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Buyers' Group Covets New Disc Cleaner

25 May, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

George Chapin, owner of Lakes Video, in Forest Lake, Minn., had almost 700 DVD and video game discs in need of repair.

Despite owning two repair devices that he described as “very good,” Chapin didn't like the five-plus minutes it took each machine to refurbish a single disc.

Chapin's concerns sounded familiar to Ted Engen, president of Video Buyers Group, the Coon Rapids, Minn.-based retail consortium that claims 2,000 members, including Chapin.

When Engen saw an ad for VenMill Industries' new 3500 Buffer, a $2,000 device that unlike many disc repair machines incorporates heat — not sandpaper — to refurbish a disc, he had a manufacturer's rep come to his office and meet eight retail members, many of whom were using other machines.

“We actually took a whole bunch of these resurfacing machines ... tore them apart ... and got feedback from a lot of our stores,” Engen said.

Damage to CD/DVD discs — typically in the form of scratches, dirt and gouges — costs the average rentailer $1,845 per year, or an estimated $50 million annually nationwide, factoring in repairs and the cost of make-good services, according to a Video Store Magazine market research study.

Over lunch, the group of rentailers argued pros and cons of their favorite brands before subjecting 10 VMI 3500 prototypes to damaged discs their devices couldn't handle.

“RTI [another of the cleaning systems tested] definitely has a hell of a system that does real well,” said one participant. Ditto for the AzuraDisc, which one retailer said couldn't be beat when it comes to eliminating deep scratches.

The VMI 3500 — which doesn't use water, fits on a countertop and can clean a disc in 30 seconds — got the best feedback from all of the retailers that used it.

Engen said every dealer present at the pow-wow bought a VMI 3500.

“I had them demonstrate it, tear it apart, and we sat here and scratched discs. We did it all,”

Engan said. “In our opinion, there isn't a faster, quicker, easier-to-use machine on the market.”

Daniel Diotte, founder and CEO of VenMill in Webster, Mass., said the 3500 can clean a disc for as little as 4 cents, which he claims is five times less than most competitors.

A funny thing happened on the way to disc nirvana, however. One retailer, whose 3500 whizzed through 400 discs without a problem, found his device malfunctioned on disc No. 401. The same thing happened to all of the purchased machines.

“It had some bugs to work out, but they have been very good at customer service,” Chapin said.

Diotte said the problems were due to overheating motors when some retailers who pushed a button to open the disc tray accidentally started the device without a disc in it. “We did some programming changes to fix that,”Diotte said.

When other retailers applied too much chemical coolant, VenMill changed the applicator so users couldn't squeeze too much coolant into the system in addition to taking care of general product reliability issues.

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