Cover Story – Camera Corner Connecting Point is a digital dynamo

Posted on Apr 1, 2014 :: Cover Story
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
It all began with cameras, but today, Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay, leads a $57 million company that focuses on technology solutions for business. Photos by Shane Van Boxtel, Image Studios

It all began with cameras, but today, Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay, leads a $57 million company that focuses on technology solutions for business. Photos by Shane Van Boxtel, Image Studios

Don’t expect to find Rick Chernick in his office. The president and CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay logs about 50,000 miles in the air each year and business associates attest he’s always on the go. On the off chance he is there, you might find him downing his daily protein drink and vitamins, ready to start his jam-packed day, which usually starts around 5 a.m.

Chernick’s high energy level serves him well as he runs a business fueled by constant change. Though he cut his teeth and grew his business around cameras – and the word remains part of the name – retail sales, including cameras, now make up less than 5 percent of sales. Today, CCCP is a $57 million small business solutions provider, selling, servicing, training and maintaining all things digital for its clients.

Cameras have been part of Chernick’s life since 1967, when he joined his father’s retail business. And although he seems to always be looking ahead, Chernick never forgets how he got there.

Norman Chernick and fellow lawyer Bob Collins opened Camera Corner in 1953 at the southeast corner of Washington and Walnut streets in downtown Green Bay. In 1960, the business grew and moved to a building in the opposite corner. In the early 1960s, it added a second store as one of the first retailers to open on Green Bay’s Military Avenue. The west side location closed in 1988, when the business ventured into more outside and commercial sales and expanded into a new, 21,000 square-foot building at the northwest corner of Main and Monroe streets, which was eventually expanded to its current 28,000 square feet.

Chernick, who has a degree in business and marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, began working for his dad doing odd jobs until he worked his way up to sales and then, later, vice president. The company had three employees when he started. “I never thought we’d hit 20,” he says.

Technology, training trump camera sales

CCCP’s current 125 employees include service technicians, sales staff and engineers, a concierge to answer calls and greet visitors in the retail store, a floor staff selling everything from smart phones and

Members of the leadership team at Camera Corner Connecting Point include, from left: Ben Chernick, AV installation team manager; Rebecca Chernick, director of finance; Rick Chernick, CEO; and Ryan Chernick, vice president, NetAssist Managed Services Division.

Members of the leadership team at Camera Corner Connecting Point include, from left: Ben Chernick, AV installation team manager; Rebecca Chernick, director of finance; Rick Chernick, CEO; and Ryan Chernick, vice president, NetAssist Managed Services Division.

tablets to HD televisions and (yes!) cameras. The company’s main downtown location also includes a state-of-the-art classroom and data center with a managed services facility. (The 25 engineers work in a facility on Broadway in Green Bay.)

Even though retail now makes up a tiny part of the business, Chernick admits he still loves walking the retail showroom and “Digital Café,” seeing customers awestruck at high-tech offerings. Among the latest gadgets he likes to show off are the GoPro cameras that sports and racing fans buy to shoot video from their foreheads or other unlikely vantage points; the Phantom 2 Vision drones – which look like remote control mini planes and allow users to shoot videos for a bird’s-eye view; and a rugged, high-quality underwater camera popular with divers and ice fishermen.

“We want to be The Sharper Image of Green Bay,” Chernick quips. He’s always wondering, “What can we sell that’s different? The retail part is the fun part. You will always see people smiling. It’s a happy place.”

On the commercial side, relationships with local and national businesses are growing. The company posts an annual ranking of its top 50 corporate clients on the office walls as a point of pride and inspiration to employees and visiting clients. Among them are some of the region’s most familiar names in banking, health care, manufacturing, colleges and school districts. Its client roster includes KI, Schreiber Foods, Bellin Health, Green Bay Packaging, Breakthrough Fuel and Brown County, to name a few.

Today, CCCP is sharply and profitably focused on high-powered, sophisticated data solutions, including servers, workstations and storage, document management, AV systems, digital signage, video conferencing, business computers and more. It’s a path the company began in the 1980s, around the time his dad retired and Rick assumed the helm of president.

Clients value the long-term relationships they have developed with CCCP. John Tsang, a Hewlett-Packard sales director based in Downer’s Grove, Ill., uses a sports analogy to describe how important the business services provider is to him.

“We have partners that are in the starting lineup; we have partners we’re developing from a bench perspective; with Camera Corner Connecting Point, they’re not only in our starting lineup, they’re our franchise player.”

