Jason McLean is the director of Canon’s consumer division, its largest and most renowned division. Under his leadership, the Australian business has repeatedly stood out across the Canon world in regards to innovative ideas, consumer engagement initiatives and year-on-year results.
Canon is a leading imaging brand and its Australian R&D company, CiSRA, develops and exports digital imaging technologies for use in Canon products worldwide. Canon has ranked among the top-five US patent recipients for the past 33 years, and had global revenues of more than US$36 billion in 2017. Also part of the Canon Group in the Oceania region are Canon Finance Australia, SunStudios, Converga and Harbour IT.
Inside Retail Weekly: How have the last 12 months been for the Canon brand in Australia?
Jason McLean: Not just the last 12 months, but actually the last few years have been pretty good for us.
In business, there’s no easy wins but the plans and strategies we run here in this part of the world seem to be hitting the mark.
A lot of the indicators that we use, not just financial indicators but social engagement indicators, are all saying that we’re doing an okay job, which is great.
IRW: In terms of the trading environment, is it genuinely tough or hope on the horizon for the industry?
JM: I think the categories we participate in – which is basically imaging-based, so the camera and printing sides of imaging – it’s been low single-digit growth, which has been pretty good, but the retailers have to work really hard to keep engaging consumers into the stores.
For us, as the suppliers and the technology we provide, all the competitors in the market seem to be doing the right job at stimulating consumers into imaging. So the imaging category is doing okay.
IRW: What’s the vision behind Canon’s debut retail presence for Australia down in Melbourne?
JM: If we step back, the vision is all about, how do we complement what our retailers do in the market – of which they do a great job – to actually make sure that we give a Canon experience that consumers not only get a lot out of, but are also looking to get more of.
So the store’s down there to complement what’s already happening.
But we believe that the experience you’ll get in the Canon store will be a pure experience because our retailers obviously have to support a number of other brands, not just Canon.
The goal is that consumers walk out of that store either wanting to buy from us directly or more importantly, wanting to buy from our retail partners, but they want to make a choice to go with the Canon brand.
JM: Melbourne is such a huge market for us that we’ll probably test it for 6-12 months, if it does well then we would definitely look to roll the concept out into bigger markets around the country.
The financial metrics around this store are that we know what we sell into the greater market in Melbourne through our retailers, so we want to see that market grow for Canon.
If we see that working, it means we’re doing a better job from Canon in that area, then we’ll definitely roll it out into the other markets.
IRW: On the store itself that launched last week, what were some of the main features and the strategy behind creating an experience for customers?
JM: I’m biased because I love it, you walk in through the door and it’s just a beautiful, simple execution.
The whole philosophy of the store, if we pull right back, was if you walk in, the conversation needs to start with you. It doesn’t start at product.
What are you interested in or hoping to achieve? You won’t see products everywhere, just a small smattering of products then its conversation first, products second.
Once we understand what you need, then you can start introducing products to help start the conversation a little bit further.
That’s the whole philosophy, which is a little bit different to anything else you’ll see and it’s really around what’s important to you.
If you walk out thinking, ‘Canon’s the brand for me’, whether you buy from there or a retailer, it’s job done for us. Because what we’ve found through things we’ve done like the Canon Collective, which is a community group of engaged photographers, is as soon as you start the journey, a lot of people stay on it – if they get the right encouragement and help up front.
For us as a brand, while we’ve always had a heritage in making great product and that’s really cool, for us it’s about what people do with the cameras that’s most important.
There’s a lot of things at the site that will break apart normal retail paradigms. There’s no pricing on anything. Sure we can talk price, but it’s not about cheap or dear prices. It’s about experience and value.
Nothing’s locked away or tethered or unattainable to consumers. And the staff are just unbelievable, so excited and passionate to have a conversation. We hope it hits the mark because it should.
IRW: Is it about removing barriers to service?
JM: Correct. Some stores, whether they be fashion or any category, it can be a little bit intimidating when a lot of stuff is locked behind glass and if you’re not confident in yourself, and this is why we don’t introduce the product first.
You might not ask to see the 6D [camera model] because you might be embarrassed to ask a dumb question.
So we’re trying to remove any psychological and physical barriers so you can just feel comfortable and have a chat.
We’re not going to try sell you something you don’t need. More importantly, we hope consumers walk out and come back in a couple of weeks time, and say ‘I’ve gotten amazing photos out of this and thanks so much, what else can I do?’. That’s the goal.
IRW: What’s the feedback from consumers been like after the initial opening?
JM: We only opened on Friday and although it was a bit rainy through the weekend, we had a lot of people through. Initial feedback is amazing. There’s a lot of people coming to have look, which we want.
One of the most surprising things, something you may not think about – we have a small range of printers there.
Once those things start churning out a photo, the amazement on peoples faces is unbelievable. I was talking to the store manager this morning and he said people are just hanging around the printers.
That’s the next evolution. Social media and digital images are good, but the physical image is also an element that’s probably been lacking.
