Ownership change brings fresh perspectives from two seasoned ‘scopes’ veterans
(July 26, 2019) Since taking the reins this season at Telescope Pictures, new owners Jon and Sam Cameron, who possess a combined three decades of “scopes” experience, have found success marketing tradition over technology through a personable sales approach that highlights community involvement.
In December, the Camerons submitted the sole bid for one of two beach photography franchise licenses to the Ocean City Council at an annual term of $152,500 for the four-year contract renewal.
“We didn’t want the tradition to go away,” he said “My wife has been getting them done since she was a kid … I did not … as a kid, my mom always said no.”
Jon Cameron, who worked nearly two decades for former proprietor Pat McLaughlin, said the pair was disturbed last season to learn their boss did not intend to renew the lapsing contracts and envisioned the end of a beach tradition that goes back more than 70 years.
“The amount of the bid was so expensive [and] the other gentleman, Pat, obviously didn’t have any interest anymore,” he said. “So her and I had to really put our heads together, how can we make this work and not go away, because can you imagine Ocean City without telescope pics? A lot of people couldn’t.”
Raising the required capital loomed as an initial, and potentially insurmountable, hurdle.
“No bank would talk to us, nobody was behind us,” he said.
Drumming up interest from investors also proved daunting.
“It’s a very hard sell to an investor to open up … stores in Ocean City, hire a bunch of college students, house them in your house, pay them on commission, hope for good weather and not see a nickel until late August,” he said. “It’s not a very appetizing plan for someone that wants to make money.”
Despite the obstacles, Cameron said he and his wife agreed the pair should chase down the dream.
“We were like, ‘we can make this happen,’” he said. “It doesn’t need to be a big profit but eventually I think we can better ourselves.”
To be successful, the couple realized the existing business model required tweaking to remain viable in light of modern-day technology.
“It was turning in the wrong direction,” he said. “We needed to become a bit more well-rounded as a company.”
To that end, the Camerons adopted a new business philosophy: the three C’s.
“We’re all about bettering our customers, community and crew members,” he said.
Looking to re-introduce “scopes,” the Camerons held grand re-openings for resort retail locations on 16th Street and 118th Street earlier this season.
“We didn’t buy the company, we bought the assets of the existing company and then we started our own company,” he said. “We just do business as Telescope Pictures but we’re really J and S LLC.”
Despite offering an iconic memory and beach souvenir, the Camerons recognized an opportunity to forge a stronger community connection.
“My wife wants to get involved with local charities,” he said. “There’s a lot we can do if we have this platform, but we have to obviously get it in the right direction.”
Looking to generate revenue for charitable causes in the area, Telescope Pictures is matching funds for customers who opt to round their purchase price to the nearest dollar to support designated nonprofit organizations.
Jon Cameron said although a slate of groups was earmarked for support this season, the first selected is near and dear.
“I’ve been a Big Brother for over two years now with a local kid,” he said. “The downtown store just donated $2,100 to the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Shore and the uptown one was around $1,200.”
After dedicating the first two months to that cause, Cameron said Atlantic General Hospitals’ Campaign for the Future is on tap for July. He anticipates generating around $3,000 to further the development of the John H. “Jack” Burbage Jr. Regional Cancer Center.
On tap to receive donations later this season are the Ocean City Development Corporation and the Peninsula Regional Medical Center’s Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute in Ocean Pines.
Cameron said the latter was a natural outgrowth of working with Seacrets owner Leighton Moore to photograph previous charitable events to support PRMC.
“We actually shoot pics at those events, so it made sense to pitch in,” he said. “Then for September, for both stores, we’re doing the Worcester County Humane Society. It’s cool because now some of the kids … they’re putting that on a resume.”
The increased focus on community also feeds into motivating crewmembers, Cameron said.
“We’re doing weekly crew events this year,” he said.
In addition to a waterpark expedition earlier this year, Cameron said staff members were recently treated to a “Halloween in July,” event at Johnny’s Pizza, 5601 Coastal Highway.
“All the little things that we hope to get the crew mentally motivated that it’s not just work,” he said. “Wow, Jon dresses as a seven-foot baby at Johnny’s Pizza in the middle of July. We’re having fun together.”
The final vital element in the equation are customers, with Cameron espousing a relaxed sales approach to garner consumer interest despite modern technological competition.
“They don’t really know it’s going to be more than just a quick selfie,” he said. “Slowing it down is a big thing that we focused on this year, which is really trying to give better service.”
By encouraging staff to develop a personal connection with beachgoers, Cameron said hesitant purchasers are shown the merits of entrusting dedicated professionals to capture timeless seaside keepsakes.
“It’s kind of proving to mom through our actions on the beach it’s not just a quick selfie or just a cheesy picture on the beach,” he said. “Bringing the family together is the big thing [and] having that special moment in front of 3,000 strangers.”
The revamped approach has proven effective thus far, Cameron said.
“We think that we are getting it in the right direction, but this is not the year where my wife and I are going to retire,” he said. “This is going to be a long process. It’s also going to take other forward thought.”
After purchasing one of two beach photography franchise licenses available to begin the season, with each permitting up to 15 employees to work the sands, positive revenue flow recently enabled the Camerons to reach pro-rated terms to secure the second license for the remainder of the summer.
“Then we’re going to be talking in September about what we actually want to do and how we can make it work,” he said. “It’s going to be a win-win for the city and for us.”
Although Cameron only anticipates breaking even this year, building the business remains the big picture goal.
“We need to show everyone that we’re serious and we think we can make a difference,” he said. “If we can do that I think we can get it where it needs to be.”