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April 29, 2011

Independent Shops Survive Video Rental Holocaust

As a follow up to Kevin's editorial on the death of video rental shops (read it here), I just wanted to share my hatred for the corporate ones and spread the love and liveliness of independent ones. Keep in mind that I live in the western part of Canada's prairie provinces in Deadmonton, Hellberta and I'm speaking primarily of the awesome independent shops we have here.

With the internet skyrocketing over the past decade—and things like vinyl albums and VHS tapes being long-outdated—new entertainment mediums are being integrated into western civilization. However, there are still people who prefer the “obsolete” over “new-age”. These are the people who will actually pay money for an album or a movie rather than downloading it for free on the internet.
The companies and services that provide people with their entertainment have also changed drastically. According to a review of the video rental industry featured on, alternative entertainment media is under assault by pay-per-view television and video-on-demand. Services like Netflix and Red Box vendors, as well as an increased amount of video-viewing services offered through regular cable providers.

Following rapid growth in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, video rentals chains throughout the United States and Canada stalled in the mid ‘90s as the market became saturated and as competing modes of entertainment corroded home video rental. The industry recovered temporarily in the late 1990s, aided by new revenue-sharing agreements with movie studios. According to the report on, sales fell more than 4 per cent from 2000 to 2001. The strong popularity of DVD boded well for the industry during the early to mid 2000s.
“Mainstream” or corporate-owned video rental chains earn the bulk of their sales (about 70 percent at large chains like Blockbuster) from video rental fees. The rest come from sell-through videos, whereby tapes and discs are sold as new. However, few and far between there exists the small, privately owned “independent” video rental shop. The owners of these shops are struggling day to day to keep their stores alive and vibrant with the life of fresh, unique new movie titles every week. But as far as they—and many others—are concerned, they are struggling for a good cause.
Kevin Martin—proud owner of the only video rental shop in Canada located underneath a daycare, The Lobby DVD Shop (located at 10815 - 82 Ave)—says that, “we’re getting older; the younger generation hasn’t seen [the classics]. So I guess it’s my duty to carry them and tell them that they have to check [these movies] out.” Kevin strives to specialize primarily in horror movies, Grindhouse, Asian cinema and forgotten-about films.

Martin says that about 70 per cent of what he brings in the store is based on whatever he researches on the internet and 30 per cent comes from talking with customers. “I’d say 30 per cent of the titles in here I have because people have asked me about them. I’m pretty community-orientated with the customers around here. If they want it, I’ll try and get it for them,” Martin says.
Independent video stores must strive to provide the highest level of customer service. Heather Noel, manager of The Videodrome independent rental shop (located at 8001 – 102 Ave), says that “our customers are either looking for more obscure things that you can’t get at mainstream stores, or they are just locally minded. They want to support a local business, they like knowing that if they are spending their money here, they are putting their money back into the community.”
Kevin Martin believes that much of the reason why people choose to rent at independently owned shops over the corporately owned mainstream rental chains like Blockbuster and Rogers Video is because he tries to be as close and personal with his customers as possible. “I know [the customers] come for the movies but hopefully when I recommend movies to people they are happy. When you’re the only guy running the store I guess your personality is part of the store so hopefully it shines on me in a positive manner so people will keep coming back.”
“Even if they know they can get stuff cheaper somewhere else, or if they want to buy a movie they know they can go to HMV or Best Buy, but they’d rather order through me just so they can support a local business,” Martin says.
A lot of people wouldn’t think it, but these indie rental spots carry literally something for everyone. Whereas The Lobby DVD Shop leans more toward the dark, obscure and “underground” titles, shops like The Videodrome and Sneak Preview (located at 4047 – 106 Street) carry a vaster selection of everything from the classics, film noir, and much more.
“We specialize in cult films, hard-to-find [titles], obscure horror movies; but our real specialty is world cinema. I think we have the best selection of foreign films in the city. It’s good not just for people who are film lovers, who want to see stuff from other countries, but also for people who moved to Edmonton from other countries that often just want to see stuff from their home countries; and classics: it’s getting harder and harder to find these things in other stores. So that’s where we pick up the slack,” says Noel of The Videodrome’s rental library.
“We try to bring in stuff that intrigues us, that we haven’t really heard much about,” Noel says. “There are tons of movies that come out every week that they don’t play in theatres a lot of the time so a lot of people in Edmonton haven’t even heard of them when they come out on DVD.” In turn, it is more than likely that the mainstream rental shops (or what is left of them) like Rogers, Blockbuster and Movie Gallery don’t carry these unheard of titles.
One of the greatest perks of renting at independently owned video stores as opposed to corporately owned ones is the incredibly cheap rental rates—and all indie-shops tend to have this in common. Some shops offer “library” rentals for as low as $3.00 a week. The shops also offer promotional offers, frequent renter programs, coupons, and deals on previously viewed items for purchase. Rentals at The Lobby go for $5.00 a piece or $ 8.50 for two. “Most people will take advantage of the five for $20.00, 7-day rental deal,” Kevin Martin says of his prices at The Lobby. People can also special order DVDs at all of these rental shops…unless of course they have been discontinued, which means that they are no longer in print.
As for the future of independently owned video rental shops in a day and age when Netflix, pay-per-view, Shaw-on-Demand, and piracy are pushing the video rental industry to the brink of extinction, “It’s really hard to say,” Noel says. “If you look at the future of really any business right now because of the way all industries are changing thanks to things like the internet, I don’t know if anyone can predict five years into the future in any industry. We do realize that it is a changing industry and we have to change with it, so I do still think that rental will still be alive but competition has changed.”
“It’s about providing a customer service quality that those things and mainstream rental chains can’t provide. We’ll probably get more into sales, either selling DVDs or movie-related things. There’s always going to be movie fanatics and they are going to want to collect things,” she says.
“I wouldn’t bank my future on this place by any means. Best-case scenario: [with] a store like this, I’ll probably strictly turn to sales,” Kevin Martin of The Lobby says. “Vinyl stores can keep going, even though everything is on i-Tunes and digital. There is a niche market; there will always be collectors out there and people that love actually physically possessing the movies. Hopefully there’s enough to keep a store like this going… And if not, I’ll end up with a sweet-ass movie collection.”

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