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Is Technology Killing the Video Store?

Many people love to visit their neighborhood video store, so it is no surprise that movie lovers are interested in starting up video stores. However, things are changing with the introduction of new technologies.

Many people now download movies, watch them on cable channels or rent them from online delivery services. People often talk about the demise of the video store.

That's not going to happen anytime soon, according to some video store owners and managers. Despite what people say about the admittedly uncertain future of video stores, business is booming in a number of places.

"Our store is doing amazingly well right now," says Rob Nesbitt. Nesbitt is the manager of a video store.

"Things seem to be going really well," agrees Soma Morse. She works at a video store, and used to be the assistant manager there. "I'm not entirely sure what to make of that.

"Maybe people are holding onto the practices and the day-to-day things that they do, and are less interested in changing over immediately to some other format, which I think is really likely. And I also think people are just not sold on these other options at this point. So our business is doing fine. We don't have any complaints."

The social aspect of the video store is also very powerful. It is one thing to download a movie, but that eliminates one of the best parts of the movie rental experience: going out for a walk, picking the movie and chatting with the clerk.

"Our customers repeatedly tell us they prefer the video store shopping experience," says Stuart McDowell. McDowell is the general manager of a video store. "A big part of that is the neighborhood store concept. A lot of people walk their dogs or their strollers to the stores, pick up a movie and stroll home.

"They do mention that they've joined online services or have direct-access cable TV. But they still like coming to the store because there is someone there to talk to them about what's good."

There's another reason why new technologies aren't hurting rentals as much as people have figured. While it may be getting easier to get Hollywood blockbusters without leaving your house, it isn't as easy to find obscure films.

And this is also an aspect of the video business (along with great customer service!) that Nesbitt believes is essential to survival for the video store owner.

"I think the key to the market now is the same as it is with record stores," says Nesbitt. "The key is to avoid what the big box stores do. They get the mainstream films and try to appease everyone. I think it's going to be a future of niche market stores: finding exactly what certain people want and catering almost exclusively to them."

M. Faust owns a video store and he specializes in obscure movies. Because of this, he hasn't noticed rentals going down with new advancements in movie access.

"Not really, since you can't get most of what I have in such ways," he says. "Pay-per-view and cable-on-demand services mostly show the same 10 movies that were in theaters six months ago. I don't carry things like that, and every time I venture out of [my] niche I'm reminded of why I should not."

Although it appears that most video rental businesses are doing fine, it's not the case for everyone. Roland De La Rosa owns a video store. He had to downsize, although the reasons for this had nothing to do with technology!

"I would not advise anybody at this point to get into the video business," states De La Rosa. "My business at this point is more like Netflix. People pay me $25 a month for unlimited borrowing. I had to relocate to an office situation because my competition was trouncing me with a huge parking lot.

"It didn't matter how unique my product was, it mattered only that I didn't have adequate parking."

Still, many video store owners seem to be all smiles right now.

"People have been saying that independent video stores will be history in less than two years," says Faust. "They've been saying this since at least 1991."

For those looking to get into the business, Morse recommends working at a video store before opening your own.

"I would recommend starting at the bottom," she says. "Working as a clerk, then assistant manager, then manager... then you get to know the business on the inside.

"And someone is paying you, rather than you having to step out into all those positions on your own, as well as strapping your wallet onto the whole package. Get to know the industry before you open a business."

Morse also sums up the conflicting feelings about the future of the video store. "Along with that positive feeling that things are going really well, there's still a sense of wondering what's around the corner, and how's this all going to work out?"

So is opening a video store a viable way to make a living these days?

"Absolutely," says McDowell.

"It's possible to make money at it," says Morse. "But in the next 10 years there [are] going to be some radical changes. I'm really not sure what that's going to be, but I do think it's going to modify the video rental industry."

"It never was [a viable way to make a living] before, why should now be any different?" jokes Faust.

And even if Faust says business is good, he is hesitant to suggest that people open a video store unless they're doing it because they love movies. Even then, there's a price to pay.

"I would not recommend opening a video store to anyone actively looking to make a profit from it. Not unless you have a lot of capital and a lot of time to spend on it.

"Besides, if you think having your own video store means you'd be able to have copies of all the movies you've ever wanted to see, consider the downside: I never have time to watch any of them."

A movie and TV show downloading service

Movie Rental Trends
Read an article about the future of video rentals

Home Theater Magazine: MovieBeam MB2160
Read a review of a new video-on-demand system

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