Saved by a Dragon: UK’s Jessops photography store chain gets a second chance


posted Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:18 AM EST


When it comes to a knight in shining armor few would have expected Peter Jones, multi-millionaire and star of England’s “Dragons’ Den,” to be one. Known for his tough interrogation and relentless dismantling of would-be entrepreneurs' dreams, he is apparently a pussycat rather than a dragon, when it comes to photography.

The reopening of a few shuttered Jessops shops and the salvation of the nearly 100-year old brand, is a small ray of sunshine in the island’s ocean of debt and business failures. England needs all the sunshine it can get these days. Buried in bad economic news and snow, facing a bitter cold spell that could last easily into April, Jessops' return is a small miracle.

We have followed the saga of the downward spiral of Jessops, once the British Isles' largest photography chain, on Imaging Resource in previous stories, and there seemed little hope for the hundreds of empty photo stores on “high streets” across the country. Even Jones had originally said that his only interest was to move the chain’s name online.

However, Jones has now announced the re-opening of 30 of Jessops 187 stores and the rehiring of at least 300 of its nearly 1400 former employees. Jones is a tough businessman and he has made it clear that he isn’t approaching the resurrection of Jessops lightly.

Beside investing £5 million (USD$7.5 million) of his personal fortune into the project, he will also serve as chairman and chief executive of the chain, even hinting to “Den” fans, that with the “certain” success of the revived chain, he might have to leave the popular TV show.

As he told the Guradian (UK):

"I'll struggle to do both this and Dragons' Den. I'm going to have to see. However, I'm very committed to Dragons and the BBC and have been there since the beginning, so they might not be able to get rid of me."

He also explained how he got involved in the Jessops story:

"I was abroad in January when I heard Jessops had gone down and was shocked because I had only bought a Canon camera for Tara [his partner] in November. When I got back to the UK I immediately put the calls in, culminating in several all-night negotiation sessions, but I was absolutely determined to get the business because it was such an iconic brand of which I was a customer."

Currently six stores have reopened in urban centers including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Aberdeen, and Jones expects all 30 to be open by the end of April.

Two months ago, when Jones tweeted that he had bought the company, he was deluged by CVs from former employees: "Store managers were saying: 'If you ever need somebody let me know,' and we just started making contact. I've never been overly emotional in business, but these guys are genuinely passionate about their jobs and are all photographers in their spare time."

However, the rehired staff will not be returning to what was their fathers’ Jessops. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, the new Jessops will be sleek and something of a photography boutique, with polished wooden floors, branded employee tees and product presentation areas.  

Jones is also going ahead with an updating of Jessops' online presence. The Jessops website will be re-launched as a “click-and-collect” operation. Customers will be able to purchase their gear online but they will generally have to pick up their purchases at brick and mortar locations, where Jessops staff will be offering customers expert assistance.  

As one rehired manager put it, "The high street has suffered from online shopping for many years, but I think customers still want the experience of going into a store and getting expert advice."

Personally, I hope he is right.

Check out a BBC video interview with Jones below where he discusses his "excitement" about re-opening the Jessops stores.

Get Adobe Flash player