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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Meet Video Retailers Yin & Yang

10 Aug, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

You don’t need a crystal ball or caller ID to surmise that one of the phone calls next week to retailer Eric Smith of Video King in St. Cloud, Florida, undoubtedly will be from someone at the Video Software Dealers Association.

To what do we owe this flash of clairvoyance days ahead of the event? The power of the press.

Smith wrote a letter to Video Store Magazine that appears in next week’s issue (Aug. 12-18, page 6). He opens and closes the mischevious missive with the incredulous-sounding claim that, in his 13 years of video retailing, he has never been asked to join the trade association dedicated to representing rental stores just like the 11 he operates.

Maybe Smith’s gambit in writing the letter was to induce just such a response from VSDA. His piquant position begs, by way of rejoinder, the clich?, “What are you waiting for, a written invitation?” Apparently, Smith’s answer would be yes, because the zinger is that he ends the letter by allowing that he would join VSDA – but only if asked.

(Come on, Eric; judging by your letter and your 11 storefronts, you are a successful businessperson. If it is true that you’ve never received one piece of material from VSDA mentioning membership, that would be something for VSDA to seriously question internally. But at the VSDA events you attended, there are visible opportunities to inquire about and sign up for membership. Plus, there are constant mentions of VSDA in Video Store Magazine. Your point is provocative, but the insistence on a personal invite is a tad precious.)

Paradoxically, he leads with his heart in standing on ceremony with a demand for a personal invitation to join, but shows a much more clear-headed side in 95% of his comments. The core of Smith’s correspondence to Video Store is refreshing, sobering and guaranteed to make some other rentailers recoil in self-recognition. One of those, no doubt, would be the one who shares the letters column with him next week, Steve Cowan of Movieland Video in Lisbon Falls, Maine.

It’s what Smith warbles between the “want me, want my membership” operatic overture and finale that is truly worthy of VSDA’s attention, not to mention that of the rental industry at large. Heck, VSDA shouldn’t just “invite” him to become a member, but appoint him to its board of directors.

Smith recounts three different VSDA-sponsored events in the past 12 months at which he came, he saw, he left vowing to never again knowingly subject himself to the “whining, crying and complaining” of retailers “blaming all of their problems on others.” (Eric, are you sure you don’t really work at one of those video labels that used to have large, elaborate exhibits and parties at the VSDA conventions?)

Perhaps the editors of Video Store – present company included – owe Smith a mea culpa for, wouldn’t you know it, coupling him in our letters space with, to judge by the letter alongside his, the very type of retailer from whom he hopes to keep a safe distance.

That would be the aforementioned Steve Cowan. Did somebody say complain? This gentle man [sic] manages to find fault with Movie Gallery’s “hardball marketing tactics,” which he defines as any attempt to boost “underperforming stores” or to protect its market share when a new store steps on its footprint.

To hear Cowan tell it, Movie Gallery wasn’t considerate enough to consult its competition before charging 99 cents for rentals. (We figure the copy of “Softball Marketing Etiquette” it ordered from Amazon got lost in the mail.) But that’s minor-league stuff, per Cowan, compared to Movie Gallery’s major-league error of its ways in wanting “to be just like Blockbuster, just with smaller stores in smaller towns with smaller overhead.”

Nobody begrudges a retailer like Cowan his right and preference to tread softly and manage a quiet operation that doesn’t get in anybody’s way, so he shouldn’t begrudge Movie Gallery or Blockbuster their preference to tread heavily, without violating free-market limits, of course. When a market isn’t big enough for everybody, it’s dubious whether the meek will inherit much of anything.

Who in his right mind would argue with Cowan’s implied logic that there oughta be a law against Movie Gallery’s kind of savvy – and effective – retail strategy. While we’re in the mood, why not also legislate against the kind of loopy letters we sometimes publish in our efforts to maintain fairness and balance. We sincerely hope this Mainer soon recovers from the not uncommon ailment that afflicts a certain genus of business folk: fear of success.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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