Ritz Camera snaps up a rival 140 Kits stores in 8 states in West, Southwest bought

November 26, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Ritz Camera Centers Inc., the nation's largest photo specialty chain, has acquired one of its biggest competitors in a move to strengthen its presence on the West Coast, the Beltsville-based retailer said yesterday.

The purchase of Kits Camera Inc. of Seattle gives Ritz 140 more stores -- for a total of 810 locations in 47 states. The sale, for an undisclosed amount, was closed Monday.

The deal is the latest in a recent series of acquisitions for the independent Ritz chain, which started as a portrait studio on the Atlantic City Boardwalk about 70 years ago and opened one of its first retail stores in Baltimore in the 1930s, said David Ritz, president and chief executive.

"It's a very good strategic fit for our company," Ritz said. "We've been a national company for some time, but we've never been in the Northwest. And it's a nice fill-in for us in the California area."

The Kits stores, located in eight Western and Southwestern states, will keep their name as part of the deal. As do Ritz stores, they offer one-hour photo processing and photographic, digital and wireless products.

Firoz Lalji, Kits president and chief executive, started the chain with four stores in Seattle in 1975. The specialty stores have faced competition over the years, first from catalog houses, then from discounters such as Wal-Mart.

"The industry's going through consolidation, and I'm at an age where I have other business interests," in computers and real estate, said Lalji, 50. "For me, this was an opportune time to make the change. I was delighted to go with Ritz, the largest in the U.S."

In the mid-1980s, Ritz operated fewer than 100 stores, specializing in photographic equipment, accessories and services.

Recent acquisitions have included the Camera Shops, a 25-store chain in New England; the Photo Machine, a four-store chain in Portland; and Perfecta Camera, a 24-store chain in New Hampshire. Ritz operates about 15 stores in the Baltimore area.

Ritz has carved a niche by catering to upscale, highly educated consumers while remaining price-competitive, said Ted Fox, operations officer with the Photo Marketing Association International, which represents 17,000 member photo retailers and photo processors. "They really understand the wants and needs of that customer."

"They've been growing steadily for quite some time," said Fox, who said the Kits deal "was a strategic acquisition which opened up the West Coast for Ritz. Ritz has had a presence in the West Coast, but with 140 stores of Kits, they really get market penetration."

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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