PetaPixel

Exclusive: Calumet Employee Reveals what Was Happening Behind the Scenes

calumet

Shortly after news broke this morning that camera store chain Calumet had declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy and would be closing all of its US stores (or will it?), a Calumet Rental Manager — well, former Rental Manager now — got in touch with us to see if we wanted to get some of the behind the scenes details of how the bankruptcy came to be.

We, of course, said yes. The employee has asked to remain anonymous, and so his/her answers are labeled simply as “Calumet Employee” below.

PetaPixel: When did you find out that the Calumet store was closing?

Calumet Employee: Officially, I heard last night when I got an email from my store manager. He said that the company was filing for Chapter 7 and that they store would be closed. Unofficially we had been expecting something like this for months. Twice Calumet had not been able to pay their employees. The last paychecks that were due to hit employee bank accounts last Friday never showed up. No updates were given until around 4:45 when the company promised “live checks” the next day. The problem was blamed on the service we use to punch in and out with.

PP: So you guys really did have no warning at all then. You said there were signs that closing was ‘imminent,’ what sort of signs are you referring to?

CE: We had been having trouble getting equipment in stock for a long time. The first obvious things were products like Nikon cameras and lenses. Whenever we asked why there was a problem managers would blame Nikon or whatever the supplying company was. Eventually the problem spread to Epson, Sony, Fuji and various others. It’s hard to say how many vendors we were on credit hold with but most likely all of them. Most recently, Canon was the only supplier we were receiving stock from. Finally, once UPS would no longer pick up shipments from the company, things seemed obvious.

PP: What do you think the company was doing wrong?

CE: In March 2013 the company bought a few Penn and Ritz Camera stores in the DC/Baltimore area. This spread out the company in a positive way. Having more locations is a great thing. That being said, customers expect these locations to have stock. The upper management never seemed to understand this. Corporate expected sales to be made by special order. Customers will tell you the real benefit of a brick and mortar is that you can get you hands on products before spending significant amounts of money on them.

PP: Was there anything that could have been done to save the business but wasn’t?

CE: A lot of us expected the company to pull back. Closing some of the small stores would have made sense. Keeping open the major market stores and dedicating time to the e-commerce side would have been my move. Really the problem is that there wasn’t stock to sell. Customers were coming in to the stores but typically left disappointed.

We were often pushed to sell “one-on-one” classes with customers. These were one hour classes with customers that cost $100.00. To me this seemed like a way to make sales without moving product.

Also, after working with the company for more than a year and a half there was little to no training. All my camera/photography knowledge came from my experience as an assistant, or my own freelance jobs. This seemed ridiculous for a company that values its employee knowledge at $100.00 per hour.

PP: Several sources have said there is still rental gear out to customers, as a Rental Manager can you confirm this and/or tell us anything more about how the store plans to handle the situation?

CE: Yes there certainly is rental gear out. I know of at least one medium format kit that is out on a demo right now. I also have gear that is due to go out today and tomorrow. I have not been told what these customers can expect. I would suggest these customers seek other rental companies for now. That being said, Calumet has just updated their Facebook page, giving hope about opening some locations. If I hear anything about this I’ll contact you immediately. This was my biggest fear when thinking about the company closing. I wish I could have given some kind of warning to my customers.

I also know that there are cameras in for sensor cleanings. I wish I had information for those photographers.

PP: Is the company currently doing anything at all to make this easier on the employees it’s leaving out in the cold? What do you think they should do?

CE: Calumet has not contacted me yet. I’ve already filed for unemployment so I have a safety net.

I doubt Calumet will offer any severance packages. After reading some articles on Chapter 7 it looks like they owe us for hours we’ve worked and sick time. That’s if they can find that money in the liquidation process.

PP: What does the future look like for photographers purchasing camera equipment?

CE: Have you ever visited BHphotovideo.com?

PP: As we understand it, Chapter 7 means liquidation. Any idea how they’re going to handle that? Is Calumet planning on selling off its inventory at super cheap prices?

CE: While working in rentals, corporate took slow-moving equipment from the departments and sold them as used equipment. I’ll bet they’ll do something similar but sell it to B&H or Adorama.

