Ricoh announces major restructuring – is Pentax about to be reborn or are they just dying?

Jan 21, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Ricoh announces major restructuring – is Pentax about to be reborn or are they just dying?

Jan 21, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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This announcement applies to Ricoh Japan only. For a statement from Ricoh USA, see the bottom of this post.

Ricoh, more specifically its Pentax brand of cameras, seem to have been particularly stuck in the past over the last few years. As every other single surviving camera manufacturer has made the transition to mirrorless, Pentax is still clinging onto its DSLRs. But is Pentax, as well as sister brand GR and parent brand Ricoh in more trouble than we thought?

A new press release from the company seems to suggest that they are struggling somewhat, but that they plan to do something about it, starting on April 1st. They’ve announced a major restructure of the company, stopping the mass-production of cameras and switching to a “workshop like” manufacturing process to strengthen the bond with its customers as well as promoting new Pentax and GR products in the coming future.

Ricoh Imaging will be reborn -Making full use of “digital” methods to connect directly with customers and “workshop-like” manufacturing to become a brand that is valuable in the future

Ricoh Imaging Co., Ltd. (President: Noboru Akahane) will renew the manufacturing and sales system in Japan for the digital camera business on April 1, 2022. We will build a new business structure that enhances the two brand values ​​of PENTAX and GR, connects directly with customers by making full use of “digital” methods, and further sharpens and deepens the attractiveness of both brands through “workshop-like” manufacturing. ..

The company hasn’t really specified exactly what they mean by “workshop-like”, but it suggests that they’re going slightly more bespoke in their manufacturing process with a “made-to-order” custom camera mindset to cater to the exact needs of their customers rather than developing and producing cameras for the mass market – of which they obviously don’t own any kind of noteworthy chunk anymore. Either that or they’re replacing their workers with Santa’s elves.

Message from Noboru Akahane, President and CEO

Until now, we have been doing business while feeling the strong feelings of our customers for the PENTAX and GR brands. While I would like to respond to that desire as much as possible, I feel that the conventional method based on mass production and mass sales is becoming less accustomed to the recent changes in the market environment.

But the activity of people taking pictures, sharing them, and having fun is rather endless. We will take on new paths together with our customers while politely responding to such diversified needs of our customers.

Ricoh Imaging takes on “two challenges”.

  1. Get close to customers by making full use of “digital” methods
  2. Realize “workshop-like” manufacturing

Beyond the conventional wisdom, we believe in the strong feelings of our customers for both PENTAX and GR brands, and will develop as a manufacturer that walks together and creates together.

In short, they don’t feel mass production is working with “recent changes in the market environment” and, well, yeah, for Pentax they’re probably right – even if it seems to be working for Sony, Canon and even Nikon. Of course, even with Nikon’s dwindling sales over the last few years, they’re still shifting a lot more units and are a lot more commonplace than Pentax, so the mass production route still works for them.

Ricoh does address their “two challenges” in a little more detail in the press release.

Concrete efforts for “two challenges”

Strengthening relationships with customers by making full use of “digital” methods and “workshop-like” manufacturing (delivering what you want to those who want it. Enhancing user communication)

We will strengthen the online / offline contact points between Ricoh Imaging and our customers more than ever, and build a co-creation community that connects with each customer and activates mutual communication.

In the future, we will expand opportunities for customers all over Japan to experience a wide range of PENTAX / GR cameras and products.

[PENTAX brand]
PENTAX has gained the support of customers, mainly single-lens reflex cameras. We will expand the range of various customizations to further reflect the needs of our customers and provide workshop value. In addition, we will build a system that enables manufacturing together with customers from the product planning stage through communication through online fan meetings.

[GR brand]
GR sticks to the concept of “the strongest snap shooter” and pursues the universal value of snaps. We will make a clear distinction from the spec competition, thoroughly pursue optimization for snapshot shooting, and propose cameras that are particular about high image quality, operability, and portability. In order to connect directly with customers and create a snap culture, we will focus on revitalizing the fan community through social media and interacting through offline events to strengthen two-way relationships.

Shift to “digital” sales methods and “workshop-like” production (strengthening Ricoh imaging stores, opening directly managed malls in major marketplaces)

We will shift from a sales method centered on the distribution network via retail stores to sales via the Internet to improve the efficiency of business operations. In addition to our own EC direct sales site, we will develop directly managed malls in major marketplaces to expand opportunities and places where Ricoh Imaging and customers can directly connect. In addition, by utilizing digital sales methods, we can grasp the demand of the market in more detail and realize the optimum production that is different from the conventional mass production / mass sales model. At the same time, by directly contacting customers, we aim to reflect customer feedback in manufacturing more than ever and provide products that are more attractive to customers.

  • Strengthening the Ricoh Imaging Store (EC direct sales site) As the brand value of PENTAX and GR deepens, we will enhance independent content and utilize it as a place for two-way communication with customers.
  • Opening directly managed malls in major marketplaces We will open directly managed malls for PENTAX and GR in major marketplaces on the Internet. By doing so, we will increase the points of contact with our customers and expand their purchasing opportunities and opportunities for communication.

Exactly what this will mean for the future of Pentax DSLRs in the real world is unclear, but the fact that they need to restructure so massively, with a whole new approach to the market, suggests they’re in some pretty deep trouble right now. And while the Ricoh GR brand of cameras are very popular amongst street photographers, they’re still lagging behind mirrorless cameras and much of the competition’s compact cameras in terms of sales.

While Pentax might not be dead quite yet, they’ve been on life support for a while with little hope of attracting new customers into the Pentax flock. In fact, if anything, many of the Pentax shooters I know have moved away from Pentax and switched to other systems over the last few years.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of Ricoh’s Theta 360° camera brand in the press release. while the original Ricoh Theta might’ve been revolutionary when it was first released, it seems to have lagged behind the competition from Insta360 and GoPro in recent years – if the number of reviews on various camera models are any indication. Exactly what will happen to the Theta brand is unknown.

It would be nice to see Pentax make a triumphant comeback, but I can’t see it happening.

Update: A statement from Ricoh America clarifies a few things and confirms that the new “workshop-like” announcement only relates to Ricoh Japan and does not apply to Ricoh’s efforts throughout the rest of the world. Ricoh will not be ending mass production and sales, but will instead be adding to its current distribution methods within Japan only. The statement reads as follows:

The announcement made by Ricoh Imaging Co., Ltd. on January 20, 2022 regarding a revamped approach to Ricoh’s digital camera manufacturing and distribution was specific to the local market in Japan only. “Ricoh/Pentax will not change its distribution structure in North America, and the company has significant plans and goals for the North America market this year that will utilize mass production of its products,” said Kazumichi Eguchi, President, Ricoh Imaging Americas Corporation. “Customers in North America can continue to purchase Ricoh and Pentax cameras through our authorized dealers and directly via our website: https://us.ricoh-imaging.com/.”

– Ricoh USA

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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