13 Years of Kamerastore

13 Years of Kamerastore

Lukuaika 10 minuuttia

As our company heads into its first teenage year, quantifying our achievements becomes a difficult task. The numbers can be so big that they’re hard to grasp, even for us. So let's not dwell on them, and instead focus on the lessons we’ve learned along the way.


Year 1 - The (Not-so-Silent) Majority Can Be Wrong

From the beginning, people were skeptical about our business plan. Why buy used cameras when new ones are cheap and good enough? Why buy film cameras at all? Will anyone want to buy something online without trying it out first?” echoed around in our heads.

While we agree that there can’t be a camera shop in every town, we were steadfast in our belief that one shop can serve the whole world if they do it well enough. Or at least Europe. We all start somewhere.

Year 2 - The Photography Community is Awesome

At this point, we were a small three-person team operating out of an old car repair office. Every day, though, we would bring our blue IKEA bags to the post office and send/pick up packages from all over the world. We were building trust in our local community and with our customers.

And it wasn't just about the community’s trust in us, but also our trust in ourselves. We learned new things about cameras every day, largely because the internet was (and still is!) full of information gathered, edited, and curated by community members.

Year 3 - The Internet is a Place for Connecting

With our online-first business, it only made sense to expand from sales into informational content. We made a 14-lesson course on photography and camera settings that, to this day, people thank us for at events. The materials we made back in 2013 are still used in schools and programs today.

Year 4 - People Love Bargains

Anyone who buys film cameras can tell you that a lot of the gear out there is in … less-than-ideal condition. With the scale at which we were buying, we found ourselves inundated with this low-quality gear that we weren’t capable of repairing. So we introduced the outlet.

It began as gear we would bring to events, bins of cameras, and lenses that we’d sell for under 10 Euros per piece. It was a win-win: we cleared out our office and our customers got a bargain. These outlet bins became an iconic part of our brand over the next few years, only moving online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nowadays, we sell this outlet material (along with other things) as Not Passed items. Since we do the work to check and test every item that passes through the store, this allows us to tell our customers exactly what they’re getting, even with slightly broken gear. Don’t worry, it’s still a great deal.

Year 5 - Testing with More than Our Ears

As our business grew, so did interest in film cameras. Our customer base was no longer only collectors but featured a growing group of everyday users. They rejected the convenience of modern digital cameras in favor of the slower approach afforded by analog photography.

These people care whether or not their cameras work, so we put our heads together. We ended up buying our first testing machine that year. It took us five years, but this small step set us down the path toward the world-class checking and testing procedures we employ today.

Year 6 - IT is hard (But Necessary)

Until this time, we had been flying by the seat of our pants. We were just a few young men, joking around and playing at being a real business. We bought cameras, checked that they were working, and sold them.

Our scale soon became an issue, and existing e-commerce platforms simply weren’t built for us. Whereas most stores can simply restock items when they run out, the unique nature of our used gear meant that we experienced tons of issues with existing online store providers.

So we built our own. This system evolved over the years into an entire internal database of testing, checking, pricing, and sales histories that we call Kortti. It’s the one tool we use most often, and the one we can’t live without.

Year 7 - Passing on Knowledge

To help us process more equipment, we bought out a repair shop in Helsinki. They’d been in business since the 1970s and had a master mechanic who was teaching younger apprentices. It all seemed good, like a natural fit for our business.

That is, until one day the master didn’t come in for work. His days of teaching and working were over, and a lot of knowledge left with him. The same thing was (and still is) happening all over the world. The time to pass down camera repair knowledge was upon us, so we got started right away.

Year 8 - Bringing Everyone Together

The first step was to bring all of our employees under one roof. Our master mechanic moved to our main office in Tampere and took on his first apprentices, and everyone in the company learned the basics of camera testing. We upped our standards across the board, making sure no item passed through the store without a full diagnostic check.

During this time, we’d also been working on the bigger picture. We funded the Camera Rescue project, which attempted to unite European analog repair shops and camera stores. There was a problem, though; they didn’t want to talk to one another. Repair people were mostly interested in repairs, and shops were mostly interested in sales. It seemed that, at that time, we were the only ones who saw the value in bringing them together at any kind of scale.

Year 9 - International Power

We’ve always sold our products internationally, first through eBay, then through our web platform. That’s not the same thing as having an international identity, though. It took until 2019 for us to hire our first full-time employees from outside of Finland. We fought immigration decisions in court, changed our company language to English, and learned how to navigate the delicate world of Finnish bureaucracy.

We also had our first round of summer interns, all international people who have gone on to do great things. One has their own shop, one has built their own rangefinder, and one designed the first totally new scanner for film labs since 2005.

Year 10 - We Got Lucky

2020 was a wild year to be a human. Around the world, people’s lives were turned upside down. People were suddenly unable to see their friends, family, or loved ones.

