An article in Inc. magazine reported that 96% of businesses fail within 10 years of opening. Other stats point to the impact of smartphone photography on the camera and photo equipment industry, with an industry group saying that worldwide camera shipments dropped by 84 percent between 2010 and 2018.
Someone must have forgotten to tell Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay. He will be one of the speakers featured during a Green Bay SCORE Zoom event, "Business Legends of Green Bay," at 9 a.m. Oct. 9. Calling Chernick a "legend" is not an overstatement. He has led his family-owned business (established in 1953) through tumultuous times in the industry, and even as camera stores and manufacturers failed to survive, his business thrived. Now a third-generation business with his son Ryan as president, Camera Corner Connecting Point has grown from a small retail establishment with a half dozen employees to one that has over 140 employees.
"I had a hunger to do more," Chernick said. "I didn't know where we could take the business, but I had the drive to be more. I wanted to change the model; not to get rid of retail, but to also have a corporate presence."
That decision led to major growth. Chernick watched the industry closely, and knew how to meet the needs of customers. He learned from an early age, starting out in 1967 as a window washer, box packer and sales clerk.
From 1970 to 1974, he attended college full time while working as many as 50 hours a week at the store.
"The hours were crazy," Chernick said. "That's just what we did. We added to our hours when Port Plaza Mall opened and relocated to be close to the mall."
That was the first of Camera Corner's moves. Chernick took over for his dad in 1984, and in 1988 purchased a larger property at Main Street and Monroe Avenue. Buildings were knocked down and a major renovation took place.
"I've always taken risks and gone right to the edge; you have to be willing to do that and put in the time it takes to do it," Chernick said. "When I took the buildings down, we were basically starting over, because wanting something to work doesn't mean it will."
The business was reimagined as a technology center with the mission "to provide world-class technology solutions with an unwavering commitment to our customers, vendor partners and employees, while providing an environment that encourages profitable growth, learning and fun!"
When talking to Chernick, he emphasizes the "fun" part.
"There is high energy and humor here. I want my employees to want to come in every day and we like to surprise them with small gifts, and do fun stuff like special lunches. If you don't take care of your people, they won't take care of the customer," he added.
With an average employee tenure of about 20 years, it is clear Chernick is succeeding. His staff includes family members and married couples; he says there is something magical about the environment. Much of it comes from his love of people and the Green Bay community, and in bringing a fresh approach to the business. "We're always thinking and talking and learning," Chernick said. "That's one of the beautiful things about the business we're in. We find new and exciting products that are coming out that will help our customers better run their lives, bring change and offer benefits."
There are six departments that offer specialties including complete audio-visual services, managed service, physical security, unified communications, event production and information technology. Camera Corner recently completed a merger with ACP Technology in Chicago that will allow them to have a bigger footprint.
"The merger was a challenge," Chernick said. "I admire those companies who seem to be picking up one company after another. It is hard to integrate the culture and functions, but we're making it work and learning as we grow."
He plans to continue to assess opportunities, but also to remain positive in the midst of the pandemic.
"The worst thing about COVID is that we can't get in the face of the customer as much as we want," Chernick said. "We know our customers and there is a lot of caring and concern that goes along with the business. You have to build relationships and trust, and that's hard to do in a Zoom call."
Yet, even if you can't build a relationship, the Zoom event offered by SCORE will give participants the opportunity to learn more about Chernick and his business. Questions can be submitted and a link to registration obtained by emailing Bob Jahnke, Green Bay SCORE volunteer and facilitator, at bob.jahnke @scorevolunteer.org.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.