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A Toast to Champagne

7 Aug, 2003 By: Jessica Wolf

Many independent retailers in today's market can't say they've been around for two decades. Most can't say they've put a competing Blockbuster location out of business. Almost nobody can say their store has been featured on one of the most popular TV series of those two decades.

Manhattan-based Champagne Video can boast all three. This August, the four-store chain celebrates its 20th anniversary; the Blockbuster location that moved in on Champagne territory a few years after the original store opened in 1983, shut down in 1995 and never returned; and Champagne Video storefronts appeared in four “Seinfeld” episodes during the show's run.

General manager Marc Oringer has been there since day one, when the store opened with 900 titles total, including adult.

“I can still remember what the new releases were for that week,” he said. “Scarface, Romancing the Stone and Splash.

Now, the four Champagne Video locations, all in Manhattan, average 10,000 to 15,000 titles in stock, he said.

The chain's sellthrough business has grown from between 10 percent and 12 percent of revenue to between 18 percent and 20 percent in the past few years. The stores stay competitive on that front by guaranteeing to beat mass-merchant prices with a proof of purchase, Oringer said. They'll even negotiate with customers to make sure they get the savings they want. With a recently opened Best Buy location within five blocks of two Champagne Video locations, Oringer said the chain expects some tougher sellthrough competition, but the attitude is “bring it on.”

“When it does come to it, we'll go head-to-head with them, whatever it takes,” Oringer said.

It's all about evolving with the changing business and adapting to change, Oringer said, though one thing that remains steadfast is the chain's exclusive buying relationship with Flash Distributors.

The biggest challenges of the last 20 years were facing down Blockbuster and making the plunge into DVD in a big way, Oringer said.

Now DVD makes up around 70 percent of all the stores' floor space and 60 percent of the rental business.

Champagne Video staff tries to educate their loyal customer base on the benefits of the digital format. Stores that don't sell DVD hardware point customers to other sellers where they can pick up lowpriced players. The chain also boasts staff longevity. All four store managers have been with the company for 15 years or more. “We pay them well,” Oringer said. “We take care of them.”

To celebrate the anniversary milestone, Champagne Video is taking out an ad in the New York Times, and will offer special rental deals and have giveaways on new kids' product. Oringer is even looking into getting a permit to shut down a city street for an urban barbeque celebration around Aug. 29.

Oringer said the chain plans to add two more Manhattan locations, one by the end of this year. With the new additions, Champagne Video will have more storefronts in Manhattan than Blockbuster.

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