BOARDMAN, Ohio – YM Camera President Jim Yankush says he often receives misplaced sympathy from friends who assume his business is on its last leg.
“They’ll put their hand on my shoulders and say, ‘With these cellphones you’re probably not selling any cameras, right?’ They’re looking for me to cry on their shoulders but it’s the opposite,” Yankush says.
While the predominance of cellphones and their rapidly improving cameras has cost the camera shop many of the casual photographers, the market among hobbyists, semiprofessionals and professionals has exploded, he says.
YM Camera in Boardman had its best year ever in 2021 and Yankush says it’s on pace to beat that this year: “We’re seeing tremendous growth.”
Online sales are driving the growth, as are members of younger generations who, Yankush says, are rediscovering a love for photography.
“You wouldn’t believe the film that we’re selling now,” he says.
In many ways, the business has come full circle from when Jim’s father, Pete Yankush, opened it in 1951.
Then called Youngstown Microfilm, the business took records from local hospitals and transferred them to microfilm.
“He was always a photo enthusiast and he had access to buy Honeywell Pentax cameras at cost,” Yankush says. “Before you know it, we were selling all Pentax cameras. That was in the early ’70s.”
Jim helped out at the store through high school and college and began working there full time after he graduated from Youngstown State University.
In 1986, he opened a satellite store, still called Youngstown Microfilm, down the street from its current location on U.S. Route 224 in Boardman. He closed the microfilm shop and changed the name to YM Camera in 2008.
Soon after, Jim’s son Robby graduated from college and began pursuing a job in marketing. Jim asked him to join the family business instead, which he did in 2015.
“Family business is very important to me, so I turned down those offers and came back home. I combatted the brain drain; so I’m very proud of myself,” Robby says.
After a year of learning the business, Yankush began to look for ways to expand its online presence, relying heavily on his marketing experience.
“The No. 1 thing was engaging with social media in an effective way,” Robby says. “Nobody wants to see ads. They want to see content. You don’t buy from YM Camera. You buy from Robby or Missy or Jim from YM Camera. Really let the personalities shine through.”
Since 2018, online sales have been rising and YM Camera now sells products all over the country.
To separate itself from the competition, Yankush says it offers free shipping, makes its staff available to answer questions about shipping and always answers the phone.
“I think people are shocked when they call that it’s not a robot or a person at a call center,” he says.
The main difference, however, the father and son agree, is the experience a customer gets when he comes to the store. “You want to nurture that customer instead of just putting it in a box and sending it out,” Jim says.
While online sales are growing, Yankush says the majority of business still comes from in-store purchases.
Besides new cameras and equipment, YM Camera also offers used products and rentals. “Used is huge for us,” Jim says.
“You can get a $3,000 camera for as little as $150 for the weekend. People really enjoy that,” adds Robby.
To increase its standing as a resource for the photo community, YM Camera renovated the upper floor of its shop in 2018 where the Yankushes hold classes on lighting, shot composition and other topics related to photography.
And while they take trade-ins every day, three times a year the business hosts Cash for Cameras, where people can get cash for their used equipment or the cash equivalent plus 10% in-store credit.
Yankush says 60% of people at these events choose to buy new equipment, “and there’s usually a line outside.”
Jim says the average price of a new camera at the shop is between $800 and $1,200. More and more, though, it’s the high-end products that are selling.
“Nikon has a $5,500 Z9 camera and we can’t get enough of them,” the father says. “It’s like the more expensive it is, the hotter it is.”
Like many businesses, YM Camera is experiencing some difficulty getting products but Yankush says the relationships he’s developed over the years with big manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon have allowed him to keep fresh merchandise on his store shelves.
“Believe it or not, we’re a top-25 Nikon dealer in the country,” he says.
While YM Camera shut down the store during the pandemic, Robby took the opportunity to clean up its website and invest in more robust software to bolster online sales.
The Yankushes also made it easier for people to buy a camera by implementing curbside pickup and increasing financing options. “It really gave me time to expand some of our accessibility options,” Robby says.
He encourages anyone with a question about photography to come in and ask, no matter how minor the question seems. “Any step of your photography or videography, we’re here for the easy questions,” he says.
And that, he says, is the foundation for the business moving forward: less time chasing the big sales and more making a connection with their customers.
“I don’t think a business can survive on just the sentiment of shop local,” Robby says.
He reflects for a moment.
“You need to provide value. That’s the main goal I’m going for.”
Pictured at top: Jim and Robby Yankush stand behind the counter at YM Camera in Boardman.