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UrbanWorks Helps Retailers Find Genre Titles to Suit the Special Needs of Market

15 Dec, 2003 By: Erik Gruenwedel

On the surface, Blockbuster Video, Movie Gallery and Tower Records/Video wouldn't appear to need help selling home video entertainment. However, if the topic is urban fare, many chains and independent rentailers approach the genre cognizant of its popularity but uncertain about the range of available titles and how to market them.

Enter UrbanWorks Entertainment, the 2-year-old unit of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Ventura Distribution, which claims to have captured 36 percent of the non-theatrical urban home video sell-through market.

The company is approaching 2004 intent on helping rentailers develop their urban business and help the chains identify key stores in urban areas, while guiding them toward proprietary UrbanWorks' fare.

Recent UrbanWorks releases include dramas Obstacles and Fire & Ice; comedy specials Cedric the Entertainer's Starting Lineup Volume 1, Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly and D.L. Hughley Live; sports fare Born to Ball and Ball Above All; and the animated feature Night B4 Christmas.

“I don't want to say that there is a complete lack of knowledge of the product, but [many retailers] have not put a focus on it,” said Quincy Newell, VP sales and marketing. “What we have done is identify in what markets the urban product will sell through, and help companies concentrate [their] distribution and marketing efforts in those markets to increase product turnover.”

Newell cited Movie Gallery, the nation's second-largest video specialty retailer with more than 2,000 stores, which has core retail operations that are predominantly in the Southeast.

UrbanWorks developed a strategy of allocating the majority of Gallery's urban content in select locations instead of placing product in all locations regardless of the area's urban demographic.

“We know Atlanta; Detroit; Baltimore; New York; Chicago; Norfolk; and Richmond, Va., are strong [urban markets], and we look at [Gallery's] list of stores and identify them for growth areas,” Newell said. “Sometimes a concentrated approach actually yields a higher response.”

Tower of Power
In January, West Sacramento, Calif.-based Tower Records/Video will enlist UrbanWorks' expertise with selecting urban titles, creating a themed look, helping identify shelf space in select stores, and assisting with signage, tag lines and/or slogans.

“We're beginning to try and segment out some of the urban stuff into rap sections and R&B sections,” said Rick Timmermans, director of video merchandising at Tower Records. “We're just kind of getting into this genre in depth, and these guys have been really good about working with us.”

Tower has grown its home video business to 26 percent of sales, with a big DVD initiative planned for 2004.

“We didn't need their input when it comes to marketing music, but we are willing to listen to a [film] studio's take on anything,” Timmermans said. “We're getting educated on a daily basis.”

With 10 Blockbuster franchises, 80 percent of which are located in South Central, a predominantly Latino and African-American suburb in Los Angeles, Simon Smith should have his pulse on the urban market.

“The way I get my information is through the Blockbuster system,” said Simon, who is African- American. “If I act like a typical Blockbuster franchisee, then all my titles will be [white] suburban. If I go outside of the system, I know what I like personally, but will it necessarily sell? That's what I am trying to figure out.”

In addition to planned in-store promotions involving Martin Luther King's birthday in January, Black History Month in February, and Cinco de Mayo in May, Smith wanted to get gospel-type films and music into his stores.

“Where I do business, there is a huge church congregation,” said Smith. “I was hoping UrbanWorks could help me come up with some type of program where I could become [the congregation's] video store of choice.”

Appeasing potential church-going customers with typical gritty urban fare wasn't going to work, so Smith and UrbanWorks created special shelf sections and stocked them with titles that focused on urban fare beyond stereotypical gang violence, inner city conflicts, drugs and broken homes.

“One of the things we talked about is that lots of people have the misconception that the bloodier [urban fare] is, the more they will like it,” Smith said. “That's not true. There are other components to urban fare. Let's give the urban community the same selection we are willing to give to suburban America.”

Smith said UrbanWorks will manage and stock the special sections with signage and point-of-purchase displays.

“If we are going to operate in an urban setting, then let's truly become an urban store and cater to the people of that community,” Smith said.

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