I was there for the launch on Thursday, and a lot of the conversations were around, ‘I should print out more photos’. People love their imaging and don’t print out enough. That’s the other surprising thing about the store as well.
IRW: That’s a very interesting parallel with the whole debate about e-commerce bs bricks-and-mortar retailing, the printed image vs the digital snap and a preference for tangible experiences…
JM: And it’s not actually that expensive to print. I think people are a little bit intimidated by understanding how you maybe set an A2 or A3 printer up and it’s easy. Plus the quality of the work is unbelievable. They’re all things we hope to help consumers get a better understanding for as well.
IRW: How does the whole direct-to-consumer strategy element of Canon’s strategy play into the decision to go with a physical store of its own and is it an important channel for iconic brands that previously haven’t retailed, such as Canon?
JM: That’s a good question. For us it’s all about complementing the experience.
We actually have our own online store, which opened in 2011, and also own an operation called SunStudios that does sell directly as well.
So it’s all about complementing the retail channel with a direct channel, to actually give the best consumer experience that we possibly can.
That’s the role that Canon employs in this region. Obviously there are some times where there’s a bit of rub with retailers, as you would in any market, but by and large, we’ve been able to complement that pretty well and retailers are still driving our brand, which is important.
IRW: That’s a nice segue way into what is Canon’s relationship with wholesale and retailers more broadly – are the likes of online players seen differently to physical retailers such as JB Hi-Fi or other retailers that might stock Canon products?
JM: There are a couple of customers we have, which are purely digital customers so they have no physical, hands-on experience, but that’s a very small part of our business.
Most of our customers do have a physical experience and also complement it with an online experience.
JB Hi-Fi, DigiDirect, Camera House, Harvey Norman all play in every channel, but they invest in the physical channel, which is where their businesses started.
It just comes down to having that choice for consumers. We’re just complementing what the retailers are doing and it’s up to the consumer, the experience that they have to make the choice where they want to buy from.
IRW: In that context, how important is brand exclusivity and retailers holding a brand as a competitive advantage?
JM: In our portfolio, we run everything from entry-level product all the way up to professional products.
Ultimately, every store doesn’t hold the whole range of Canon because it’s not their clientele.
Within JB for example, some stores may hold a lot higher in range, but the average stores would hold more of a mid-range.
It comes down to the capability of being able to sell up towards the professional end of our range. That’s sort of a horses for courses distribution approach and the retailers play their role.
As far as retailers running Canon alone, well that would be nice but their bottle is obviously a multiple suite of brands to satisfy consumers that want a Canon or other brand within their portfolio.
We will range exclusive products from time to time, maybe limited time offers or similar, based on agreements with customers, but by and large from the photo aspect, it’s essentially a range based on the customer profile that they have.
IRW: In terms of general trends in the photo imaging space, but also on how the rise of social media platforms has fuelled that popularity and growth in the industry?
JM: The bigger macro trends that we talk about – and it’s really been driven by the smartphone evolution – is that people are into photography more than they ever have.
They’re taking photos, kids are taking photos on smartphones, so the awareness of photography and what it is, is bigger than any other time in human history.
Then you add into the mix, the Instagram revolution and Facebook, and what that does as it’s obviously a platform for a lot of images, is help people craft, take a bit more time and effort in their imagery to achieve a lot more quality.
So there’s the rapid clicking stuff goes on but then the more controlled, managed photography – also a thing that social media is shaping.
For us as a brand, we don’t have smartphones but what we do have is an amazing number of devices that when you want to probably take a bit more time and effort and probably get a little bit more out of it, the camera comes into play a lot stronger.
IRW: Is there a typical Canon consumer?
JM: No, it’s really interesting. Our gender mix, if you start at that point, it’s approximately 51 per cent female, 49 per cent male and that swings. It’s really a balanced product offering.
From an age-wise, 25 year and up are switched on to maybe some things in their lives where the camera is more important to them.
But what we are now seeing, particularly high school students at the moment, the thirst for knowledge and understanding how that equipment works is more than I’ve ever seen.
The next generation are seeing the value of understanding technology quicker, and they’re a lot brighter too by the way.
We’re seeing a big ramp up, probably over the last two or three years, of that sort of 15-years and older interested in cameras.
IRW: Interesting to hear that given smartphones popularity…
JM: When you see young adults or teenagers with the cameras, they pick it [techniques] up so quickly, it’s actually inspiring.
IRW: How will technology shape the future of the industry?
JM: If you think about what’s happened outside the social media evolution, you’ve also got the peer-to-peer, Uber, Airbnb-style consumer, where people are becoming more open-minded to try different things. We’re seeing some opportunities here.
Obviously we’ve got great products and great advocacy out there, so how do we help consumers get into our brand more outside the traditional way of buying a product?
So we’re looking at a couple of options around tapping into the peer-to-peer market, which will come out later in the year.
But more importantly, the evolution or continued growth of social media will continue the thirst for understanding imagery and how people best use it to put themselves forward into the world.