Here in Finland, we were already very practiced at social distancing and didn’t have many people to begin with, so it was a bit less wild than some other places. Because of this, we didn’t have to close and kept working in person the entire time. The most we had to do was separate the teams from each other to try to limit cross-contamination. It wasn’t easy to go without seeing our friends and colleagues, but it could have been much worse.

The business, though, thrived. People had a lot more free time to explore hobbies like photography. Many people needed an excuse to go outside without seeing people, and film photography gave them that freedom. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

We had loads of cameras in stock and were able to get them to the doorstep of any home in Europe for under 10 Euros and within 2-3 days. The online, international nature of our business meant we had to change very little compared with a lot of our competitors. We didn’t rely on people coming to our physical store to buy things and suddenly saw the value of creating our own online platform.

As they say, luck is created by the prepared.

Year 11 - Building a School

During the first ten years of our existence, we had learned (and passed down) so much that we sometimes called ourselves a school. You can learn a lot by doing, and we had done a lot of doing. International tax laws, e-commerce tech stacks, social media algorithms, and logistics optimization were all in the curriculum at this Kamerastore school.

It only made sense, then, to formalize this dedication to education. We started a camera technician school where students could come to learn the basics of over 170 years of photographic history as well as the fundamentals of testing, checking, and cleaning.

They say that teaching is a good way to assess your knowledge, and boy are they right. We knew all about learning passively on the job, but actively teaching a group of waiting students requires another skill set entirely. The process of developing these materials over three separate technician school classes has changed our company culture remarkably and led to over 10 new employees.

Year 12 - Values-First, in Life and Business

For us, 2022-23 was a bigger shock than the pandemic. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent shockwaves through all of Eastern Europe, including Finland. We share a tremendously large land border with Russia and many of our families still have scars from the last time the superpower invaded European territory. It was a scary time to be in Finland.

Not only that, but the entire European economy took a serious downturn during the early stages of the invasion. Our sales dried up and we had to stop producing our in-house Santa film (it was produced in Russia).

Even in the darkest days, we never laid someone off. Instead, we dedicated ourselves to education and committed to our employees and each other. We ended up moving some of our technician team, including some members of the first technician school, to be apprentices under our master mechanics. They’ve since learned to repair things like Nikon lenses, Rolleiflex cameras, and Canon AE-1s.

It was still, to put it mildly, a slow year for the secondhand camera market. It could have easily stalled our business and our mission to build an analog future, but it didn’t. Instead, we ended up hiring many new people and expanding our operations. How?

We diversified. When we canceled the black & white Santa film, we immediately began searching for a new film we could sell. When we found a color stock not associated with Russia, we jumped at the chance to bring it to market as Santacolor. We even hired four Ukrainian refugees to help us spool the film into recycled canisters. They still come in multiple days a week to help us keep up with demand.

Another success was the VALOI scanning brand. This series of modular film scanning accessories was the brainchild of one of our summer interns. He was able to bring it to market with a successful crowdfunding campaign, but by buying it outright and making it part of Kamerastore we were able to expand their production, funding, and scope.

Both of these projects are important to us for a number of reasons. One, of course, is that they’re profitable in the short term. But, perhaps more importantly, Santacolor and VALOI both attempt to secure the future of analog photography. If Fujifilm cancels more film stocks, we can still get Santacolor. As old Hakon scanners die out, VALOI will be there.

Plus, having people in the office who are familiar with manufacturing new products is a great help for solving the hardest problem on the film-camera horizon—keeping old cameras working for decades to come.

These projects were also microcosms of everything we’ve learned in our 13-year history. They show how supportive the community can be, the power of international alliance, the difficulty of setting up IT systems, and the value that comes from diversity, both in backgrounds and skill sets.

Year 13 - Looking to the Future

The world has been a tumultuous place for the past few years. So much so that we feel hesitant to give a confident prediction with how the future will look. And yet, we will continue.

Even if the future of film and analog photography may sometimes seem bleak, with rising prices, dying film stocks, and dwindling knowledge, there is always hope. New film stocks have come out, people are training to regain old knowledge, and even whispers of new film cameras from major manufacturers.

Our office is completely different from how it was two or three years ago. We used to be in a space that felt like an apartment, just a few people per room with creaky wooden floors. Now we’re in a veritable factory with an open floor plan and nearly 50 employees. We all care about film photography and are proud to be on the front lines to protect it. At the end of the day, a business isn’t about profit or product—it’s about people.

So we thank you for being with us through our history. Whether you’ve been a customer for a decade or are just visiting the site for the first time, you’re a valuable part of our history and we’re happy to have you here. Thanks for choosing Kamerastore.


This article was originally outlined by Juho Leppänen, co-founder of Kamerastore.

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