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Vivitar Splits Into 2 to Sharpen Focus on Computer Imaging

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the nearly 60 years Vivitar Corp. has been in business, the company has worked--successfully--to establish itself as a leading manufacturer of photographic equipment.

But officials of the Newbury Park-based operation have decided that a little revamping is in order if they are to keep up with the high-tech times and strengthen their hold on the market.

To accomplish this, Vivitar officials have reorganized the privately held company, splitting it into two independent operations--the photographic and optics division and the electronics and digital imaging division.

“We are now two companies under one roof,” said Alex Wijnen, who under the new structure is president and chief executive of Vivitar. Wijnen had served as the company’s chief operating officer since 1994.

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“Over the past 18 months, we have developed a number of products that, while they have to do with image and pictures, have very little to do with photography,” Wijnen said. “They have to do with digital imaging or videoconferencing and are driven much more by whatever the computer industry does than what is happening in the photo industry.”

The reorganization, he said, should enable the company to maintain a high profile in both industries.

“This allows us to do marketing, sourcing, development and sales for cameras, lenses and tripods and to do the same for digital imaging,” Wijnen said. “If we were to look at it from a geographic perspective, the biggest upside for the digital [products] will be in the USA, and for the photographic products internationally.”

Along with Wijnen’s change of job title, Victor Chernick, formerly the company’s chief executive, has moved to chairman of Vivitar. Mark Legg, the former chief financial officer, has taken over Wijnen’s role as chief operating officer.

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Chuck Peralta, a 24-year veteran of Vivitar, will head the photo and optics division, with Robert MacFarlane heading the imaging section.

Wijnen said the focus of the photographic division will be much like Vivitar’s focus has been for years, with extra emphasis on expanding the company’s presence in the international marketplace.

“Even though it is a new division, very little has or will change for the people who already are selling our photo products,” he said. “But there will be more of a focus on international opportunities than in the past, expanding to Southeast Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.”

But for the folks in Vivitar’s digital imaging division, it will hardly be business as usual.

“It is beginning with all the excitement and enthusiasm that we have for anything new,” Wijnen said. “We’re finding new dealers, new sales representatives and hopefully new sales.”

Wijnen and colleagues were trying to drum up some of those new sales last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company showed off some of its existing digital items and unveiled new products.

Among those products is the VCC (videoconferencing camera), which can be hooked up to a multimedia personal computer. With the use of a regular telephone line, the system will allow users to speak with and see each other. The suggested retail price of the system ranges from about $300 to $500.

Another new product is the ViviCam 2000, a digital point-and-shoot camera that can deliver images directly into a personal computer. Vivitar also manufactures scanners, motion picture film cameras and printers that operate with the camera. The suggested retail price is about $300.

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“Digital imaging is a new business that we believe is just starting to develop,” Wijnen said. “Clearly we’re starting at a low level, but the market will really take off in the next three or four years. We are all preparing for the time when you find not only a PC in every household, but also a digital imaging system in every household.”

The company shuffling comes just four months after Vivitar’s parent company, U.K.-based Gestetner PLC, sold Vivitar to the Plaza Create Co. Ltd. of Japan. Plaza Create purchased all Vivitar operations including divisions in the United States, Canada, the U.K., France, China and Japan.

Wijnen said the purchase of the corporation by a Japanese company will give a boost to Vivitar’s move into the overseas market.

“We often looked at selling photo products in the Japanese marketplace but never got a foothold in there,” he said. “Our new owner is in the photo business and has 700 to 800 photofinishing businesses.”

In November, Vivitar began selling 35mm point-and-shoot compact cameras in Japan.


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