I first learned about B&H Photo, Video & Pro Audio from a mentor who worked at PBS (WNET in New York). B&H is right across the street from the WNET offices, and I went there to buy my first professional camera—this was about 16 years ago, and sad to say, it was a film camera, and the camera and camera company (CONTAX) are now out of business. B&H, on the other hand, is thriving. In fact, I went there just last week to find something I’d been looking for two years for. I found it. And was reminded that in a world of constantly advancing technology, there is no substitute for the human touch.
Let me explain how B&H works…. You enter. You pass security. They really check you out. No big bags allowed, and so forth. It’s two floors jam-packed with a festival of technology, from the simplest Hello Kitty camera and mouse to telescopes that will make you the hot sh*t king of the local observatory. Arrows and people in green vests and headphones guide you to your destination. Along the way, there are oval areas with strapped-down cameras and computers to test and try and examine, with a live person (or two) sitting in the middle to answer any and all questions.
Now let’s say you are serious about buying or have a real question (a.k.a not just browsing). You stand in one of dozens of lines based on the kind of equipment you are looking for. I stood in the “point-and-shoot camera” line. While the line seemed long, it moved quickly. After all, there were at least eight people behind the counter answering customer questions and fulfilling requests. It’s a sight to behold, and I have to say, they are brilliant at it.
So I walk up to a man who is like the oracle of B&H, and I ask him my question: “I am a blogger.” I begin with, “And I am looking for a point-and-shoot camera that takes better quality photos than my iPhone that I can use to email the photos directly from the camera.” I don’t want to wait until I find a computer, then find the freaking right cord, then download the photo then attach it and then email it. I want to email it right from the camera. Makes sense, right?
He speaks. “First of all, the iPhone camera lens is pretty good quality.”
“Is the 4G better than the 3G?”
“No, same lens.” OK, no need to upgrade my phone then. Good. He continues: “There is only one camera that you can email directly from the camera. It’s a Samsung.” He types some stuff into the computer system that is under glass under the counter. He reads the description. Then he brings over a camera for me to look at. Within minutes, I have decided to buy the camera and he has also sold me all the other things I might need to go with it. He has also asked me about what kind of blog I write, told me his wife would really love it and is totally organic, and I have given him my card to give to his wife so that she can visit my blog (Hi, Hannah!).
Then he hands me a receipt. This is where B&H gets crazy and awesome and smart. I take the receipt with me and he sends my stuff down to the checkout in a green plastic bin. If you want to buy something else (I do), you hand the receipt to the person at the counter, and he or she adds it to your order and prints out a new receipt. So when I am done, I go down to the massive checkout area and stand in line again. Once again, the line looks long but moves fast. One person takes my money (different lines for cash or credit), another person gives me my bags, and I pass another security team and I am back on the street with my stuff. The whole visit took only 20 or 30 minutes.
Back on 9th Avenue, I have to smile (even though I can’t get a cab). Where else could I find exactly what I am looking for so easily, and in an endless sea of technology feel like I really communicated with a human being who knew what he was talking about and could help me? I can totally respect what B&H has created, that is both advanced and traditional, massively efficient and yet totally human.
Check it out. I personally think it’s better than the Empire State Building.