Chernick’s son, Ryan, vice president of CCCP, heads up the company’s data center and managed services division, in which the company manages networks for small and medium businesses, as well as schools, which may not have specialized IT departments. The managed services portion of the business nets more than $1 million in revenue per year. Ryan sees this division as one in which CCCP can really grow.

“Our engineering staff is second to none. The skill set for these network engineers is becoming so specialized,” says Ryan. “You need multiple skill sets. For a small business to have multiple engineers, it’s not possible.”

The digital umbrella

Camera Corner was honored in 1988 as the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year. The following year, it bought into the Connecting Point Computer Center franchise, mainly for its ability to sell brand names like HP, Compaq and IBM. It added the Connecting Point name to its moniker (CCCP is no longer affiliated with the now-defunct franchise). The affiliation opened up an entirely new world of possibilities for the new age of technology.

“We knew if we wanted to play in that field, we had to get to the big names. Without those top brands in the early days, no one would really talk to you,” Chernick says. “It really kick-started us to take off in the IT world.”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition for a company founded on film and paper – which now serves a younger generation all about texting and taking photos with their phones. That irony isn’t lost on Chernick. He gave his grandkids iPads for Christmas, yet he still wants them to unplug and go outside and build snowmen.

It’s all part of serving the 21st-century customer, whose home, business and entertainment lives are dominated by technology. To show off its menu of offerings, CCCP hosts an annual technology expo that brings together hundreds of vendors and more than 1,000 attendees. Exhibitors have called it the country’s largest technology show staged by a single dealer. Invited attendees look forward to the “secret” theme each year. One year, Chernick dressed as a flashy character from the old TV series “Lost in Space;” one year, he dressed as a cowboy and rode into the expo on a horse; another year, for a magic theme, the magician made Chernick temporarily disappear, only to reappear (much to the dismay of his employees, jokes CCCP Marketing Director Mary Phillips).What will the theme be at the invitation-only May 13 expo this year? It’s anybody’s guess.

One regular attendee is Bill Dyer, information systems coordinator at Green Bay Packaging.

“In our field, you have to stay on top of the technology trends,” Dyer says. “Often you have to travel to Chicago or Las Vegas to see all these vendors.” He finds the event especially cutting edge because CCCP stays on top of the trends and changing technology.

Another regular, John Guyer, director of technology for Summit Academy Management in Akron, Ohio, agrees that Chernick and his company go all out.

“What he does in a day is very comparable to what the state of Ohio does in three days,” he says. “Every year, his shows seem to deliver new content and updated technology. There’s always something new to learn.”

The show allows businesses to engage with new technology, as well as rub elbows with other corporate notables.

National scale, local touch

“Our customers are very talented people,” boasts Chernick, who sits on the Green Bay Packers board of directors (and, not surprisingly, decorates his office with Packers memorabilia and all things green and gold, including the carpet). Chernick’s clients feel the same way about his company.

Craig Dickman, CEO of Breakthrough Fuel, has worked with CCCP since the day he started the Green Bay fuel management company in 2005.

“We work with them because we believe we get the best overall value from them,” he says. “They have the quality of people and products to compete on a national scale and have the local touch that makes them easy to work with.”

CCCP works with Breakthrough on its computers, phones, video conferencing and more.

“They provide solutions that connect to how we do business,” Dickman says. “That means finding the product that fits our needs – examples include our giant touch-enabled tablet, the Infocus Mondopad and our digital signage – and, in some cases, that means building the right solution, such as the custom-built electronic collaboration center in our office. Either way, they support our ability to provide value for our clients.”

Guyer also realizes that value. CCCP supplies technology solutions for Summit Academy’s 26 state charter schools, which serve children with special needs. “Not only do I get a good, competitive price,” says Guyer, “I get exceptional service, whenever I need it. Whether it’s order processing or tech support, (Chernick) has the experts in house. He supports our mission and is proud to be part of our team.”

Those corporate relationships are, perhaps, one of the best tools Chernick has in his arsenal, especially in growing its relationship with longtime partner HP.

HP’s Tsang lauds CCCP, especially, for strong ties with customers. “It was key for us early on to develop tight relationships to grow the networking business. They’ve developed really deep relationships that span across the company,” he says. “That goes a long way when you’re trying to gain more market share.” CCCP ranks 74th out of 25,000 HP resellers.

“If you’re in the top 100, you’re a player,” says Chernick, a longtime member on HP’s reseller advisory council.

