A Focus Feature on Owen Sound Lens Rental

Lens Rentals Canada is a local business that owes its national success to the age of the Internet. There’s a good chance however, that you’ve never heard of this flourishing Owen Sound business.  Lens Rentals Canada is not a retail store, but the country’s largest web-based rental company for camera equipment and accessories. They rent everything from camera bodies to specialty “pro” lenses, carbon fiber tripods and more.  Clients rent lenses and camera equipment on-line and courier services are used to send and return the rentals.

Craig Blair launched Lens Rentals Canada in 2007, as a part-time, on-line business.  It began at the retail store Foto Art in downtown Owen Sound.  It is now located in larger office space at the Technology Centre on 1st Avenue, West.  Craig’s wife, Theresa Blair, is President and co-owner of the business and is responsible for the day-to-day management.  Craig keeps a close watch on the business while pursuing other on-line business ventures.

Many of the customers wanted to try camera lenses before they purchased them.  Lenses can be very expensive.  It’s a big investment if the customer later finds out that the lens is not suitable for their needs.Why did you think your business could be successful?

We really had no idea.  It was just an idea that Craig had when he was working at Foto Art.  Many of the customers wanted to try camera lenses before they purchased them.  Lenses can be very expensive.  It’s a big investment if the customer later finds out that the lens is not suitable for their needs.  Craig started a very small lens rental web-based business often providing his own lenses for rent.  The response was immediate and within a month he knew it was a good idea.  We were surprised that it took off so quickly.

Was this conceived only as a web-based business?

It had to be.  There wasn’t enough local business in Grey-Bruce to make it viable.  Craig is a self-described photo, computer and Internet geek so this was a natural extension of his interests and passion.  He already had a website blog, Canon Rumors.  The blog discusses Canon camera equipment with over 25,000 followers.  The website has experienced 1 million unique visitors and serves 12 – 15 million pages. This was a natural base on which to create Lens Rentals Canada.

Who is your typical customer?

We primarily attract professional and serious amateur photographers who need special lenses for projects or activities such as weddings, news or sports events.  We often rent to the Toronto International Film Festival, small movie production companies, and film schools.  We ship across Canada and offer next day delivery.  Most of our customers are in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.  We offer a discounted weekend rental service to residents of Grey Bruce who pickup and return their rentals to our Owen Sound office.

Have you found it to be a competitive market?

It’s actually a very small niche market with little competition.  Large camera chain stores are designed to sell not rent lenses.  There appears to be just enough room in Canada for one provider offering excellent camera equipment that can be rented at a fair price.   That’s why we decided to concentrate on the Canon and Nikon product lines.

Both have outstanding reputations in the industry and are very popular with customers.  Our extensive inventory is added to almost daily.”

Why do you focus on renting lenses?

“We actually do rent more than lenses.  Lenses represent about 80% of our rentals while the remainder is tripods, camera bodies, speedlites, and accessories including carry bags.  Many photographers just own a camera body and basic lenses.  Their needs can vary and there are dozens of different speciality lenses including wide-angle, telephoto, super-telephoto, normal range, macro, tilt shift and tele-converter.   A single lens can cost over $1,000.  That’s why renting is a more affordable option.

Is maintaining inventory an issue?

Our customers depend on us to have the latest equipment in stock, and in excellent working condition.  That means we replace our equipment frequently and often post our used equipment for sale on our website.  Purchasers know they are buying equipment that has been well maintained for a very good price.

Although we are located downtown, we are not a retail store, so only our customers know we exist. Is Owen Sound a good place to run your business?

Although we are located downtown, we are not a retail store, so only our customers know we exist.  Owen Sound is a great place to live, but as a web-based business we could be located anywhere.  It’s a tight-knit business community and sometimes a business like ours that is out of the ordinary is viewed with disinterest.  Yet, the response from local photographers has been quite positive.

How do you plan to grow the market?

That’s a question we frequently ask ourselves.  There’s a real advantage to not growing.   We really like to know our customers.  I spend considerable time with customers helping to determine which lens best meet their needs.   Our support staff, Heather Woodhams, is very knowledgeable about photography and a real asset to our customers.  The larger we become the less time we’ll have with our customers.  Growing our market is not a priority.  We might add video gear to our inventory, but just staying current with the new Canon and Nikon products keeps us very busy.

As an entrepreneur is it hard to take a break from the business?

Summer is the busiest season of the year.  Holiday periods are less busy.  Craig and I love to travel and we try to get away two or three times a year.  We bring our cameras and often try out new equipment. combining business with pleasure.

Lens Rentals Canada
954 1st Ave. West
Owen Sound  Ontario

Monday – Thursday:
 9:00AM – 5:00PM EST
Friday: 9:00AM – 2:00PM EST
Saturday & Sunday: Closed


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