Camera Corner Connecting Point ‘Family’ Celebrates 70th Birthday
‘This is about all the great people that are part of the Camera Corner Connecting Point family, those that have been with our team and have come and gone, and our customers and loyal vendor friends,’ said Camera Corner Connecting Point CEO Rick Chernick. ‘We have always embraced our vendors. If you love them and respect them and they love and respect you, you are going to do better for your customers.’
Camera Corner Connecting Point CEO Rick Chernick couldn’t help but think Wednesday morning just how fortunate he was that his dad, Norman Chernick, opened up a camera store 70 years ago today in downtown Green Bay, Wisc.
“My dad grew up with nothing,” said Rick Chernick, recalling his dad’s roots growing up during the Depression and then fighting in Africa and Europe in World War II. “He was a lawyer in his thirties who wanted to follow his dream to open a retail camera store because that was his hobby. Had he not done that, I don’t know where I would be.”
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Norman Chernick started Camera Corner because of his passion for photography, but the lessons of hard work and taking care of customers, employees and vendors are still the heart and soul of the “family” business, which is now part of the ACP CreativIT “family” of technology solution providers.
“It is extraordinary to be part of a company that has such longevity and deep roots in its community—and in technology,” said ACP CreativIT CEO Matt Zafirovski in an email to employees honoring Norman, Rick and Rick’s son, Ryan Chernick, who is president of Camera Corner Connecting Point and oversees the biggest sales organization in the company. “It is a feat to survive, to adapt, and to continually win. To that point, last year, CCCP hit record revenue and gross profit figures, all while doing it with a dynamic and energetic culture.”
The Driving Force Behind The Camera Corner Connecting Point Transformation
Zafirovski also paid tribute to Rick Chernick, the driving force behind Camera Corner’s transformation into a cloud computing and managed services powerhouse with $80 million in revenue and 160 employees.
“There is no Camera Corner Connecting Point without Norm’s son, Rick, taking the ball and running the company to unimaginable heights,” wrote Zafirovski. “When Rick joined the business, there were only three employees! In the late ’80s, he launched a B2B business that has become the market leader in Northern Wisconsin, without ever losing the retail storefront that continues to be a hallmark in the Green Bay community.”
Norman started Camera Corner as a small 800-square-foot store in downtown Green Bay after getting $2,000 in funding from Kellogg-Citizens National Bank (later Associated Bank) President Jake Rose.
Rick Chernick started working at the store as a 16-year-old freshman in high school because he wanted to buy a car. “I didn’t have any money other than cutting lawns and paper routes,” he said. “We had nothing. I was happy to go to work and hustle.”
He remembers going to early photo marketing association conferences at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago going down the long aisles at the conference visting camera companies like Eastman Kodak, Olympus and others who are no longer in business .
At the time, Camera Corner Connecting Point would combine its purchases with another family-run camera store, Beauchamp’s Camera Corner, in Marquette, Mich., which is no longer in business, to get a volume discount in order to have more competitive pricing.
“We were a small operation,” Rick Chernick said. “We combined our purchases so we could get a better deal. We would take 60 percent of the buy and they would take 40 percent. At the time, I would look at the big stores like 47th Street Photo and say, ‘How can we ever get that big?’ Now those stores are all gone.”
After working for two years to afford his own car, he continued to work at the camera store. “The rest is history,” he said. “You just worked. You did everything, You wore 10 hats. There was no one job. We did everything. We washed windows and vacuumed. We stocked shelves, sold cameras and changed the displays. We did it all. We used to eat pizza at the counter when the customers came in because there was no one there to give you a break.”
Meeting Apple Co-Founders Steve Jobs And Steve Wozniak
Rick Chernick recalls his dad being at an audio-visual show where Apple Co-Founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were manning a booth recruiting Apple resellers. “My dad walked right by the booth and asked them, ‘What are you guys doing here?’” said Rick Chernick. “They were showing off a wooden box. My Dad told them ‘I have seen 100 like you come and go.’ That was the wrong answer. We could have been one of the first to sign up for Apple.”
Years later, it was Rick Chernick who made the move to get Camera Corner into the PC business with the likes of Columbia and Leading Edge, IBM compatibles, and Franklin, an Apple-compatible computer. Eventually, Camera Corner became an Apple-authorized education reseller. “That was how we got our start in the PC business,” he said.
Camera Corner built that Apple business into a huge retail business. “We were killing it with Apple IIe’s, Apple IIc’s and Macintoshes,” he said. “It was so much fun.”
