Help me increase business at my video store!!

The situation: I have recently become the manager of a medium-sized video rental store in a medium-sized town. No, it’s not a Blockbuster, but a smaller franchise operation. The store has been open for almost a year and a half; for the first year we were unprofitable, then we had two great months, then business began to fall again (as the weather got better – warm weather=fewer rentals), and last month we fell $300 short of our goal. We’re located in a shopping complex near a grocery store, a couple restaurants, the DMV, and a liquor store. We have a decent selection of movies; we can’t afford to get every new movie that comes in, because they just don’t rent, so most of our new releases consist of big Hollywood movies with a handful of smaller ones thrown in. But we do have a pretty good catalogue section, a medium-to-poor games section, and a large adult room in the back. We are one of three video rentals in town – us, a Blockbusters, and a small independant place. There used to be a fourth one, but it just went out of business.

I would really like to increase business. This is my first managerial experience, and I’d like to “make good,” both for the store’s sake, and for my own sake – it’s a personal challenge, and it’s also a matter of pride. Unfortunately, my power is limited. We have essentially zero advertising budget – no radio spots, no TV spots, and the leaflets and coupons they have tried in the past have had limited success, so I’m not sure if they’d be willing to go that route again. Any new specials I come up with must be approved by the store owner – who’s an openminded guy, but not a pushover. I have no control over our prices, which are, IIRC, better than Blockbuster’s, though we don’t have Blockbuster’s vaunted “No Late Fees” policy – we’ve already lost some customers who said they’d rather go to Blockbuster to avoid late fees.

So my challente to all you teeming millions is to come up with creative and CHEAP ways that I can increase business for our little store. What do you like and dislike about video stores? Can you think of any special promotions we can try? How can we get our name out there, get people into the store, and, more importantly, get them to keep coming back?

Here are a couple things I’ve worked on; tell me what you think of these:

CROSS-PROMOTION: Incredibly, our store has never done any cross-promotion with any of the restaurants in our complex. I fixed that in the first couple days since I took the job, and we’re now about to start a deal with five of our neighbors. With our neighboring pizza shop, sub shop, and Chinese restaurant, we’re going to have a deal where if customers bring in a receipt showing that they bought more than $10 worth of food at any of those stores, we’ll give them a rent-1-get-1-free special at our stores. (I wanted to do a different special, but this is the one my boss approved.) With the coffee shop next door we will allow them to show our movies on their big-screen-TV in exchange for advertising in their store. And – my coup de grace – we’re going to hang a sign in the DMV advertising that if people pass their driver’s test they can bring in their new license and we’ll give them a rent-1-get-1-free special.

REMEMBERING CUSTOMER’S NAMES: I’m thinking of asking my employees to try some tricks to remember our customers names, so that they can greet people by name when they come in the store. How would you feel about this – would you find it pleasant, or disconcerting?

CONTESTS: Before Easter we had a jar of candy on our counter, and had a contest so that the person who guessed the correct number in the jar would win some free rentals.

RECOMMENDATION CARDS: I’m thinking of typing up some cards to attach to the new release shelves by certain movies. The cards would have a mini-recommendation by one of my employees. I figure people rent movies because of good word-of-mouth, and this is one way to get the word out there and visible. One of the first things I did was to create an employee recommendation section from our catalogue movies with similar cards, and several people have commented positively on that, so I figure it might work with our new releases as well.
So that’s what I’ve got so far. Let me know what you think of these ideas, and if you have any ideas of your own, let me know – I’m really open to anything at the moment.

  1. Who will pay the licensing fees for the public performances at the coffeeshop? Remember, the FBI investigates criminal copyright infringement.

  2. You can hang a sign at your local DMV office? How does that work? Are you buying advertising space, or what?

  3. You might want to look up the meaning of coup de grace. I suspect you meant something more like paramount or zenith.

I used to own a small video store. All the things you’ve listed sound solid. In my experience giving the best customer service possible will win the hearts of your customers – by all means learn their names, be their buddy. And those reviews by your staff will be great, people love to come in and ask for advice on what to watch, never be too busy to do that service.

Now for the warnings: I was in business for seven years. People go through stages in their lives of watching a lot of movies and then, you’ll never see them again. Not because you did something wrong, or drove them away, just thye got a new job, a new hobby, a new asddition to the family. So keeping new customers coming in all the time is essesntial.

And the one I had the hardest time swallowing, but it is absolutely true – pricing gimmicks and deals. It doesn’t have to really be a deal, it just has to sound like one. And I hate that the world works this way, but people would rather rent a movie for $3.50 a pop and get every 11th one free than rent them at another store for $3.00 a pop without the freebie if all other things are equal. Come up with some promotions where the customer is ‘getting something for free’ and figure out how to make it work for the store, then run that by the owner.

Good luck.


