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Sunsplash: Business Bounces Back in the Southeast

12 Aug, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.— Down here, “rental” is not a bad word. Neither is VHS.

Meeting here for the 15th annual Sunsplash video retailers retreat, several hundred independent video specialists, mostly from the Southeast, gathered here to network, exchange ideas or simply chew the fat.

And if there was a common thread in many of the conversations, it was this: After a few tough years, the business is all right.

A gaggle of retailers at the opening night Southern Pig Pickin' barbecue dinner surrounded Barry Kohn, the former Valley Media sales rep who now is East Coast director of sales for Pro Video Leasing & Distributing.

“A lot of these guys were still paying $78 a cassette,” he said. “I give it to them for $30 for eight weeks, they keep everything they make and they couldn't be happier.”

It's the same with DVD, he said — he charges just $10. His business is still weighted 65 percent to 75 percent VHS.

No sooner had Kohn finished speaking than an independent retailer, leaning on a cane, walked up to him. He had suffered a stroke, and his wife said, “He can't talk much.” After shaking Kohn's hand and trying to squeeze out a few words, the retailer, who shall remain nameless, gave up and simply planted a kiss on the distributor's cheek.

“Thank you, Barry,” said his wife.

Pro Video has no trouble disposing of returned inventory, Kohn added.

“We turn it around and sell it to people who are opening new video stores,” he said. “We typically get three to four hits a week, mostly in rural areas but not always. I just got a call from a woman in Irvington, N.J., which is definitely a major metropolitan area.

“I asked her who the competition was and she said until recently it was Blockbuster, but that store closed because it had been robbed so many times. Even so, she was willing to give it a go.”

Tom Warren, VSDA chairman and a veteran of the Carolinas VSDA Chapter, which sponsors the annual retreat, believes the positive environment at Sunsplash has kept studios on board, even as they withdraw support for other trade events.

“Everyone comes here to learn and to network,” he said. “After the Disney lunch, you saw half the tables still filled with people, just talking and exchanging ideas. We learn from each other.”

Warner Home Video's new revenue-sharing plan, available to independent retailers through Rentrak Corp., generated a fair amount of buzz at the show for its liberal terms and lack of upfront fees.

“You just have to run the numbers and see if it makes sense for you,” said retailer Harold Chamberlain, a past president of the Carolinas Chapter.

Despite the upbeat mood, many veteran retailers were conspicuously absent — among them, several longtime members of the Carolinas VSDA Chapter, which sponsors the retreat.

Among the missing were Ed Swindell, Monty Winters and Bob Edwards. “I haven't heard from Ed or Monty in a while, but I don't think they're still in video,” said Carolinas Chapter president Dave Batten. As for Edwards, well, “he's driving a truck.”

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