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.


 
  • J

    The having products on Stock is a common problem within Photography stores. I would have visited my local Calumet Store if I didn’t have to wait a couple of days to get what I needed (ink, paper, lens, etc) from the nearby ware houses (I’m in Philly, they got their stock from NY or Chicago). They also pushed their brand that while more affordable, I found that it didn’t hold up to other brands.

  • MarvinB7

    Brick & Mortar photo stores have always disappointed me. My local shops here in Boise have lots of stock, but it is all aimed at hobbyists. Any equipment I might find useful is cheap, both in cost and quality. They have never once had anything in stock that I actually needed, or any plans to get it. Comparing some stuff I had previously purchased, the prices were MUCH higher. It is a very hard market to be in. I gave up on local after several tries to get gear. Sad.

  • Andrew

    wow. what a nasty situation for everyone involved. Nice hat-tip to B&H, I have to second that recommendation.

  • Eponymous_Jones

    Funny I just called Calumet yesterday for some foam core and they said they were out of stock and the person on the phone didn’t seem to particularly care that I was looking for it. Tried to support them and their foray into education as well.

  • HibikiRush

    Calumet was a sad place to get something that you urgently needed. The last few times I went over there with an urgent need to buy something they did not have it in stock; CTO gel, gray paper background roll, a bag I wanted to see in person. The lens rental selection was also terrible, they often were out of 400′s, and what high-price items they did have were old models and not the updated ver. IIs.

    After having been in Yodobashi in Akihabara and having a completely different shopping experience, I never really bothered to go into Calumet so I won’t miss it.

  • S

    Our company has a number of things in the repair shop but cannot get through to anyone. I am really hoping we get some sort of update on what we would need to do to at least getting our property back in a timely fashion. Any news on that would be very, very much appreciated.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    Once Ritz stepped in it was only a matter of time… :(

  • Syd Harper

    I always used Calumet, wherever I lived. But than, they got so expensive I had to find some where else to shop. Now because of where I live, I shop on line.

  • RakSiam

    Very sad. But he’s right; the Tyson’s Corner store had less and less stock as time went on. I guess I can kiss my $425 in store credit goodbye. I should have know better than to let that sit on account so long.

  • Ed

    I came from a chapter 7 company and this is a real tough situation for the employees and their families. I wish everyone involved all the best and hope you all land on your feet.

  • Caitlyn Chapman

    Went through a similar situation over the last year in the camera shop I work in & wouldn’t wish it on anyone… all the best.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/zackhuggins/ Zack

    I worked at a Wolf Camera in the years leading up to their bankruptcy, and all of this sounded sadly familiar. Especially the part about pushing classes. Good luck to the employees, I hope you are all able to bounce back from this.

  • Hayden

    Will there be liquidation sales of the left over stock? I’ve contacted the SF Calumet but of course there isn’t an answer.

  • Benny Jetts

    I’ve heard from industry people the next major store to close in NYC will be Adorama. They too have had their credit held by a few manufactures over the last year. And some companies are awaiting payments for invoices 180 over due.

  • SusanH

    What should one do with rental gear that’s out right now (San Francisco location). It’s due back Monday morning, and it’s an out of town photographer who can’t really store it until they decide to open again.

  • Matt Miller

    I second B&H

  • GokhanCukurova

    I found almost everything I wanted when I wanted at Calumet, I guess my experience was different than a few here. Rental dept. was awesome but most importantly, customer service was EXCELLENT all these years. They were not just the camera store people, they were and will be our friends in the photo community.

  • Debbie

    I managed a Ritz for many years leading up the bankruptcy…it is sadly familiar. I wish the loyal employees who had to stand in the front line without stock trying to make a sale with nothing the best… Best of luck to you …I understand the anger and resentment you probably feel and wish you the best

  • Former employee

    Yep ritz district manager mr Dustin Why did they hire people without creative thought and shifty practices

  • dboy33

    that is not factual

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    I meant you who just repeated what you did at ritz.

  • Joe Gunawan

    I’m glad that here in Los Angeles/Southern California, we still have Samy’s Camera. Hopefully it’s doing ok because having a brick & mortar place for items such as foam core, c-stands, etc. is valuable. Plus, I actually do like renting from them (Fairfax and Santa Ana locations).

