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Which Way Leica in the New Millenium?
Let me start by saying that I am a big Leica fan. This page is written to promote discussion amongst Leica photographers, stock holders, and hopefully amongst Leica management. I don't pretend I have THE answers, but perhaps this discussion can help Leica find the answers.
#1 Leica Lenses in Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax mounts
The easiest and quickest way for Leica to substantially increase profit and sales volume is to manufacture SLR lenses in Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Minolta mounts. On first reaction you might think camera manufacturer's don't make and sell lenses in other mounts....but this is not always true. Nikon, Canon and Minolta all made and sold Leica screw mounts lenses after World War II....to survive in the market place. In a reversal of fortunes, the Japanese are now the leaders of the camera industry while once giant Leica finds itself a small company with modest sales. It's time Leica learns from the past and returns the favor.
Providing production can keep up with demand, Leica lenses in Japanese mounts this will likely double or triple Leica's modest SLR lens production in only one year. It will also give Leica much larger financial base which does not depend upon the sale of Leica R bodies. If independent lens manufacturer's can be licensed to make major manufacturer's lenses, why not Leica? If Japanese camera makers hesitate to license Leica lenses in Japanese mounts, the courts will almost certainly side with Leica--and the consumer. International trade laws exist to promote fair trade -- witness the recent US lawsuit about orange imports to Europe.
#2 Entry Level Rangefinder and Lens Lines
Leica needs to expand its rangefinder line with new Entry level M bodies and lenses. The present M bodies and lenses are terrific, but expensive. There is a real need to introduce a lower priced entry level of bodies and lenses. As stated elsewhere in this site, the new Cosina Voigtlander L is a camera Leica should have made, but didn't. Cosina's success, and the expected success of the new Japanese M copies to be introduced later in 1999, are the direct result of Leica's failure to market an entry level M rangefinder. It's about time Leica returns to this market. After all, it is Leica's market to lose. These same entry level bodies and lenses also need to be made in Leica Thread Mount.
#3 A Leica-Nikon Partnership
Leica needs to market a professional level AF SLR, but apparently Leica does not have the investment capital and technology to build its own -- otherwise it would already have made the switch to AF. Leica has a difficult enough time just making a simple R8 motor...as hard and seemingly inexplicable as that is to believe. The only reasonable answer short of a take over is making a deal to use existing technology. Only one Japanese company matches Leica in terms of prestige: Nikon. Leica Management needs to swallow their pride and make a deal with Nikon. No other marriage will be fully accepted by Leica customers......as already witnessed by the already attempted and less than enthusiastically received marriage of Leica and Minolta. This will be a bitter pill for Leica to swallow, but it will mean a secure future with Nikon's camera and flash technology. Nikon will also benefit from Leica's lenses and optical technology.
The ideal solution would be for Nikon to offer Leica made lenses as part of their lens line while Leica offers Nikon bodies with Leica nameplates...and Nikon mount. The R line would stay in production. Another possibility would be Leica M lenses sold on a new Nikon M body. It remains to be seen if Leica and Nikon management are far sighted enough to see this ideal marriage from the consumer's eyes and make it work. Perhaps with stockholder pressure.....
#4 Reintroduction of Leica Screw Mount
Leica lenses in Leica Thread Mount. Japanese manufacturers are enjoying the popularity of a neglected Leica market, the screw mount. All M mount lenses need to be made in screw mount to take advantage of this long neglected market.
A modern Screw Mount IIIg is screaming to be made. If Leica does not do it, the smarter marketing Japanese camera makers will.
#5 New Distribution Methods -- cut costs, improve service, sell Leicas everywhere
The Internet: Leica is famous and respected world wide, but yet sells less than 20,000 M and R cameras a year. I think a big part of Leica's modest sales is an inadequate sales and distribution system which serves to limit the number of dealers (and sales) while at the same time driving up consumer prices with unnecessary warehouse and dealer rep costs in this new Internet age.
Today Leica's distributor/warehouse/sales rep distribution methods were used in the 1930's, designed for a 1930's world. Today that antiquated system is helping to create a sales bottleneck which threatens the company's existence. If you are not aware of it, the initial order and annual sales volume to become a Leica dealer are substantial -- keeping thousands of camera dealers from being Leica dealers. Minimum sales requirements used to make sense when each dealer had to generate enough sales to cover their share of dealer sales rep commissions and warehouse costs. Today, it is nonsensical in an internet connected society.
It should be Leica's goal to make every camera dealer on earth a Leica dealer, with no minimum purchase or volume. The key is Internet access, which would allow each dealer to order whatever they need, payment with order with a credits card-- improving Leica's volume and cash flow. The ideal place to introduce this new distribution is the US and Canada, leaving repair stations intact. Just as practically every camera dealer sells either Kodak or Fuji film or both, it should be Leica's goal to make it so easy to be a Leica dealer that EVERY camera dealer sells Leicas!!
Ship cameras directly from the factory to the camera store. Get rid of the warehouses and Leica sales reps and their overhead. Replace them with the internet, cut costs, improve dealer service. ANYTHING that your dealer reps can do, you should be able do faster on the internet for less cost. This centralized approach will also give Leica better factory to dealer communication. Rather than hire 200 translators, insist your dealers order in either German or English...web capacities the factory already has. Granted this distribution method won't work in areas that don't have internet access, but it would be a big improvement where internet access is easy.
My first photography teacher told me about the rise and downfall of Graflex. In the early 1950's, Graflex was by FAR the large format leader in the US. They sold more 4x5's in the US than all other manufacturer's combined. They dominated, they were the big boys. Then in the mid 1950's Graflex execs got the bright idea to increase sales even more. They would enforce minimum sales volume on their dealers...they were sure this would send sales to new astronomical levels. Of course, it had the opposite effect. Graflex quickly lost its dealer base, and its sales leadership. Within a decade, Graflex was near bankruptcy and virtually out of the large format business. Leica needs to make it as easy as possible, ridiculously easy, for any dealer to sell Leica products. There should be NO minimum investment or sales volumes requirements, and to sell the products directly to the dealer over the internet without a middleman.
I've been told by a long time Leica dealer that ONLY TWO US DEALERS sell more than HALF of all Leicas in the US. If this is accurate, or even close to being accurate, it perfectly illustrates the inadequacies of Leica's present distribution system. Instead of only two huge US dealers, suppose Leica had dozens of them? This is the way. Great service to all Leica dealers, not just a few.
Whatever your views, if this page helps promote discussion, it has succeeded in its purpose.
Revised: November 25, 2003 . Copyright © 1998-2002 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.