Topeka, KAN – In the age of online shoppers, with big stores like Toys ‘R’ Us closing for good, it can seem like the end times for old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. For many small businesses, business has never been better. That’s definitely been the case for Wolfe’s Camera in Topeka.
Wolfe’s Camera was established on Kansas Avenue in 1924 by Harold B. Wolfe. Harold Wolfe’s nephew, Mike Worswick, is now the CEO.
“I’ve been with the company since 1972, I actually started when I was 13,” Worswick said. “It’s a third-generation family business.”
Having a company that has lasted 94 years has been no easy feat. Wolfe’s has had to change with the times on several occasions, sometimes learning to sell audio equipment, sometimes having to learn to teach customers to use editing software. However, the focus has been the same.
“Our root has always been getting people the pictures they would like to have,” Worswick said. “Everything else has been a flow from that.”
Wolfe’s may have kept the aim similar for the near-century they’ve been in business, but there have been other changes that have happened outside of their control. Namely: competition.
When it comes to modern retail, competition means one thing: online shopping. Trends in retail have leaned more and more toward online retailers like Amazon every year. Wolfe’s, which does sell a number of products online, themselves, says they know how to keep the customers from simply ordering from online stores. Putting it bluntly: Worswick believes the key is in the expertise of his employees.
“We have professionals here who have been doing photography for 30 years,” Worswick said. “Going online to look at reviews from who-knows-who and deciding on a camera that way is not necessarily the best way to do your research.”
Even with this in mind, Wolfe’s has another big problem to contend with: cell phones. Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone, with one of the biggest selling points for smartphones being high-quality built-in cameras.
According to Worswick, this is an issue, but not a significant one.
“It’s easy to make a picture. It’s not easy to make a good picture,” Worswick said. “If you only had a microwave oven, you could survive, food-wise, but your steak is not going to be as good.”
Even through the obstacles of a changing market, Wolfe’s will be turning 100 in a few years and the company intends to do so in the same location where it has been for so long. According to Worswick, the secret to the success of the company comes down to two factors: passion and quality.
“We are passionate about helping people preserve memories,” Worswick said. “We want customers to get good pictures. That’s what it’s all about.”
Wolfe’s is open Monday through Saturday at its Kansas Avenue location.