  • Kal

    I have to COMPLETELY agree with this. I worked at Wolf before Ritz took over. Those Ritz execs tore it apart. Years later, after I left Ritz/Wolf, I went to Calumet RIGHT as some of their execs were being hired on to try to salvage the company, which was already having troubles. (The former CEO was only there to get finances in order and knew nothing about the industry.) Now, what could have been a great photo store is shut down because the ignorance of hiring ex Ritz EXECUTIVES to run a photo company. HELLO! Ritz filed bankruptcy TWICE. Their warped business mentality and fear tactics infected Calumet. They knew NOTHING about their employees, customers, or the changing industry. Btw, I really hate Mini Coopers after working there.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowlandw/ George Williams

    I will miss the Boston (Cambridge) store and a couple of the very helpful staff for whom I wish the best. Interestingly, Cambridge replaced their old store with a new one just around the corner about a year ago, and it definitely wasn’t on the cheap. I couldn’t tell it was actually an improvement.

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    Too true. Just incompetent district managers pretending to be in charge thinking that bullying is how you manage people

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    You own it now. The company no longer exist. The bankers won’t be knocking at your door. It’s like you borrowed your friend law mower and the bank came in and took the house because it foreclosed. They won’t chase after you. They can’t just go charging your credit card. Their problem isn’t with you but with calumet. What happens with all those gift cards or checks people didn’t cash or accounts that the company owes money too. All the assets are seized. They are out of luck. Who are they going to get after your equipment. Repo man for cameras. Are they going to go knock on everyone’s door to get that equipment back. It’s like they raided the place and that’s all was found. Sure there are records but who can run credit cards to your agreement with them. I’m sure the investors aren’t getting all their stuff back and neither does calumet

  • Dumi72

    I just bought a Camera Strap last Tuesday at the Ft. Lauderdale store, It was the last one, and when I asked for a GPS cable for my Nikon D610 they didn’t know that it was one.

  • john

    I got a call today from an employee and they asked me to come in and pick up my camera that had it sensor cleaned. And the poor employee called me and was crying. I didn’t even know her and it was really sad.

  • Stephanie

    That’s so sad! I want to hug her right now It’s nice that you got a call though. I know many who are SOL.

  • Syd AndDana Takeshta

    I’m so sad I didn’t get to say goodbye to the staff! I was there every weekend for 3 years renting lenses :( I am also a featured photographer in their Escondido gallery. I’m not sure how to go about getting my canvas back :(

  • EthicalSusan

    Please don’t spread FUD / disinformation… Adorama has no such issues.

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    Call district manager. He’s responsible for this mess. Not only did they not tell employees and can’t even promise last pay check which is owed but screw people with gift cards, money on account, people with photo books, canvas wraps , creditors, people with prepaid back orders , etc…. The list goes on

  • Crimsonrabbit1

    Yes spent 2-3rds of your day apologizing while under pressure to sell more and more or lose your job thanks to the district manager who thought it was a good idea to expand the company to pad his resume. His idea of one on ones and other bs.

  • KyeJames7

    So, they’ve filed for bankruptcy. They don’t get to decide how to liquidate themselves any more — the trustee assigned to handle the bankrupcty will liquidate their assets. Maybe do a tiny, tiny bit of research and correct some of that misinformation?

  • KyeJames7

    That is absolutely not true. It’s going to be an asset entered into the bankruptcy case and my guess is the trustee is going to want it and they have ways of getting it.

  • BorninEastSetinWest

    Calumet purchased North County Camera here in San Diego years back. North County Camera (NCC) used to be a store where locals could go to get the higher end gear you couldn’t find at some of the other shops. They had employees that were knowledgable on the gear.

    As soon as Calumet took over I noticed a change. NCC would be crowded every time I went to the store. As Calumet, the store was always empty.

    Typical situation of when a larger company buys the smaller company expecting to make profit but the only thing they end up doing is ruining the culture and quality.

  • Aezreth

    Yet another business destroyed by predatory and clueless management, sigh. Yet their careers never seem to get hurt by these failures, instead they just move on to wreck the next company they get hired to “manage”. We need more employee owned business to avoid these human sized locust.

