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Spector Photo Group N.V. Business Information, Profile, and History

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Company Perspectives

The mission of Spector Photo Group is to help consumers enjoy audiovisual experiences and to capture emotional moments in order to revive them and cherish them. In fulfilling its mission, Spector Photo Group will also create added value for its shareholders, its staff members and all other stakeholders, as well as for the community in which it operates.

Spector Photo Group has two core activities, each structured in a separate division: the Retail Group and the Imaging Group.

The overall strategy followed by Spector Photo Group involves retaining its two core activities within the group but developing each using separate tactics.

History of Spector Photo Group N.V.

Belgium's Spector Photo Group N.V. has established a major presence in the European digital media market through its two core divisions: Retail Group and Imaging Group. The company's Retail Group operates more than 165 stores under the Photo Hall (in Belgium and Hungary) and Hifi International (in Luxembourg and France) names. The group's retail offering focuses on consumer electronics and multimedia products, including cellular telephones, digital and analog cameras and accessories, computer products, and other audiovisual products. Belgium is the group's largest retail market, with 95 stores, followed by Hungary, with 52 company-owned stores. The Retail Group generated 55 percent of Spector Photo Group's total revenues of nearly EUR 350 million ($420 million) in 2005. Spector's Imaging Group, which is structured under subsidiary Photomedia N.V., offers analog and digital processing services both through retail and online channels. The company's core brand in this unit is its ExtraFilm mail-order and online film processing business, which directly serves customers in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, and Australia, and, since 2006, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Austria. Through its web site, ExtraFilm is able to accept orders from around the world. Other brands include the group's business-to-business brands Spector and Kodak Images, limited to the Benelux market, and the business-to-business-to-consumer e-commerce brand Wisiti in Belgium and France. The Benelux market contributes 33.5 percent of this division's sales, while France adds 26 percent and the Scandinavian markets nearly 24 percent. Spector Photo Group is listed on the Euronext Brussels Stock Exchange, and is led by Chairman Luc Vansteenkiste and Managing Director Tonny Van Doorslaer.

Brotherly Beginnings in 1964

Brothers Georges and Jules de Buck, and their brother-in-law Jérôme Mussche, were already active in the photo business in the early 1960s, with each operating his own photo studio and store in Wetteren, in Belgium. The development of a consumer color film market in the early 1960s led the brothers to join together to invest in their own color processing facility. The new company, founded in 1964, took the initials of their family names to form DBM Color N.V.

As an early entrant in the color processing market, DBM grew quickly through the 1960s and 1970s, emerging as the Belgian leader in the sector. In the mid-1970s, the company began developing a new logo, the Spector bird, which began appearing in independent photo shops utilizing DBM Color's services. In 1977, the company formally launched the Spector brand name, which became the group's main business-to-business brand.

The next generation of the family took over the business in 1980, led by Johan Mussche. As a market leader in Belgium, the company began to target international expansion, while also seeking to expand its operations to provide direct consumer operations. The company's first move internationally came in 1982, when DBM Color began serving the Netherlands market. Later that same year, the company entered France with the creation of ExtraFilm France, in a joint venture with ExtraFilm in Sweden. That company, founded by Lennart Sjögren, had been a pioneer in the European mail-order film processing market, deriving its name from its policy of including an extra roll of film with each processed film order. The French ExtraFilm operation also enabled DBM Color to offer direct to consumers film processing services. DBM and ExtraFilm's partnership soon extended the ExtraFilm franchise to the Netherlands market as well. Back at home, DBM strengthened its position with a new 24-hour film processing guarantee.

By 1986, DBM Color's sales had topped BEF 400 million. In that year, the company, which remained entirely family owned, brought in its first outside director, Tonny Van Doorslaer, who had been working for Kredietbank before joining DBM as its financial director. The addition of Van Doorslaer was part of the De Buck and Mussche family's effort to "de-familiarize" the family-owned business. Van Doorslaer quickly became a close ally and business partner to Johan Mussche, providing the financial structure for Mussche's strategic leadership.

The threat that a foreign company might buy Aalst-based Tecnocrome, DBM's chief Belgian rival, led it to acquire that company in 1988. This purchase was followed in 1989 by the acquisition of Fotronic, which acted as the importer of Noritsu-made minilabs for the Belgian market. The addition of Fotronic gave DBM further control of the Belgian film processing market, where its market share soon rose past 50 percent. By 1991, the company had extended its Noritsu minilab concession through the acquisition of Sacap, the Noritsu importer for the French market.