Camera Corner became a member of Connecting Point Computer Center in 1989, providing it with all important medallions to resell IBM, Compaq and Hewlett Packard systems. “I joined Connecting Point for $10,000, and that enabled us to buy from them,” he said. “That same year in 1989, I also opened a new store that we are in today with a classroom and a big service department. That was when we went after corporate business and education business. So we were in computers and audio-visual equipment. The rest is history. We are still in cameras, but it is a very small part of our business.”
Rick Chernick recalls Camera Corner hitting $1 million, which included a massive $300,000 order for data cartridges, when he bought the business from his dad in 1984. “Back in the day that was huge,” he said. “That was a big number to hit. Most businesses never see $1 million in revenue or even make it past five to 10 years.”
The secret to 70 years of success is hard work and always going above and beyond to take care of customers, vendors and employees, he said. “It’s a three-pronged stool,” he said. “If you try to do one of those things, you will fail. Your vendors, customers and employees are the most important ingredients you have. They all have to get along.”
Rick Chernick stressed that the success that the company celebrates today goes far beyond the Chernick family. “This is no Rick or Ryan or Norman Chernick thing,” he said. “This is about all the great people that are part of the Camera Corner Connecting Point family, those that have been with our team and have come and gone, and our customers and loyal vendor friends. We have always embraced our vendors. If you love them and respect them and they love and respect you, you are going to do better for your customers. When you have a problem, the vendors are going to take care of you.”
He said he lives and breathes 24 hours a day, seven days a week the credo to take care of customers, employees and vendors as “family.” That credo extends to making Camera Corner Connecting Point a “fun place to work,” he said.
Making Camera Corner Connecting Point A ‘Fun Place’ To Be
“You need to make it a fun place to be,” he said. “Culture is the most important thing. Even though we have gotten bigger I fight like the 300 Spartan leader King Leonidas to keep it fun. You need to put smiles on people’s faces and make them love their job. Employees have a choice. They don’t have to come to work for me. It isn’t just about the money. They go to where they like the people and the environment, and they are respected and loved.”
Zafirovski, who is looking forward to celebrating the milestone with a summer barbeque, echoed that sentiment in his note to ACP CreativIT employees.
“While we celebrate and honor three generations of many Chernicks working in, leading, and owning the business, they would each be the first to say that there would be no CCCP without each of you and the hundreds of dedicated and loyal colleagues who have walked our halls and fought for our clients and worked together with a common purpose over these past 70 years,” said Zafirovski. “As I have said before, our company is simply a collection of people who have chosen to be here, to serve our clients, to hopefully be part of a company culture that aspires to be different from competitors—and to be part of a winning team.”
Rick Chernick, for his part, said he is still charged up to come to work each and everyday. “I just flew back from Ohio to visit customers,” he said. “I got back at 10 PM last night. I love it. I enjoy our customers, employees and vendors immensely.”
In fact, he said, he is fueled by the deep love and friendships that he formed with employees, vendors and especially customers. “You gotta love your customers,” he said. “You have got to care about them. You have to call them on their birthday. When they are sick, you have to call them and let them know you are praying for them. You have to ask how can you help them. And you need to do it for the right reason.”
He looks forward to the many visits and dinners he has with customers. “You need to truly care about the customer and make sure the products and services you sell help their business,” he said.
He did not take time away from the business to mark the 70th birthday milestone. He had a full day ahead as he rushed to get off the phone to meet with one of his largest customers. “I gotta run,” he said. “I’m looking forward to keeping the streak alive for many years.”
70th Birthday Tributes
Throughout the day, there was a flood of emails congratulating him on Camera Corner Connecting Point’s 70th birthday.
Dan Baar, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise channel partner business manager, said it has been a “privilege and an honor” to have partnered with Rick Chernick and the entire CCCP organization for the last 36 years. “An IT/HP/HPE/Green Bay/Wisc./International /Icon,” he wrote in an email that Rick Chernick shared with CRN. “Congratulations my friend, and best wishes for the next 70 years.”
Lisa Messner, an HP partner business manager for Camera Corner Connecting Point for 26 years, said most of her favorite Compaq and HPE memories involve Rick Chernick and Camera Corner Connecting Point. “I’m so blessed that I have been able to be your rep all of these years,” she wrote. “Keep the passion, and you can never leave me!!”
As for what his dad would have felt about all the accolades the company is receiving on its 70th birthday, Rick Chernick said: “My dad worked hard. He spent a lot of nights trying to build a business. I was just fortunate enough to have a door open for me. I took something I fell in love with and built it up. I think I made him proud.”