Unique Photo, New Jersey’s largest retail camera store and center for photography education, was named a first runner-up in the 26th annual New Jersey Family Business of the Year for 2018 by the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University. The award was recently accepted by Alexander Sweetwood, Unique Photo CEO, at a ceremony celebrated at the Crystal Plaza in Livingston.
“This award is such a great honor for our family, our staff, and the community we have been a part of for so many years,” said Sweetwood.
The Rothman Institute recognizes family firms that best exemplify strong business acumen, active family engagement, innovation and community involvement.
Unique Photo was founded 71 years ago by Bernard Sweetwood, the son of Russian immigrants, who was driven by a lifelong passion for photography and the American Dream. He began as a portrait photographer but quickly set his sights on building a bigger business. With his new bride Harriet by his side, the couple opened a wholesale photographic supply store that would take them from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, to one of the most successful wholesale and retail businesses of its kind.
Enviable accounts with Macy’s and Westinghouse Electric Company solidified Unique Photo’s future as an industry leader. The path to that success was not without its roadblocks, but through the determination of the Sweetwood family, and a clear vision for the future, Unique Photo grew beyond what even Bernard believed was possible.
Today, Unique Photo’s flagship showroom in Fairfield, is the largest camera store and center for photography education in the Garden State. The 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility was conceived of by Jonathan and Matthew Sweetwood, sons of Bernard and Harriet, who took over the family business after obtaining advanced degrees from Seton Hall Law School and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively. The brothers literally grew up in the business playing in the warehouse, helping to package orders, and later making deliveries as soon as they earned their drivers’ licenses.
Unique Photo’s blend of size and customer service has proved to be a winning combination. Large enough to sell globally and compete with massive online retailers, yet small enough to offer the exceptional customer service of an independent camera store, Unique Photo is a thriving, multi-million dollar business. Unique Photo carries over 20,000 products from leading manufacturers–everything from digital cameras and their accessories, lenses and lighting–to a full line of services including repairs, rentals and trade-ins, along with a bustling photo lab providing custom printing, framing and gifts. “Unique University” offers photography education that ranges from one-on-one training to seminars for professionals and photography enthusiasts alike. Photo excursions combine travel with photography education and bring participants to unique destinations all over the world.
Alexander Sweetwood, Jonathan’s son, became the third generation to lead Unique Photo when he was named president in 2015. He earned his MBA while continuously working in the business, although his earliest memories are playing on the conveyor belts and building towering cardboard forts in the warehouse with his brother, Jack, and cousin, Zachary; both of whom hold top positions within the company today.
As Unique Photo continues to grow and prosper, the Sweetwood family still maintains the forward thinking and determined attitude that transformed a small “Mom and Pop” studio into a leader in the photography industry.
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