We signed off last year’s news review in the magazine by referring to Covid as a ‘still-unfolding saga’ and sadly, it still is.

Thankfully, there seem to have been more highs than lows for many retailers, and most are facing 2022 with confidence. Some great gear came out this year, which has revitalised the market.

There have been several big challenges for the trade, however, namely the continued uncertainty around Covid, supply chain pain and post-Brexit red tape. Below, some major retailers look back on their year and consider what the future holds.

Louis Wahl, CEO, Wex Photo Video

“In January 2020 we had high hopes for a bumper new year, which were dashed, as they were for pretty much everyone else. Early in the lockdown, our strengths in e-commerce were quickly recognised by customers, however, and we still managed to open a new shop in Milton Keynes in June 2020. Interest in the first weeks was overwhelming.

Wex CEO Louis Wahl

Wex CEO Louis Wahl

This year started exceedingly well, with new launches boosting customer demand. Photographers had been waiting for more innovation in mirrorless, and practically every major brand has delivered notable improvements. The lockdown has reinvigorated interest in photography.

Customer response to our new openings in Leeds and Newcastle has exceeded our expectations. New joiners to photography get a lot of value from second-hand equipment, which is now a huge growth area for Wex and Fixation.

The crossover to video has been a common theme with customers. We’ve made a breakthrough with helping customers meet their filmmaking objectives and it’s our fastest growing category, alongside astronomy.

The biggest drag on our momentum, and the most common complaint from customers, has been around supply chain problems. I think the interdependencies are much more complex than anyone in the trade can get to grips with. It will continue for some time. The whole trade needs to do better when it comes to supply chain information; it will help everyone.

Next year looks like another great year for Wex and our customers. We have a new flagship store opening in Glasgow, a lot of improvements to our website, and we’re investing in training for all our colleagues to exceed our usual high standard of customer service. We just need the cameras…”

WEX Leeds store

The new Leeds store

Dave Stone, CameraWorld

“It will come as no surprise to learn that this has been an unusual year for retail, and it has certainly been a challenging one in the photo trade. However, we come out the other side looking positively towards the future.

Without a doubt the biggest headache has been around lockdown, and the uncertainty for our physical shops as we have dipped in and out of lockdown. Spring was a turning point for all businesses with the easing of lockdown providing much needed certainty for us and our staff, and also coincided with a noticeable upturn in consumer confidence.

CameraWorld Store

As soon as the scale of the pandemic and the knock-on effects to our business model became clear we scaled up our ongoing investment into our website through optimisation and ongoing improvements to our e-commerce infrastructure and processes.

We have worked very hard to replicate the same level of expertise and customer service with a personal touch for our online customers that we have provided for so many years through our physical shops.

Many readers will be very aware that the photography market has been particularly affected by stock issues caused by the global effect on our supply chain caused by the pandemic. Whilst this was not unique to our trade our key suppliers have been excellent and have helped us through with support and communication.

The photographic trade always excels when things get tough and the biggest turning point in the later stages of the year was the Photography Show going ahead and being a great success. That is testament to our suppliers, the organisers and out resilient customer base that will always turn out for a good old-fashioned bargain.

As the year draws to a close we are starting to see our shops fill-up again and we are confident that whilst it has been a challenging time – we are coming out the other side as a much stronger business, and we are able to offer our customers more of the excellent service and expertise that they have come to expect from CameraWorld.”

Andy Steel, Park Cameras

“It’s been a strange year with both stores closed in the early part of 2021. Since they re-opened in the spring, we’ve seen photo enthusiasts and pros show a real appetite for advice. They also want to touch and feel the latest products that have been introduced in the past year.

In October, we held our Imaging Festival events at both stores where we also celebrated the 50th year of Park Cameras. It was wonderful to see customers enjoying the range of free seminars that we held, hosted by prominent photographers in the industry, as well as to see representatives from brands such as Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic and many more on-hand to speak with the customers to show them the latest and greatest kit.

A shot from Park's recent Imaging Festival

A shot from Park’s recent Imaging Festival

The supply issues have been challenging, but in some ways it’s been a good problem for the industry in general to have. There is clearly a large number of photo enthusiasts keen to get hold of the amazing range of new cameras/lenses that have been released in the past 12-18 months. We are working very closely with all our suppliers in an effort to get customers their products in the quickest possible time, and we appreciate their patience.

