To say that Emir and I spent a ridiculous amount of time at B&H's flagship store in Manhattan on Sunday, would be an embarrassing understatement. When I say ridiculous, I mean… We were there for over four hours. Trying to decide between Canon's G12 and S95, we stayed busy testing every conceivable camera body/camera bag combination we could come up with, trying to think of every imaginable shooting situation we might encounter while traveling, hanging out with friends, or just in daily life when I might not have have (nor want) my 5DmII with me. It was my first time seeing the store live and in person, and I'll admit… I was giddy. Emir laughed while I exhibited a child-like wonder that easily rivaled any kid's first visit to Disneyland, which is not as far fetched as you would think.
There were doormen, greeters and even drinks and snacks… all from staff who, in their matching green B&H vests, literally resembled little green elves, delivering holiday joy with three simple words, "Welcome to B&H!"
As we wandered our way through the entrance, the impressive signage made finding what we were looking for easier than spotting a costumed character in the Magic Kingdom. Over 235,000 different items, and I could get to what I was looking for in a matter of seconds. Unbelievable.
Eventually, the dreaded announcements began. "Ladies & gentlemen, B&H will be closing in 45 minutes." Followed by, "Ladies and gentlemen, B&H will be closing in 15 minutes." Finally, they started turning the lights off (literally) and we were forced to leave. We did have a Broadway show to catch, so I guess it was good that they kicked us out, or I'm sure we would've missed it.
As we made our way to the front door with our order ticket in hand, we were awe struck by the famed B&H over-head conveyor-belt system as it magically delivered items from the stock room to the check-out counter, just for us.
It seems silly to think that a 'super warehouse' of camera goods could be considered a 'featured attraction' in a city as jam packed with entertainment and cultural treasures as New York, but… it just is. Or, at least, it was... to me. :)
I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes them so different from the countless 'camera/computer/electronic' stores the line 5th Avenue and Broadway anywhere from 32nd to 48th Street. Why is B&H so monstrously huge, successful, and efficiently well-run, while other stores seem to struggle (despite the fact that one of them managed to get $35 out of me for a 4G SD card--arg!)?
Does it all stem from a single wise decision made waaaay back in the day when they first started? Is it related to personal connections and good negotiations that eventually lead to a loyal client base that exponentially expanded? Maybe it's just the unbeatable combination of great product knowledge, easy accessibility and a company culture that is reminiscent of everyone's mysterious and aloof uncle that you can't help but love.
The guys who answer the phones are hands-down my favorite. The way they say, "B&H, how can I help you?" in their thick New York accents with only faint interest but intense efficiency, makes me laugh every time I think of it. (I once got wrapped up into a long and detailed personal conversation with one of them, who I later ran into at an event in Kansas City… and he remembered me. By name.)
Might be worth taking the kids. Maybe you could convince them that it's Disney's Magic Kingdom of the northeast?