PP: How are your fellow employees reacting? Today must have been a very confusing day overall…

CE: Today is very confusing but I doubt any employees are surprised. It feels like a family member has been sick for a long time and has now been put out of their misery. Other employees are frustrated but I doubt they’ll react very negatively.

PP: Any other info you want to share with our readers?

CE: Calumet recently changed their company President from Brian Caroll to Gabe Garcia. Gabe was a former Ritz guy. As a matter of fact a lot of Calumet staff is former Ritz guys.

You should take a look at their GlassDoor profile, that will go along with a lot of the things I’ve said here.

Although competitive, the photo community is nothing but supportive. I’ve been contacted by many friends, customers and former employers. All of them asking the obvious questions but also seeing if I’m alright. I’m very gratefully to be part of such a supportive community.

PP: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you all the best!


Image credits: Photo illustration based on Camera Shop by Napoleon Cole.


 
  • Tori8x10

    Unfortunately, when Todd sold the store to John things started to change ( not for the better in most cases) and then John sold to Calumet and it was just never the same. At least they kept a few of the outstanding employees that had been with NCC (especially Larry!). Calumet pretty much abandoned film shooters too so that made a difference for me.

  • Ronnie

    I’m a manufacturer and sell to Adorama. They take an average of 57 days to pay their bills (even though their terms are for 30 days). But they do eventually pay. So what Benny says is partly true but I have heard zero rumors about their store closing.

  • pix

    Bad advise and inaccurate information. I would first check with a lawyer and then put the items in storage, send a certified letter to calumet where they can pick up the items and pay the storage. I am not sure on the time period but after 30 – 60 days maybe more if they do not pick up the items it would be considered abandoned property, then you could lay claim to the items. I would also change my credit card number to avoid them just charging my account and having to deal with that. I am sure the the appointed trustee will follow up, but they have to do it with in a timely matter.

  • pix

    The trolls keep on trolling!

  • pix

    Guest, you need to rush to your local Calumet store and wait for the doors to open for big big savings. I heard they where taking discount of 90% and giving away the rest. Hurry you need to get in line now and wait.

  • pix

    The bottom feeder’s have arrived.

  • f64

    I’m not surprised that Calumet is going out of business. I always found their staff in San Francisco to be very unpleasant. Once I demo’d a medium format back and the staff guy had the worse breath. Almost made me throw up. I have found the staff at B and H to be more knowledgeable and far nicer.

  • Tron

    I wouldn’t call them overpriced. The profit margins on cameras/lenses are very small. Where a retail store actually makes most of their profit is on accessories. Being a brick and mortar they don’t have the luxury of selling at cost, as B&H does.

  • ISO640

    Did you read the Q&A? I’m guessing no because if you had, you’d know what’s happening in regards to liquidating their stock.

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    I asked a manager if we would get paid next week and he said he didn’t know. I just worked for slave labor

    Another thing they did was only pay for our insurance up to February. Apparently any bill we have for march will not be paid. So people will get a bill with a full price without realizing that the company decided it wasn’t worth their while. This on top of the fact that they never bothered to contact us til last minute. I got contacted the night they closed shows you how horrible the district manager Dustin Pearson and Gabe CEO has treated his loyal staff.

    On top of this, they are busily trying to get another store going so they can start fresh without anyone they owe money to to hold them back. They basically choose chapter 7 so that they won’t pay any past vendors. For them to try to create a new company and screw past workers is ridiculous. Apparently those in power want to stay in power without any morality and without any thought of the people they hurt. If you wish to believe that Calumet was somehow kind to the photography community then you are delusional.

    I can go on and on. Like we haven’t received any help to get our unemployment nor the paperwork confirming the end of this company. This is totally on the heads of the execs and the owner to get it to us. But apparently they are holding meetings for a new store without debt to bother helping those they threw out on the streets

    Thanks Calumet

  • CSARmedic

    Hmmm, lets see. They hired the ex-CEO of a failed company to help them return to profitability and then they failed and filed for bankruptcy just like the CEO did once before. And people are surprised at the outcome…?