The Canon EOS R3, Nikon Z 9 and Sony Alpha 7 IV grab the headlines of course, but the demand for products, such as the range of RF lenses, is encouraging, too. We’re already starting to see things improve slightly as we head to Christmas, so it is a positive sign for 2022.”

Gray Levett, Grays of Westminster

“There is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic has challenged us all this year, but it was a series of unforeseen circumstances that brought about a state of affairs that proved to be almost as daunting.

First of all, there was the knock-on effect of the blaze in the Renesas factory in Japan last October, which produced computer chips for cameras, mobile phones and cars. This drastically affected the global supply chain.

Then in March 2021, the Suez Canal was blocked for six days after the grounding of Ever Given, one of the largest container ships in the world. As one of the world’s busiest trade routes, the canal obstruction had a significant negative impact on trade between Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

This prevented an estimated US$9.6 billion worth of trade. Included in the gridlock was a large shipment of new Nikon equipment. When it eventually reached Europe there were problems at customs: the new post-Brexit paperwork held up supplies of Nikon equipment reaching camera dealers for at least two months! This concatenation of unfortunate events created a severe supply bottleneck and a lack of predictability that challenged the stoicism of even the most philosophical of dealers.

Gray Levett in the store

Gray Levett in the store

When the COVID-19 Lockdown struck the UK, and with it a closure of all ‘unessential businesses’, it became clear that we needed to keep our customers’ spirits high and encourage everyone to stay positive, despite the current climate. Our answer? Time to go live, with a series of highly successful live streams in 2020. By December 2020 we had over one million views of our You Tube channel and that nearly six million had visited our website.

Regardless of all our common trials and tribulations, Grays of Westminster has a remarkable amount to celebrate. In February it was announced that we had won AP’s Platinum Good Service Award 2021 for the fifth year in a row and we were presented with the Retailer of the Year Award 2021 from the British Photographic Industry News for the third straight year.

Despite the naysayers, Nikon pulled off the triumphant release of its game-changing flagship mirrorless camera, the Z 9. It broke all our pre-sales records eclipsing both the D3 and the D850 in the number of orders we achieved.

The recent announcement by the Nikon Corporation of its plans to construct a new Head Office in a vacant plot of land on the premises of the Oi Plant in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, is a bullish statement of their confidence in the future. Onwards and upwards!”

Matt Barker, MPB

“There’s been two sides to the supply chain problems. These have tended to focus around the new Sony, Nikon and Canon higher-end bodies and lenses, which will continue to be tough to get hold of for the next six to nine months.

For the second-hard market, it’s slowed down the pace of change a little bit. We often act as the supplier of cash into the ‘new’ market, by allowing people to sell us their old kit and then buy new models. A lot of people have been waiting to sell their kit to us as they haven’t been able to get hold of new cameras and lenses, particularly when people are doing full system changes.

Increased awareness of the environmental benefits of buying used cameras continues to be a big driver of our business. The more we continue to educate consumers about this, the more it becomes a purchase consideration. It’s not simply about the carbon footprint, it’s about what the organisation you are buying your kit from represents, and how it thinks about sustainability.

For us as an organisation, we are spending a lot of time and capital on how we can be more sustainable. As well as reducing our carbon footprint, that can include working more with less-represented groups of photographers and videographers, too – helping them get kit, offering bursaries and so on. All of these factors are drawing people to MPB as a brand; we’ve taken on 100 new staff this year and expanded our warehouse space, so it’s an exciting time as we head in to 2022.”

MPB CEO, Matt Barker

MPB CEO, Matt Barker

Alister Bowie, Ffordes

“Opening our doors again and speaking to customers have been the biggest highlight of this year for us. We love to talk about photography, and love helping other photographers to better themselves, and we can’t wait for the masks to come off for good… Shutting the shop during lockdowns, and not seeing staff who were working from home in person, were obvious lows.

Our customers have supported us throughout the pandemic and in return we have been inspiring them with Zoom talks and video calls on how to improve their photography, from macro in their house to wildlife photography in Africa.

As the market has opened up again we are attracting a lot of new customers, some of whom are discovering the joy of photography.

Film equipment sales have gone crazy, too, to the point where we are struggling to get in enough stock to meet demand. This has pushed up selling prices, so it’s a great time to sell your old film gear.

Makers have felt the strain of increased demand for new cameras and lenses, with most having issues themselves owing to factories being closed. Some stock is in extremely short supply and there are some back orders of three to four months. From the start of next year, we expect prices from most manufacturers will start to increase between 10-35%.”

ffordes store