  • el Morte

    What an idiotic and childish thing to say….

  • Kal Umet

    The market here in Chicago is overly saturated with terrible photographers anyway. Make them try harder and actually learn the field. People went into that store wanting free lessons. It is unbelievable how many people pick up a camera and instantly call themselves a professional to their clients with no training or experience. The photography industry these days is a joke. Good riddance Calumet, you weren’t for professionals anymore after Ritz executives came in and made it a cheap consumer market.

  • David Vaughn

    Amen. I love my local photo store when I need something small like a sync cord, but for lenses/cameras/flashes, they’re very overpriced. Which, I mean, it makes sense because they’re the only store and you’re paying for convenience, but still…

  • Tina C

    Benny, either provide proof of your statement or retract your post immediately. You do realize that your comment, if not factual, can be construed as a libelous statement. You are defaming the credit worthiness of a well-regarded company. You can and will be tracked down and charged via the Courts. You better address this immediately or face the consequences.

  • Tina C

    If anything, the renter needs to keep a record of his/her best efforts to return the goods. (Its not like the person could leave the goods at the front door or slide them through a mail slot). The renter should be expected to keep the goods in acceptable condition but, shy of Calumet or its representatives resurfacing to address this, I would expect the renter to be in a very extended ‘holding pattern’- weeks at the least. Hopefully, the renter rented something enjoyable to use.

  • http://www.alborrelli.com/ Al Borrelli

    Meh, the costs of not adapting to a ever-changing world of commerce (or should I say e-commerce?)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/zackhuggins/ Zack

    I’ve got nothing but fond memories of my fellow retail warriors that I spent time in the trenches with. It ended up being a blessing in disguise as it set into motion a series of jobs that were a lot more satisfying, financially and otherwise. It sucked at the time, but I ended up in a better place because of it.

    Cheers! As a store manager, you undoubtedly had it worse than me. My store managers tried to shield us from the vitriol and unrealistic expectations coming from upper management/corporate and I could see the stress on them for that.

    Hopefully the Calumet employees can land on their feet.

  • Pro Photo

    As a photography retail and repair shop in Washington, DC, we want the photo community to know that we are doing our best to support the immediate needs of photographers. We have always supported Penn, Ritz and Calumet over the years and have closely done business with them, offering our support for repairs and stock shortages. It was a shame to see the management fail the way it did but as many have said they tried to expand too quickly and without the financial cushion required for such expansion. We have friends and, what we consider family, put out because of the shut down and our sympathies go out to them.

  • GokhanCukurova

    Sorry but this interview gives me some different ideas….
    It well could be a super unhappy employee, mad at his manager from the past, just taking revenge or even lying… We can’t know. Or even worse, could this even be a made up story by PetaPixel to get all the hits to score some real good SEO today? Not saying it, but anything is possible. At the end, it is sad that 200 ppl loose their jobs, totally sad due to predatory lean holders, cornering Calumet.
    I went to several Calumet stores hundreds of time over the years and I have nothing but great things to say about the people who worked there, and let’s not forget how much they gave back to this photo community by organizing many free educational events. I hope they find a solution and keep the stores open, ppl we care about all employed.
    My name is Gokhan Cukurova
    and I mean what I say.

  • James M. Locke

    As a professional and now educator in the DC area, I felt the loss of Penn more so then any loss from the demise of Calumet. Upon opening the rebirth of the Penn Camera Store on ‘E” Street, I tried to shop but the ignorance of the staff and then upon the dismissals of the staff ever so slowly and replaced by the incompetent instant photographers that didn’t even know what TXP-135-36 was… I had a problem and never returned.
    It is sad as I knew the ‘older’ staff but they were dismissed, I dismissed Calumet as they could not compete with B&H or other sources regardless of the ‘wait’ time of shipment from X?

  • guest

    anyone know whats happening regarding the liquidation of their products or where they will be doing that??

  • guest

    Anyone know whats going to be happening or where they will be liquidating?

  • GSD

    I bought my first 4×5 camera and lenses from Calumet in 1972, when they used to be at LaBrea and Melrose in Hollywood. I am now retired after 40 years as a very successful commercial shooter. Calumet helped me build my studios with good values on high end pro gear. It’s sad to see the end of an era