I often find myself in shops in big cities and airports when I’m ready to buy my next toy, but I’m hesitant because I’m not yet certain. The trouble with chains and franchises is that you’re usually being served by a spotty teenager whose understanding of a ‘good quality point-and-shoot’ is a pump-action-water-pistol. Photography is my hobby so my knowledge comes from my little experience, magazines, blogs and online reviews. When I’m in a shop, I’m almost sure of what I’m buying and if I’m still thinking, I need a little help. I don’t want to get there only to hear someone read the product description from the box. I’m there to see the item in real life, feel it and perhaps hear an opinion about other potential options. I don’t want to waste my time, nor feel obliged to buy something, just because I answered the dreadful question: ‘Can I help you?’. No you can’t… and no I would not like fries with that!
Amateur photographers fall into a strange customer segment. Our world of shopping is polarised between a shop whose product knowledge (and stock) is limited, and the virtual world where nothing can be touched nor tested. There are of course exceptions: you don’t need to touch a battery, this can be bought online, and there are some chains with very professional sales people who’ve been trained to explain things better… BUT I’m often in and out of a shop in city far away for a maximum of thirty minutes… and I usually get the water-pistol guy!
Two weeks ago I was in London on business. I arrived in the evening, hired a car the next morning, drove to the east coast for a meeting, back to London in the afternoon and flew home that same night. With such a small window, I needed a shop. A real one. With people. I remembered my last experience (back in 2009) when I visited Grays of Westminster, which is arguably the best store for Nikon worldwide,. I went there to buy a replacement lens hood and a battery grip both of which were almost impossible to find anywhere in London.
This time I wanted to buy an every-day lens and a wide angle lens. The former to replace my 18-200, and the latter is something I really missed when I was in Turkey! 18mm is not wide enough for inside a beautiful church or a mosque so I thought it may be time for a wider angle. I emailed Grays asking about stock availability. I had a nice positive reply the following morning so I stopped there before heading to the airport.
This shop is mainly aimed at professionals, but you’re made to feel welcome regardless of your knowledge (and budget). You can hear from professionals who know the cameras and the lenses better than anyone I have access to. They listen to your need and try to match it with the best option – offering second-hand options if available. They have a history with Nikon and they know every accessory, lens and camera body. My focus (sorry) is only on digital, but this shop covers it all. They have two publications, a gazette and a quarterly magazine. The gazette is available for download from their website. Speaking of their website, they have a great virtual tour (where the image above was taken from) and a few interesting links. The shop itself is small enough to be personal and large enough to hold the vast stock they maintain. Their second-hand section is a real treat even if you’re not looking for anything specific. I was in and out of the shop having tried the lenses, made my purchase and got the VAT reclaim forms filled. I was there for less than an hour! When I checked in (foursquare) I added the comment: ‘My Hamleys’. Now that I reflect to write this post today, I can’t think of a better description. If you’re in London and you’re a Nikon user, this really is a must-stop.
Story and image excerpted from: http://utterrelease.com/blog/2011/4/29/grays-of-westminster.html