I can’t believe that I’ve wasted so much time and taken so many risks with eBay and selling gear privately aside from my very first camera, every camera I worked with for the first 10 years of my career.
Was purchased used, and they served me very well. Full disclosure. This was not a sponsored discussion. I have not been asked or paid to talk about. KEH I simply did my research and all roads pointed back to KEH as the company to talk to and talk about used gear. I mean, you really have nothing to lose by selling through them.
They pay for the shipping. If you disagree with the offer, they will pay to ship it back and you get an additional discount. If you make a purchase at the time of trading, that is what I consider to be a great customer experience. I have links in the show notes to the KEH website and their social media profiles so that you can keep up with them.
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