Brighton-based MPB has become one of the biggest names in second-hand cameras and lens retailing, and recently secured a hefty chunk of capital funding to enable it to grow its operations in the US and Germany. Deputy Editor Geoff Harris caught up with founder and CEO Matt Barker to find out more about the company and why it has grown so fast.
How did MPB start out?
MPB has been around for some time now in various guises, but the official founding of what we have now was in 2011. I studied economics at Warwick University and was into photography as a student, so I got into buying and selling camera kit on eBay. From there it expanded, helped by taking out classified ads in the back of AP! Around 2016 we managed to raise enough capital to set up MPB in its current form and things have grown from there.
Are you surprised you have grown so fast?
Surprised? Yes and no. Once we raised £1 million in debt funding it enabled us to grow aggressively. So without wanting to sound arrogant, I am not that surprised to see us where we are. Also the second-hand camera market has always been a big deal, more than you get with other hobbies. Camera retailers also shied away from the used digital camera market so there were opportunities for us.
Is hard-charging into Germany and the US related to growing economic uncertainty in the UK over Brexit?
So this latest funding round is about continued expansion, and has been planned for a while, so it’s not a reaction to current political and economic events. We have been active in the US since November 2016 and in Germany for over a year, although it’s still the early stages. So our expansion into the US is unrelated to Brexit.
That said, in times of economic uncertainty there can also be opportunities. More people start to think about liquidating their assets for example, and on the other side, people start to shop down and consider buying second hand.
The second hand camera market is hardly new, but what is making a difference now is the high price of new cameras and lenses. The first Sony Alpha 7R for example came in about £1400, but the new 7R Mark IV is selling for £3,500 body only. Lenses have become expensive too. So MPB is the right place for people to spend money.
As a private customer I was pleasantly surprised when I sold MPB one of my old digital cameras and your representative got back to me with a higher price than I expected. Do you reckon good customer service has also helped you to grow quickly?
Thanks for that, but we didn’t make a special exception for you! We have always tried to look after customers and although some things are out of our control, such as courier problems, we always try to make good. To go back to your first point, we have invested a lot of money in software to get the right price of a used camera, so that is why we got back to you with more than you thought the camera was worth. We are not wheeler dealers unlike some other outfits out there, and are very consistent.
Are you worried about increasing competition as the digital second hand market grows?
Well, we have been living with competition since we started. A lot of other companies underestimate how challenging it is to do second-hand well. To get to our level of scale has involved a lot of investment and an unrelenting and uncompromising approach.
Any plans to expand into other countries and territories?
Not at the moment, as the UK remains a huge focus of our activities so we are doubling down on our existing markets. Next year there will be some exciting innovations too, so watch this space.