Media Inc. is starting a brand-new interview series, entitled “On the Record,” in which we discuss the latest and greatest with a different Northwest company each issue. Coinciding with our 30th anniversary, Glazer’s Camera—one of Media Inc.’s first-ever advertisers—is a prime choice for kicking off the series.
Glazer’s has been providing camera equipment to Seattle’s bustling photography community since Ed Glazer established the company back in 1935. The company—and the industry at large—has undergone many changes since then, but Glazer’s remains a bastion in the industry and a premier resource for the community. We spoke with Bob Lackman, second generation owner, and Rebecca Kaplan, third generation co-owner (with her brother, Ari Lackman), to discover how Glazer’s has stayed on top all these years.
Media Inc.: Rebecca, when did you and Ari become partners/ co-owners?
Rebecca Kaplan: I believe I started working here in sort of a management position in 2002, and Ari was 2006. We had grown up in the business and worked in different departments over summers and played around when we were little. But as managers, and now owners, it’s been within the last decade.
MI: And Bob, when did you formally retire?
Bob Lackman: I haven’t formally retired, but when I had a heart attack back in ’95, I said to Ken Smith, who was a floor manager at the time, “Congratulations, you’re now the manager.” So at that point, I tried to kind of have him shoulder most of the stuff. And Ken stayed with us through the training, if you want to call it that, of Rebecca and Ari, and then he went on.
So I would say Ari and Rebecca both got their chops early and once they did, I really only try to come in when I’m in town for maybe a half-hour and touch base, maybe an hour. I’ll do certain things at home, which is much easier for me, you know, because it’s a busy shop. So I call myself virtually retired. My wife says I’m still not.
RK: You get to do all of the fun “thinking” projects, and Ari and I get to do all the detail, get-it-through-the-day work.
BL: My wife, who is a Glazer—it’s her father that started the business—she and I are very proud of both of our children who are not just carrying a torch, but really doing a great job as business owners. It’s worked out really, really well.
MI: How important was it for your children to “carry the torch” and take over the family business?
BL: I would say it was not important. I say that because I advised them that if they liked the business and would enjoy it, wonderful. But do not feel like there’s any obligation. You spend most of your life at your work—you want to enjoy what you do.
RK: We had opportunities to explore other careers. I’m 38—I came on when I was about 29—so I had already worked in the high-tech world for awhile, and Ari had worked as a glass blower and did work in various other areas, too. So we were able to get out there and get some experience, and now we have a good balance for each other. We do have different personalities, so we try to play off each other.
MI: And it works well?
RK: Yeah. For the most part (laughs). We try to stick to business when we’re here and we can have a really hard day or a tough vendor meeting and have a challenging work day, and then go to their house for dinner on Friday night and it all goes away and we can focus on being a family. So we try to maintain pretty distinct lines between work and outside of work. It can be challenging. But I feel really fortunate that between Bob and Ari and myself we all have a very similar vision for where we’re at as a company and where we’re going. We sometimes take different steps getting there, however, we really aligned with the direction that we’re going.
MI: Glazer’s is a very community-oriented business. Can you talk a little about that and why it’s so important to you?
BL: When Glazer’s opened, we were downtown, kitty-corner from the Bon (now Macy’s). It was really difficult for a customer to get there and park because we always were a destination store—as opposed to a mall store, where you have the foot traffic. And that’s the beauty of the business is that we build relationships—we have customers that we’ve enjoyed for over 50 years—and so I immediately sought out and became active in the various professional societies for photographers and filmmakers. We have staff that’s been on boards; we had one staff member that was the president of ASMP, which is very unusual for a retailer to be president. So it’s really been a real melting with the community.
RK: I would say that every single week we make some type of donation to a non-profit, and we’re actually in the process of formalizing our donation non-profit program because we do have such a high demand. There’s hardly any margin in the hard goods that we have here, so it’s very challenging to accommodate even price-match. So our rental business, that’s one of the areas where we try to give back. So if we have a client who’s donating their time to a project, we’ll look at that and try to make a decision for how we can support that photographer. The volume that comes in is pretty astounding right now, but we try to accommodate most requests.
In addition, we’ve always supported all of the photo programs like the Youth in Focus and Bridges to Understanding and Blue Earth Alliance—those are three local photo-based non-profits. I just joined the board of the Blue Earth Alliance and I hold an advisory position at Phil Borges’ Bridges to Understanding, so we try to give our time.
We don’t always have as many financial resources to give, but we are there to support the pro community and the arts community. It takes a substantial amount of time to process everything, but we enjoy it.
MI: How has your business changed throughout the years?
RK: When Bob was running the business, it was mostly pro photographers and commercial shooters and there weren’t very many photo enthusiasts who came in, at least not at the proportion that we have now. So we’ve shifted a lot. We’re still able to service and help those commercial photographers and those pro customers who are still out there, and we have a nice set of corporate clients—a lot of local businesses support us. However, with digital where it is today, we’ve had to retrain, just recalibrate how we talk to customers because so much of our business is that photo enthusiast or general consumer who is interested in coming in and buying their first camera here. Whereas 15 years ago that would’ve been a smaller incidence.
MI: How are you adapting to the changing clientele?
RK: We’ve worked with our staff to help them easily work with completely different customer sects within even an hour’s period of work. A commercial photographer could come in who has very technical questions about a certain job that they’re trying to do and they need help with that, as far as getting some products for it, or just talking out an issue. And then the next minute someone like myself, who’s a mother of two young boys, might want to come in and get my first point-and-shooter, my first SLR, and talk about how to take family photos. So there’s the whole gamut and we feel like we’ve adjusted to be able to talk to our different customers as far as our product mix.
And the product mix has changed. We feel at Glazer’s one of the things that differentiates us is our knowledge and our expertise and our service, but also the fact that we have such a vast product inventory and that we stock it and it’s here and it’s available. We know that we can’t be everything to every customer, but we try to be as best situated to help a wide variety of customers and we try to build our inventory around that to offer something for everyone.
MI: What are some of your proudest accomplishments with Glazer’s?
BL: I think mine are when somebody comes in from France or Italy or Japan and, considering the small market that we are internationally, we’ve been told over and over that they’ve rarely, if ever, gone to a store where in one stop they can get anything they need. And that really shows the depth and the breadth of the inventory. We get referrals and phone calls from all over the world and people want to ask about our products and they say, “Great, here’s my FedEx number,” and we’ll ship it to them.
RK: I think just when we get compliments from our customers. There’s times when someone’s in a real pinch and we’ve been able to help them through a job or salvage images that they thought they lost on a family vacation. We’ve been able to ease their work, whether it’s professional or pleasure.
It’s not a “moment,” but I just have such a high regard for our staff. Everybody contributes to what happens here in their own way and I just personally have such a high regard for the staff who’s out there selling all day long. It’s very hard work—it’s hard physical work and it’s hard emotionally to just be engaging all day long with customers—and they do it all day, every day, and they do it really well. When we get feedback about our staff, those are things that help keep me going.
There’s lots of moments… Knowing that we are able to have our own little community with our staff and our customers—we provide a livelihood for people here. We take a lot of pride. It’s a challenging business, it’s a tough economy, the commercial photo community has been really impacted, and to see people get great jobs and projects from our clients, it’s nice to see that.
For more information, visit www.glazerscamera.com.