European Breakthrough in 1990

By then, DBM had risen to the front ranks of the European film processing market. Over the preceding decade, DBM had continued to build up its relationship with ExtraFilm in Sweden. In 1990, ExtraFilm agreed to be acquired by DBM, a move that placed the Sjögren family as the company's majority shareholder. In 1992, the de Buck, Mussche, and Sjögren families, together with a number of other investors, pooled their shareholdings into a new company, Fotoinvest.

The acquisition of ExtraFilm led DBM to change its name, to International Photo Group in 1991. By then, too, the company had acquired a listed company, Promoinvest, which provided the company with a backdoor to its own listing on the Brussels Stock Exchange. Following the Promoinvest acquisition in 1991, the company launched a restructuring of its operations, shedding the noncore holdings of Promoinvest. The completion of the restructuring effort, which lasted through 1993, was marked by the adoption of a new company name, Spector Photo Group, that year.

Having multiplied its turnover by more than ten times (the company's sales topped BEF 4 billion in the early 1990s), Spector began to plot the next phase of its expansion. International growth remained a focus for the company. This led the group back to France in 1994, when it acquired French counterpart Racine. That company was the second largest player in the French film processing market and, like Spector, had remained an independent operation competing against integrated groups such as Kodak and Fuji.

Spector entered a new market in 1995, when it bought a 70 percent stake in Austria's Bilderland, part owned by Switzerland-based home electronics retailing cooperative Interdiscount Group. That same year, Spector formed a partnership with Interdiscount to extend the ExtraFilm service to Switzerland.

By then, Spector had begun exploring ways of extending its operations into the retail sector. The company's relationship with Interdiscount provided the group with the opportunity it sought. In 1996, Spector agreed to acquire much of Interdiscount's international holdings, including Belgian consumer electronics retailer Photo Hall, and its counterparts in Hungary (Föfoto) and Germany and the Czech Republic (Photo Porst). The company also took full control of both Bilderland and ExtraFilm Switzerland in that deal.

The acquisition of Photo Hall in particular helped transform the company into a leading retailer in the Benelux market. Photo Hall had been founded in 1933 in Blankeberge, on the Belgian coast. The company initially sold photographs to vacationers (still a rare luxury at the time) and quickly developed a chain of 20 shops along the coast. Photo Hall also entered the Brussels market, opening a chain of 12 photo studios specialized in children's portraits. Over the next decade, the company's operations increasingly focused on retail sales of cameras and equipment. Into the 1970s, the company expanded its range into the wider consumer electronics segment. Photo Hall was acquired by Interdiscount in two stages between 1986 and 1993.

Meeting the Digital Challenge in the New Century

Photo Hall quickly became the centerpiece of Spector's retail offering--all the more so because of the steady losses at the Photo Porst chain. The company expanded its Benelux operations, buying up Luxembourg consumer electronics retail leader Hifi International, which also operated in France. In that year, Spector launched Photo Hall in its own public offering, listing 54 percent of its shares on the Brussels Stock Exchange.

By then, Spector also had been developing its mail-order photographic processing operations. This division was boosted through the purchase of Maxicolor, a mail-order film processing firm serving the European market, in 1996. Also in that year, Spector became one of the first in Europe to launch an e-commerce digital photo processing site. In 1999, the company formed a new division for its e-commerce and digital processing operations, ahead of an expected boom in both the Internet and digital photography markets.

Spector stumbled, however, as it moved into the beginning of the 2000s. Continued losses in the group's operations in Germany had begun to hurt the group's overall performance. By 2001, the company was forced to sell its bankrupt retail operations in Germany. At the same time, the company decided to withdraw from the wholesale markets in both Germany and France. The company suffered more bad news that year when longtime leader Johan Mussche died after a long illness. His place was taken by longtime partner Van Doorslaer, and Luc Vansteenkiste was named company chairman.

Spector's restructuring continued into 2002, with the sale of its wholesale processing operation in Austria. The company also bought back 100 percent control of Photo Hall, removing its listing from the Brussels Stock Exchange. Following the bankruptcy of its German subsidiary, Spector decided to rebrand the Photo Porst retail chain in Hungary, which included 50 stores operated by Spector's Föfoto subsidiary and another 237 franchised shops, with the Photo Hall format. The rebranding also included a broadening of the Hungarian stores' product assortment, in line with the more than 3,500 items typically carried by a Photo Hall store.

