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How Best Buy can learn from B&H Photo

New York's top photography store provides a clinic on how to sell tech gear.

As part of cutbacks, Best Buy closed down one of its Manhattan stores in 2012 and covered the company's logo with a black tarp. Greg Sandoval/CNET

This is how you sell tech gear:

Yesterday I walked into B&H Photo in New York, which claims to be the country's largest non-chain camera store, and asked one of the many sales representatives if he was an expert on tripods. He smiled and responded: "It's a ball and three legs so you really don't need to be an expert."

I told him I needed to upgrade my tripod and he showed me how to get more life out of my old one. A few weeks ago, a B&H sales person helped me understand the right way to clean my sensor and even spent time advising me on lenses, neutral density filters, and about snapping pics of Monument Valley.

No hard sell. No shrugging off questions and moving on to the next customer. Yesterday I left the store, which was founded in 1973, the way I typically do: relieved that I didn't have to spend a lot of money and more excited about my still relatively new hobby. B&H isn't just a good camera store. Managers there are masters at retail.

I couldn't help thinking that Best Buy, the struggling technology chain based in Minneapolis, could learn from these guys. The past year has been a disaster for Best Buy. The company has lost market share to online retailers. When it comes to the shopping experience Best Buy offers, ask anyone about it and you're likely to hear about how hard it is to find salespeople and almost impossible to find someone who is knowledgeable.

Best Buy has of course also been hamstrung by distracting side shows. Brian Dunn, the former CEO, resigned following a company investigation into a questionable relationship he entered into with an employee. Then, after losing his chairmanship because of the Dunn matter, founder Dick Schulze is trying to acquire the company but the amount he's offered so far isn't close to enticing investors. This morning, the company's shares traded at $11.46, not far off the 52-week low of $11.20.

B&H is a favorite of New York shutterbugs and indeed attracts camera-wielding tourists from all over the world. Few retailers treat their customers better. Greg Sandoval/CNET

One strategy might be for the company to go back to spending on employee training and retention and creating more enticing showrooms. If the online stores are going to undercut Best Buy on price, then the chain should concentrate on creating a superior shopping experience. TVs, PCs, computer tablets, cell phones, cameras and other gear are a passion for many consumers but understanding how to get the most out of them isn't always easy.

Best Buy could benefit by becoming an information hub as well as an outlet for these consumer goods. Best Buy's sales reps should try to help customers understand their purchases and be given the time to do it.

The strategy seems to be working for B&H. Yesterday, the store was a mob scene, but as usual, there was plenty of staff and checking out was a breeze.