  • Howard

    I was employed at Ritz Camera for 6 years. I was moved around from 4 different stores. The last was in a high volume mall in west palm beach florida. The store was run by great people with the exception of the district manager. He was a few bricks short of a load this Brandon. If you had trouble making a sale without an ESP (warranty that cost extra) you were in trouble with the district manager who called you by phone. I am glad I no longer work for these people.

  • kathytphoto

    It’s all so very sad about Calumet – I have always found good service and friendly employees at the Cambridge store. It’s nice to have people know you when you walk in. I wish them all well.

    I disagree with the person who said try B&H.. there are still a few fine local companies in the Boston area – E.P. Levine’s in Waltham and Hunt’s in Melrose for starters. Having local shops is a huge asset when you need supplies right away. Granted, they may not have everything in stock every day and that is the nature of the industry right now, but will usually be able to order what you want and get it quickly.

    I always shop locally, even if it costs a fraction more because I value having people I can call at a moment’s notice and get answers and support. Not having any local options would be very sad indeed.

  • Todd C.

    I can empathize with those who suddenly find themselves unemployed, but I think the risk of soon-to-be-unemployed staff taking expensive equipment as a de facto severance payment is just too great to give them a heads-up.

  • Yos

    I sent a roll of B&W out to be developed through Calumet in Tyson’s Corner (metro DC). Anyone know if I’ll be able to track this down?

  • guest

    Agreed.
    The gear is considered now owned by the bank seizing the assets. Messing with that is actually a federal felony because of the way it is handled in the courts.

  • Jane

    Yos, Contact Tech lab (410) 433-2000. They might have gotten it before Calumet shut down.

  • The Guy

    You rented lenses every week for 3 years? A smart person would have purchased the lens and saved some money.

  • shazam

    2 pro packs and 4 pro heads worth about 25000 used rented the day before????
    Cant return it ????? is it mine to keep??? yay thank you idiots.

  • Tim Vechik

    I personally was quite devastated when I heard the news. I loved going in to Calumet to talk with a lot of the employees, who were all knowledgable and helpful whenever I went in. As another commenter stated, Larry was AWESOME at the Escondido store, and they were always on top of things in helping me to get equipment I needed. It wasn’t always in stock, but they also bent over backwards to help me make sure I got it quickly. Goodbye Calumet, and goodbye to having a local camera store. Looks like I’m heading off to B&H… sigh.

  • rich7676

    Once the trustees convene they’ll sort things out. I’m sure people with rentals will have to return them for the liquidation but for the time being they’ll have them at no charge.

  • jos

    I will now have to find out how to buy flash tubes for my travelites when they burn out

  • jcd530 .

    I took my camera in to get my sesor cleaned, too. They called me two weeks ago to tell me it will be ready in two weeks. Now I don’t know what to do. They have my camera.

  • jcd530 .

    who is the district manager? Skinner?

  • http://www.adorama.com/ Helen Oster

    Absolutely NO truth whatsoever in this – you may want to remove it before we tell you to…….

  • uncle max

    I am a pretty good amateur photographer.

    I live 200 miles from the nearest Calumet, and another 200 from B&H. I did lots of business with Calumet because the guy who ran the store is a good friend and whenever I went down there he could always show me the ins and outs of whatever equipment I was buying. Cal couldn’t match B&H for price but the difference was only about $50 for an $800 item. The personal touch went a long way. I’d like to see a Calumet fire sale but I don’t think that will happen. If it does I’m on the way down there yesterday.

    On the other hand – I’ve been doing business with B&H for more than 20 years and have never had a problem with them. Sometimes it takes some time to get in touch with someone but when I do talk with them they ALWAYS know what they’re talking about. Nearest local camera store is 25 miles away and I haven’t been there in years. Deal with the pros.

  • Guest

    I’ve been using Lyft until today when my friend suggested Uber. He gave me a code for credit towards my first ride, however I was still charged for the full cost of the trip (a trip that I usually pay a lower rate with Lyft). Anyways, the experience and cost of Uber pales in comparison to Lyft and as a costumer that will not return to hour service I suggest you improve your app so that promotions can actually be redeemed

  • DanH

    You guys are too specific outing the rental manger. People still need references nad jobs. NOT COOL?

  • Kal Umet

    Delusional… just like the people that ran the place.

  • Kal Umet

    All truth. And all thoughts shared by MANY employees.