By the mid 80s I had 6 Kodak reps. From amateur film, pro film, photo lab papers and chemistry, pro digital cameras, photo lab equipment, the list seems expansive. Kodak offered almost everything you would need, and they were the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Whatever they wanted they would buy or do. If you were a big enough retailer or photo lab, then Kodak would throw money at you to have a bigger share of your pie. In return for carrying more product they would subsidize many different things. Displays for your retail floor, photo lab equipment, reduced pricing on photo lab papers and chemistries, and more.
If you were a retailer then you probably were at PMA. This is a convention for those retailers in the photo industry. Photo Marketing Association. This was THE place to be to see and experience all of the new photo products for the coming year. Kodak would have a HUGE amount of floor space. Yellow was everywhere. And for a time they had working relationships with Nikon, Canon, Noritsu and many other photo companies. They were a force to be reckoned with.
Every year at PMA they would have a evening party for their retailers. One year they rented the ballroom at the Hilton in Las Vegas. Ice sculptures with champagne flowing over it. Stewards in white carving roast beef with all the trimmings. Shrimp the size of your hand. We are talking about a huge event. Probably cost them millions. And now they wish they had that money back.
I think the change started in the late 90s with the quick shift to digital from film. Kodak was caught flat footed. They were still trying to push their APS cartridge films and cameras and lost sight of what the industry was doing. Too late to the party was Kodak. They had always made decent cameras, but they tended to sell low end type models found in the big box stores. Many of the better camera shops didn’t carry Kodak cameras, except if they needed to fill a low price point. Forget anything that needed a removable lens. Kodak didn’t do it. Once upon a time they had partnered with Nikon and Canon to produce some nice SLRs. But Canon and Nikon learned from them and then started producing their own designs.
Kodak had its own sensor factory though. These sensors were used by many other camera companies. Leica bought their sensors from Kodak. This was a good money maker for Kodak. They just sold that part of the business to an investment firm from California. And Kodak is selling of more and more of its patent portfolio (Link) to stay afloat.
Kodak is now an empty shell of what it was. Their stock is trading around $1. Rumors persist as to their demise. We will see if Kodak can pull a rabbit from the hat and stay in business. I hope they can. They made good stuff mostly. Now they will have to reinvent themselves. And that takes money they don’t have.
01/19/2012. And now they are bankrupt!
And now I’m watching to see what Olympus will become. (Link)