Spector's retail operations became all the more important for the company into the mid-decade. The sudden boom in the digital photography market--and the concurrent rise of home photo printing systems--placed the group's own photo processing operations under pressure. As prices on digital cameras continued to drop into the mid-decade, Spector took steps to meet the challenges of the new market. In late 2005, the company restructured its operations into two core divisions, Retail Group and Imaging Group. The company by then had transferred its Swiss and French mail-order processing operations to its main lab in Wetteren, shutting down its facility in Munster, France.

At the same time, Spector began actively seeking out new partnerships to position itself at the center of the digital printing revolution. In January 2005, for example, the company announced an agreement with Fujifilm that placed ExtraFilm as the recommended printing group in Fujifilm's digital camera software bundle in the French, German, Spanish, and U.K. markets. In June of that year, the company launched its own software package enabling customers to create photo cards and albums for processing by ExtraFilm. Then in February 2006, the company reached a new market when it formed a partnership with Picasa, the digital photo service offered by Google, providing click-through service to ExtraFilm from Google's Belgian, French, Scandinavian, German, Italian, Netherlands, Swiss, and Spanish sites. Spector Photo Group appeared prepared to meet the challenges of the new digital photography revolution in the new century.

Principal Subsidiaries

Alexander Photo S.A. (Luxembourg); DBM Color N.V.; Digital Photoworks Ltd. (Extra Film Australia); Edro Bvba Be; Extra Film A/S (Norway); Extra Film AB (Sweden); Extra Film AG (Switzerland); Extra Film Austria GmbH; Extra Film Belgium N.V.; Extra Film Denmark A/S; Extra Film Europe N.V.; Extra Film Finland Oy; Extra Film France S.A.; Extra Film Logistics AG (Switzerland); Extra Film Nederland B.V.; Filmobel N.V.; Flt S.p.A. (Italy); Föfoto Kft. (Hungary); Fotocoop N.V.; Fotronic S.A.; Hifi International S.A. (Luxembourg); Litto-Color B.V. (Netherlands); Litto-Color N.V. (Belgium); Litto-Color S.A.R.L. (France); Maxicolor France S.A.; Photo Hall France S.A.R.L.; Photo Hall Multimedia N.V.; Photo Holdings Ireland Ltd.; Photomedia N.V.; Spector Nederland B.V.

Principal Competitors

Dixons Group PLC; Valora Holding AG; AGFA-Gevaert AG; Intres B.V.; CeWe Color Holding AG; Photo-Me International PLC; Niedermeyer GmbH; Laboratoires Kodak; Valora Imaging; BAC Color B.V.; Fujicolor AB; FOTOLAB A.S.


  • Key Dates
  • 1964 The DBM Color film processing laboratory is founded in Wetteren, Belgium.
  • 1977 The Spector brand name is launched.
  • 1982 DBM Color partners with Sweden's ExtraFilm to launch the ExtraFilm France mail-order film processing business.
  • 1988 DBM Color acquires Belgian rival Tecnocrome, solidifying its lead in the Belgian market.
  • 1989 DBM Color acquires Fotronic, importer of minilabs for the Belgian market.
  • 1990 DBM takes over ExtraFilm, and changes its name to International Photo Group.
  • 1993 The company acquires publicly listed Promoinvest and changes its name to Spector Photo Group.
  • 1994 The company acquires French counterpart Racine, the second largest independent photo processor in France.
  • 1996 The company acquires Photo Hall (Belgium) and Photo Porst (Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary) consumer electronics retail operations from Interdiscount.
  • 1998 Photo Hall acquires Hifi International in Luxembourg and goes public on the Brussels Stock Exchange.
  • 2001 Spector divests the bankrupt Photo Porst in Germany and the Czech Republic and rebrands its Hungarian retail operations as Photo Hall.
  • 2002 Spector takes back full control of Photo Hall.
  • 2005 The company restructures into two core divisions, Retail Group and Imaging Group.
  • 2006 Spector forms a click-through partnership with Google's Picasa photo service as part of a repositioning for the digital photo and multimedia markets.

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