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Singing the Praises of the Independent Video Retailer

30 Sep, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

I've been thinking a lot about independent video retailers. Maybe it's the documentary on the Clerks X disc that sparked it.

It's a great doc, and in it we watch Kevin Smith and crew nightly destroy the indie convenience store that served as the film's backdrop and set up editing camp in the attached video store in the months following filming, all with the blessing of the indie owners.

What if those indie storeowners hadn't supported Smith and, by extension, independent film in general? I, for one, am glad they did. (My affection for Kevin Smith and View Askew Productions should be well known by now, so I'll move on from Clerks now, but you get my point.)

Call me crazy, but I got a really good vibe from the independent retailers who showed up at the Home Entertainment Retail Expo in Baltimore a few weeks ago.

In the sessions I attended, these smaller retailers or one-store indies were open to sharing ideas with their counterparts, were largely positive about their respective businesses and our industry as a whole, and were interested in learning about any avenue that could increase their bottom line.

There was very little gnashing of teeth or complaining about the “big guys” and a lot of pragmatism, optimism and a sense of camaraderie.

I felt the same thing sitting in sessions at this summer's Video Software Dealers Association Convention, mostly during sessions focused on iDEA, the VSDA's new indie-centric organization.

At both shows, there were brand-new faces, new business owners, folks getting into the industry who are interested in learning from the veterans. And the old-school guys are ready to help, it seems. And they're not as “old school” as you may think. Some of these indie retailers have some really innovative ideas on how to compete in the current big-box-dominated market environment.

I think independent video retailers kind of get the shaft sometimes, both from content suppliers and the trade press. It's easy for us to do that when half or more of the market can be covered by tracking the activities of about 10 retail chains.

But I also think indies can come back into their own, especially if a merger with their fellows on the music side can come to fruition.

I know my favorite shopping experiences are always at smaller, independent stores. Sure, I'll run into a Best Buy or a Borders to grab something quickly. But I've always loved hitting up small, eclectic one-store or small chains for browsing and discovery. (I feel the same way about restaurants, but that's another column.)

One of the owners of Amoeba Records said something to me that sums it up: “People like to be around like-minded people.” I think the independent video retailer can provide that. An indie store could well be a film-lovers haven, as well as a place to find the newest hottest releases. It certainly is a less sterile experience than customers will find at the massive chains.

I think there are a lot of people like me out there. I know there are. I hope indie video retailers can find a way to navigate the content in the industry to continue to create those havens for us.

Mike Kyle, one of the founders of the Had to Be Made Film Festival and indieBuyer.net, an in-the-works plan to give indie retailers stronger buying power and better wholesale costs by pooling orders through an intricate retailer/consumer Web site, thinks so.

This guy digs indies — he really does. How many people do would drive an RV around the country and spend months stopping at every independent video or music store he could, talk to the owners, find out their stories, learn about how they run their businesses? Not many. But he did — more than once.

And at the Home Entertainment Retail Expo, Kyle and his crew started making the word “indie” cool again. I saw plenty of people at the indieBuyer booth perusing through and grabbing handfuls of the company's stash of cheeky little green buttons touting phrases like “Kiss me, I'm indie,” “indie groupie,” “get indie,” “indie babe,” “indie rebel,” “indie maniac” and so on.

You know what? I say wear 'em. And wear 'em with pride.

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