THE MARKET FOR second-hand photographic gear has grown enormously over the past decade, thanks to the ease with which it’s now possible to move on and upgrade kit that’s no longer required. One of the prime movers behind this trend has been used specialist MPB, whose founder and CEO Matt Barker was exasperated by how complicated the selling and buying process was back in the day.
His vision in 2011 conceived a simplified model that would make life easier and safer for all concerned. Since that time the company has grown to become the leading player in a market that’s presents photographers with the opportunity to acquire kit that, when new, would potentially have been out of their price range. Along the way it’s also helping to put products back into circulation that would, at best, have languished at the back of a cupboard somewhere or could even have ended up adding to the unwanted mountain of electrical waste piling up that requires recycling.
“I saw a gap in the market for a model where we could become an ecommerce player for second-hand photographic kit,” says Matt. “After the first five years we’d reached a position where we were a leading platform on choice, price and service and had acquired a really good reputation in terms of keeping people happy whether they were buying or selling. From 2016 onwards we started getting investment into the business that internationalised it and it allowed us to build a lot of the tech we required to reach the scale where we’re at now.
“The range of kit we can offer these days is formidable and it’s all been photographed, described and checked individually. There’s something for everyone in terms of value and choice: we’ve now got around 7000 different products that can be bought and sold using a smartphone, and we can price you right down to the last memory card, filter or battery. That’s important because it makes it so much easier for people to sell the full range of products that they don’t happen to be using any more.”
Back into Circulation
While the question of sustainability wasn’t the primary focus of MPB when it was first set up Matt has always had an issue with unnecessary waste and the knowledge that gear was being given a new lease of life via the secondhand route was personally satisfying. As we all start to become ever more environmentally aware, however, things have moved on and the whole issue of recirculating used photographic equipment has now reached centre stage.
Around the world the realisation has dawned that it’s simply not appropriate or necessary to upgrade to something that’s brand new every two years or so and to simply dump kit that might still potentially have years of useful service ahead of it. Any business model that makes it easier and safer to trade up has got to be welcomed and MPB now finds itself at the forefront of a movement that sees individuals taking much more interest in their personal footprint and looking closer at the companies they choose to do business with.
“The last few years has seen people in general making conscious and explicit purchasing decisions about what they’re buying and from whom,” says Matt. “And that’s not specific to photographic equipment but right across the board, everything from food to clothing. And that’s been accelerated by the pandemic, which has made so many people realise that what we have is pretty precious and needs to be looked after.
“It’s changed so many things. I wouldn’t have said to you back in 2011 that the second-hand market for photographic kit could ever be bigger than the new market, but looking at it now I believe that
this could actually happen at some stage in the future.”
Matt relishes the fact that the photographic business, unlike so many other industries, is actually very backwards compatible. “You take lenses for example,” he says. “If they’re well looked after they can go on for years, and there are Canon and Nikon examples dating back to the 1980s that will still work perfectly well with the very latest cameras. And that means that these items don’t have to go to waste, and that’s something that’s worth celebrating.”
While buying and selling used kit might now have become such a key part of the thinking of many professional photographers who are looking to run more sustainable businesses, MPB itself is also taking on board the realisation that more could be done, and a green approach is fundamental to the thinking of the company. Following a review into the packaging being used, everything that’s sent out is now plastic free, while the company is currently in the process of looking at its inbound waste and working out how it might be possible to reduce to zero the amount that’s being sent to landfill by the end of next year.
“These are tough objectives,” admits Matt. “We’ve just hired a very experienced head of sustainability who starts with us in December and it’s going to be a very senior position in the company. They will be fully tasked with looking at every part of what we do as a business and they’ll be putting together a ten-year plan that will enable us to become even more sustainable as we move forward.
“It’s just so important, and I believe passionately that all business owners, from single-person operators through to big multinationals need to be thinking about this. It’s about every single decision and managing sustainable growth, investment and even hiring decisions to increase diversity. We need to be thoughtful about what we do and look to build long term businesses that will be here for the future.”
© 2021, Professional Photo Magazine and Respective content owners.. All rights reserved.