Photography News Issue 28 absolutephoto.com
Profile AlanWalmsley Bowens may not have had many new releases on the market recently, but it’s set to make a big impact in 2016-17. We talk with sales and marketing director, Alan Walmsley, to see what’s new
Can you tell our readers a little of your imaging background and how you became sales and marketing director of Bowens? I enjoyed my time at Dixons, but as a major retailer, you don’t generally hang around doing one thing for long. I went to work in Hong Kong and ended up in TV and video before moving to electronics. I got a call from my former Dixons boss who had left to work for Hanimex-Vivitar. I joined as his product development manager and developed a whole range of products, from camera bags to binoculars, lenses and compacts. Our market share went from 5.4% to 10% of the UK market in less than three years. I was then asked by the chairman of Gestetner (the then owners of the company) to take over general management, together with my former Dixons boss, as well as become the director of European product development. I think John Gobbi, the new MD of Bowens International, saw my mix of manufacturing, distribution and retail, as well as buying, marketing and sales experience as vital in a company like Bowens. He invited me to chat about the opportunity. I liked the sound of the challenge as well as the idea of getting back into the photography world. You have had a few changes at Bowens recently, can your briefly explain the key moves? All companies experience the challenge of commercial turbulence from time to time – and Bowens is no different. We recently completed a major relocation to a new purpose-built site in Colchester and now, with new management in place, things are pulling around nicely. The market has not seen anything new from Bowens for a while, but we are all set to change that. We now have a new technical director and with myself as head of both sales and marketing, we can make sure that everything we do is geared to our customers. We are one team and we’re going to make a big impact in 2016-17. How’s business at Bowens at the moment? It’s getting better. Last year and early 2015 was probably the most challenging time in Bowens’ history. The second half of this year has seen a much more positive trend, however, and we will be entering 2016 on the front foot with our eye firmly on the ball. With modern cameras’ amazing ability to work in almost no light without the need for artificial lighting, do you think the studio- lighting market is in decline? If young photographers are being taught that, then they are being taught by the wrong people! I guess that camera manufacturers have to shout about their features and advantages. I do realise that we have an educational job to do to ensure that pro and amateur photographers understand how important good lighting is to the end result. Snapping in low light is not a creative method of operation, but is obviously advantageous if you are a photojournalist, which is not what studio lighting is about. But then again, Vivitar’s original Series 1 flashgun was the standard for photojournalists during the 70s and 80s, so I understand that market as well. Horses for courses…
customers buying online or do they prefer face-to-face interaction with a retailer? Interestingly, I have done a lot of research on channel buying. I recently asked a London dealer if he had noticed any changes in customer profile and he said that more customers were coming into the store wanting to talk to someone who actually knew what they were talking about! Expertise. Seeing the whites of the sales person’s eyes. Seeing how the studio light works, how easy the accessories are to fit, how easy they are to get hold of, etc. That is really still the only way to know if you are buying the right item. Bowens mains flash units like the Geminis can be used on location with a portable Travelpak, but do you feel Bowens has missed the opportunity for truly portable location flash like that offered by products such as a Profoto B2 and Elinchrom Quadra Ranger? Bowens has been seen by some as losing its ‘laser- beam focus’ on industry innovation over the last few years, but that paradigm has shifted now. Watch this space. IGBT technology has enabled studio-style flash units to have very brief flash durations, but at the moment Bowens doesn’t offer lights with IGBT technology. Again, is this a market that Bowens is looking at? Bowen has always delivered what its consumers expected. In future, we will not just deliver what they expect, but what we know they will want tomorrow as well. Again, watch this space! Bowens opened a new showroom facility in Colchester fairly recently. Can you tell us about what the venue offers? We have a photographic studio there, plus excellent office facilities and warehousing. The position is perfect from a logistical point of view; close to the A12; 30 minutes from the M25; 30 minutes from Felixstowe; 15 minutes from the A14. It’s far more convenient than the old site at Clacton-on-Sea, which was not purpose-built. There is only so much ‘olde world character’ you can entertain and absorb as a modern business! If our readers want to try Bowens products they can check your website for a local retailer, but do you have any upcoming events or shows that people can visit to see your offerings? We’re sponsoring the SWPP conference this month and the BVE show in February, and I hope everyone will want to come and see what we are doing at The Photography Show inMarch. We are one of the main sponsors, with a stage show and lots of demos from well-known #TeamBowens photographers, as well as exciting new kit to show. There will be a lot to talk about. Looking to the future, what are your short- term aspirations for Bowens? And what about your long-term aims? Short term, we need to update our ranges; medium term, educate photographers on the need for quality lighting; andmid- to long-term, launch innovative new products that take Bowens back to the very top of the light tree, where it belongs.