CCCP is one of only 300 HP Gold resellers in the United States and is one of the tech giant’s largest educational resellers in Wisconsin. Chernick values the relationship with HP, proudly dubbing HP CEO Meg Whitman one of the top execs in the world. “She makes the tough decisions,” he says.

One of those decisions was recently rolling out a partner commitment program to increase the profitability of vendors. Chernick spoke about Whitman in a February 2013 CRN article, “She is absolutely the real deal and has set it straight within HP, letting employees know they need to take care of the reseller. She is passionate in totally embracing the channel.”

In the CRN article, Chernick continued, “It is all about time and money. I want to focus more on where we are going to make money rather than waste our time. HP is all in … they are going to make the (reseller) programs easier to understand and simple so they can be used by everybody.”

That’s dedication HP appreciates as well. “At the end of the day, you want a partner who knows HP better than HP knows itself,” Tsang says.

Weathering challenges

Just as his father did before him, Chernick is dedicated to making sure the CCCP name endures and that he and all his employees stand behind the company’s mission of serving the customer.

Companies just hear the name CCCP and “they feel safe,” Chernick believes, adding that he is proud to touch every account. “I’m one of the CEOs who goes out and visits customers,” he says. “I love what I’m doing. My job is to continue to build relationships.”

To that end, he includes his home phone number on his business cards.

“You don’t know how good we are until you’re in trouble,” Chernick says. He has fielded service calls at night, even as he is pulling into his own driveway at the end of a long day.

That personal attention, from the top down, is just one way Chernick works hard to keep customers. He gives his staff a lot of credit as well, so hiring the right people is a human resources imperative.

“You must take care of the customer,” he stresses. “You either live the job or you don’t.” That’s a message that is often tough to sell to a workforce of Gen Xers and Millennials. “That next generation is a little different” in terms of work ethic, he believes.

“If you’re in sales, you better be checking your email at home. … I care, and I’ll put teeth in it.”

It’s not a ruthless approach; rather, it’s how Chernick chooses to empower his employees to become better at their jobs and, in turn, succeed.

“If you’re going to survive, you’ve got to have good people. We want you to work hard, but I’m not the warden of prisoners.”

Chernick thinks so highly of his staff, in fact, that no CCCP employees were laid off after the recession hit in 2008. “You can only cut so much,” he says, adding, however, that everyone was given a 10 percent pay cut to weather the storm.

Being honest with staff about tough times is a hallmark of Chernick’s. “You don’t survive 61 years BS-ing people,” he says.

Beyond the challenges of the recession, in 2008 CCCP’s main office sustained $1.5 million in damage when the company’s data center burned. Electrical equipment started the fire, contained to just one room, which contained all metal equipment. Seventy-five servers were destroyed. “That aged me,” Chernick recalls with a pained look on his face that shows the memory remains vivid for him.

At the time, CCCP hosted more than 1,000 websites. It took months to rebuild the center, but Chernick says every client was up and running within just eight days.

That essential mix of successful troubleshooting and customer service (combined with Chernick’s inherent charm, according to people who know him) has served CCCP well as it enters its sixth decade.

“He’s a very passionate, energetic person; he treats you not only as a valued customer, but as a friend,” Dyer says.

Modest as he may be, Chernick stands by three mottos that he expects all employees to adhere to: Work hard. Care. Have fun.

Those tenets, if executed correctly, will add up to CCCP being the best at what it does, Chernick believes. He often repeats the phrase that’s emblazoned on a wall in the CCCP offices.

“We aren’t the best because we are the oldest; we are the oldest because we are the best!”

It started with a ‘click’

Rick Chernick knows better than anyone that “every picture has a memory.”

That’s why it’s no surprise the walls of his modest office are covered, ceiling to floor, with framed photographs. And, perhaps not surprisingly, Chernick still prints and sends – via snail mail – photographs to business clients and contacts.

“I like pictures,” Chernick says matter of factly. “I like to share pictures.”

And he loves being surrounded by pictures. On that wall of “moment in time” photos are titans of business, community bigwigs, personal friends, his children and grandchildren and, of course, his father, Norman, who started it all…with a camera.

While the company has expanded far beyond cameras today, you can still buy a camera at CCCP. Besides GoPro and Phantom 2 Vision (drone video) cameras, popular new items are zoom or wide-angle lenses to attach to a smart phone camera. As Chernick admits, “The world of photography has changed” since he sold his first Kodak Instamatic.