Saul and Howard Frank take a leap into the digital future while staying true to their retail roots
A LIFETIME surrounded by gadgets and technology, and years of retail experience in the city centre, provided brothers Saul and Howard Frank with the confidence to launch their new store, Wanderlust, last November.
Located in one of Perth’s oldest shopping arcades and fronting Hay Street, Wanderlust offers just about every gadget you could think of (and some you probably couldn’t), from lightweight e-bikes to pocket-sized projectors and state-of-the-art underwater drones.
With the help of family, friends and suppliers, the Franks were able to take the store from concept to opening in just five weeks.
Wanderlust, a German word meaning a strong desire to travel, emerged from the brothers’ experiences at Camera Electronic, a camera repair business the Frank family has operated for half a century.
Saul and Howard said they came up with the idea to launch the store in August last year but wanted it to be open ahead of November’s Black Friday sales, Christmas, and Boxing Day.
“People thought it was crazy, but you’ve got to move faster than your competitors,” Saul said.
“The minute they [competitors] hear you’re doing something, they’re onto it.
“No-one has really been stocking this kind of technology in Perth, and we wanted to give people an opportunity to come and see the products for themselves.”
The launch of the store coincided with Tourism WA’s ‘Wander out Yonder’ campaign, which boosted the popularity of travel photography on social media and photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram.
But the store’s inception also followed unprecedented challenges for the retail sector in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdown, reduced consumer spending, and ongoing restrictions reducing foot traffic and crippling many bricksand-mortar stores.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, electronic goods retailing has been among the sectors worst hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic, with the purchase of electronic goods falling 15.5 per cent last year.
The challenges for retailers in Perth’s CBD have been exacerbated by dwindling office occupancy rates and a significant shift towards more flexible working arrangements, with the latest report from the nation’s peak property council confirming that one fifth of Perth’s CBD office stock is considered vacant.
As seasoned tech retailers, however, the Franks feel that the heart of Perth remains strong.
“There’s a lot of doom and gloom and people saying that the city is dead, but this festive season felt like one of the strongest we’ve had,” Saul said.
“We’re so passionate about Perth, about retail and about technology and innovation that we wholeheartedly believed that, if we built it, they would come; and they did, in droves.
“Strategically, we knew it was in a good location and that we were offering quality products.
“We all love shopping online, but there is nothing better than coming to see it in person, getting friendly, knowledgeable service, and being able to buy it on the spot and support locals.
“Most people would rather do that most of the time.
“Repairs, rentals, sales: we’re a well-rounded service.
“That also helped us to have the confidence to do something like this.
“For all the challenges we had in retail in 2020, people still want to see new things, they want to get excited about trying something new.”
Wanderlust is already differentiating itself as the exclusive outlet for a number of Australian brands, becoming the first to retail smart headphone brand Nuheara, and stocking and offering repairs for surfboard company Fliteboard’s latest e-foil surfboard.
The vast majority of the store’s customers visit the store in person to see and purchase the technology firsthand, with online sales accounting for just 15 per cent of turnover.
For Saul and Howard, photography is very much part of their DNA, a legacy passed on by their father, Ronald.
The concept store is just a stone’s throw from Camera Electronic’s Murray Street store, which opened in 2016 and offers new and used equipment, on-site printing, scanning, trade-ins, and a selection of film.
Ronald Frank established Camera Electronic Service from his home in the late 1960s before opening a shop front in 1971.
The pair spent much of their youth in the store, playing in the darkroom and watching their father repair second-hand equipment.
“He was an amazing technician,” Saul said. “He could repair just about anything to do with photography, and he gained a reputation for that.
“Photography, it’s just in our blood.”
Saul officially began working for the company at the age of 14, spending his Saturdays learning the business operation from the ground up.
After graduating high school and travelling, he worked in the family’s store during the day and attended TAFE classes each night, making prints in the darkroom on the mezzanine floor until the early hours of the morning.
Howard also remembers being captivated by the technology.
“We grew up with a real love for old-school photography and the magic of watching an image appear in the darkroom, just the way we were taught by dad,” Howard said.
“We definitely inherited his love of dealing with people, trading and bargaining with people.”
Howard went to university to study business before returning to work in the shop, training in electronic servicing and working in repairs for more than seven years before learning the financial side of the operation as it moved to its new Stirling Street premises.
While the business had provided a comfortable life for the Frank family, Saul and Howard said they realised the importance of growing and evolving with the technology, and that if they were to continue with the company it would need to support their families as well as several staff.
“Dad was amazing in the film days, but we knew we needed to grow and evolve and take on new technology,” Howard told Business News.
“We took on the new digital technology while still honouring our heritage of service, repairs, rentals and trade-ins.
“Now, someone will start with their phone as their first point-and-shoot camera and then, as they get better at it, they can trade that in or get something else.
“We take people through that journey and work with camera enthusiasts and professionals to do that. “We’ve constantly diversified in order to maintain our relevance and also give people what they want.”
In 2008, Ronald retired and handed the running of the company to his two sons, having grown the business to the point that is now one of WA’s most well-known imaging businesses.
During the past 15 years, the brothers have travelled extensively, attending trade shows and industry conferences in a bid to bring the best in technology to Perth.
In 2010, Camera Electronic opened its education affiliate partner, Shoot Photography Workshops, beside its Stirling Street premises, hosting educational courses for photography enthusiasts.
In 2015, it launched and hosted Photo Live Expo, Australia’s largest consumer photographic expo.
By the following year the event had doubled in size, drawing 3,000 attendees each day.
The Franks have been keen to ensure the business retains its family-oriented roots, with former employees from the 1990s being re-employed and most staff having an average tenure of seven years.
With the success of their first pop-up concept store, Saul and Howard believe they have more to offer.
“We’ve called it Wanderlust Perth, but who knows where it will take us,” Howard said.
“Perhaps we’ll open stores over east or continue opening other pop-up shops around Perth, but ideally we’d like to stay in the heart of the city.
“We’re passionate about giving people something new and exciting that they wouldn’t have seen anywhere else and we’re constantly looking at new technology; it’s a really fun job.
“We believe Wanderlust will be here for a long time to come.”