Bowens is best known for its flash kit, with continuous lighting a recent addition to the brand. Is flash the mainstay of Bowens’ business or has that changed with video? Flash lighting is what we are known for and I think if photo-lighting brands ensure that they educate the user to understand the need for photo lighting, there will always be a future for it. Video is a growth market and we’ve had a growing presence in that area over the past few years; however, flash lighting is still our mainstay. What are your most popular product lines? They are all popular, but the lowest-priced products in any brand’s range will always be the highest volume. Photographers either buy into a brand at the lowest price and move up over time or they are pros and buy in at the higher level. For larger professional studios, the Bowens Pro series is the most popular, but for smaller studios, the 500R is the leader. From your own perspective, what is the product or feature in Bowens lights that excites you most? The next product and the product after that! I am about constant change and I don’t want the company to stand still, so I will always be most excited about the next product or feature. How do you develop new products? Have you got a team working on new launches? We have a substantial R & D department and highly-talented engineers. We have knowledgeable and experienced sales and marketing personnel, a great team of well- known and highly acclaimed professional photographers (#TeamBowens), all of whom use, love and evangelise Bowens lighting. Together we comprise a seriously compelling new product development line-up. I am very excited about what we can achieve in the future. As a long-established lighting provider, are you finding your customer base to be very loyal? What are you doing to attract customers who are new to imaging and perhaps aren’t aware of Bowens’ long heritage? We have a very loyal band of ‘Bowenites’ and unbelievably, some of them are still asking us to service equipment we made 30 years ago! The fact that this equipment is still ‘used and abused’ regularly and yet still functions to spec, underpins that brand loyalty. Like M&S, we need to appeal to the next generation whilst taking our current customer with us and we believe we can do that in the coming years. What do you think encourages customers to buy Bowens products? We know it is quality build, reliability, ease of use andgreat value formoney that drives professional photographers to buy Bowens. You don’t want to buy cheap products that might go wrong on assignment, so you invest in reliability and serviceability. Nothing gives as good a return on investment as a Bowens studio light. In recent years, have you seen any changes in your customers’ behaviour when they are buying Bowens products? For example, are
Biography Years in the photo industry? Eight years with Dixons Stores Group in the 80s. Four years with Hanimex-Vivitar in the Series 1 days, first in product development then as assistant general manager. Current location Gorgeous mid-Suffolk, wouldn’t move for anything! Last picture taken Of a Bowens merchandise display in Germany earlier this week. When youwere younger, what did youwant to bewhen you grewup? Rich and retired by 30! So when I realised that was unrealistic (I came out of uni at 23 and joined Dixons as a management trainee due to my love of photography), I just decided I wanted to enjoy my career, ‘travel a lot and do deals’. Cats. They are more independent and appear to be more cool and intelligent than dogs. I read that on average, cat owners have higher IQs than dog owners! Of course, I don’t believe that… Toast or cereal? Cereal Email or phone call? Emails leave trails and reminders and I can type quickly. Phone calls take too long talking about ‘stuff’. I’ll call when I need to understand, discuss or negotiate. I got what I wanted and have enjoyed my career ever since. Dogs or cats?
Nothing gives as good a return on investment
as a Bowens studio light
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