  1. Good question; hadn’t thought of that. Not sure.

  2. I went over, not expecting to get anything but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. The regional manager was there, and he said he had no problem if we hung a sign in there. Surprised the heck out of me, but hey, I’ll take it…

  3. Nitpick, but thanks.

The recommendations are key. I discover so many great movies, TV shows, books, bands, and so on by the old “If you liked A, you’ll also enjoy B, C, and D” pitch. I know a lot about movies to begin with, but your average casual renters won’t, and they’ll probably appreciate the help.

Very good advice which I appreciate. A question on the pricing thing: with our deals with the neighboring restaurants, the owner originally recommended that if customers spent more than ten bucks, then if they rented TWO we’d give them one free. I didn’t think that sounded like enough of a deal, so I suggested a system where if customers spent more than $10 at the restaurant, we’d give them 10% off; if they spent $20, we’d give them 20% off, and up to $30 / 30% off. I figured that was more flexible, and sounded like a better deal to the customers (not to mention helping our neighbors out by encouraging people to buy more food). The owner nixed this idea, saying it was too confusing, so he countered with the rent-1-get-1-free deal (which is, of course 50%…not the best deal IMHO). I fear it’s already a done deal (this is what the owner wants and he’s already printing up the signs), but out of curiosity, which sounds best to you?

Obviously the rent one get one free deal is the best of those offered for the customer. From a business standpoint, not knowing the finer points of your business of course, it’s probably a good thing. The less money you bring in is probably small potatoes if you accept that those renters aren’t existing customers. If the goal is to get new business it’s a great deal, if the goal is to generate more repeat business, maybe less so.

Here’s an idea I’ll float. You should take advantage of the grocery store’s flow of traffic. That’s your biggest asset in my opinion. Your biggest issue is probably new memberships, being that you’re a smallish chain. Everyone has a Blockbuster card, not so with your store. Considering those two factors, here’s my suggestion. Do a membership drive out front of the grocery store. Say, every day for a week, with the grocers permission of course, a couple members of your staff (ideally a cute girl) set up a table in front of the store and sign up people for memberships. With the new membership coupon they get a buy 1 get 1 free (or some other enticing promotion) for their first rental.

The logic is that a certain percentage of the shoppers at the grocery are Blockbuster members. One of the key reasons they go there over you is probably the simple fact that they don’t have a membership and aren’t inclined to sign up at 7PM on a Friday when they are in the mood for a movie.

The challenge would be getting a promotion that’s good enough to make them take 5 minutes out on the way into the store to sign up. The second challenge is making the sign-up process as fast and painless as possible. Take the minimum amount of needed information and fill in the blanks when they rent.

Tracking the avenue of acquisitions should also be a priority for all promotions. Your cross-promotion deals and any membership drives will have a certain return rate, finding the ones which work best will be important to decide if they are worth pursuing in the future. Also it’ll help you prove your value to your boss if you can show that there was an incremental increase in business directly from your suggestions.

Incidentally, I’d hate if my video store did the whole “remember my name” gimmick. It annoys me and in some cases worries me. Do a search here on the SDMB and you’ll find a handful of threads discussing this topic. The fact that you have a large Adult section should make your really question if that’s a good idea. If that makes up a fair portion of your business and a dad comes in with his family ad you greet them all by name, the following weekend when he’s craving a porno he might think twice about going where the clerk knows him and his family by name. I strongly recommend you avoid this. Good customer service is a no-brainer, but keep it polite but unintrusive.

How about monthly or weekly promos where people get to pick out a kiddie video for free? I think that would bring in some traffic, at little or no cost to you folks.

I found it annoying and obviously phony.

I totally agree. I hate it when someone who I haven’t formally introduced myself to uses my name. This would especially bug me in a movie store–If you know my name, what else are you keeping track of?

This is what I would do. You aren’t just competing w/blockbuster, there is also Netflix. What got me away from netflix was blockbusters “all you can rent for $X/month” thing. I think theirs is $27/mo., and you can have 2 movies out at a time. I loved this. (We don’t have a blockbuster here, or I would still do it.) Customers don’t have to worry about late fees, and since you do have an adult section, this gives you an advantage over blockbuster, and I think you could charge more than blockbuster because of this–or do something where anything from your regular selection only is, say, $25/mo, with adult stuff it’s $35/mo. Whatever.

Late fees are a major deterent for many people. I think if you can reduce them or offer some sort of “late fee insurance” where people can pay an extra dollar up front which gives them some more time to get the movie back, that’s good. Another thing blockbuster does is offer a $1 credit if a movie is returned within 24 hours, applied to your next rental. This not only encourages people to get the movie back fast, but also encourages another rental.

I think the membership drive thing is a good idea, also.

One last thing, do people know you have an adult section? I am not sure how you would tastefully advertise it w/o driving away your family customers, but that is something blockbuster doesn’t have, and I would use it.

Focus on customer service, especially convenience.

In your location, can you provide a drive-thru return box, where customers can drop off returned videos right from their car? People will appreciate that. (But it might cost you a bit of repeat business. Now, they have to come inside to return videos, and many will rent another one since they’re there.)

Consider a reservation service, where customers can phone or email your store requesting certain videos. Your employees pull those, put them in a bag witht he customers name, add a pre-filled charge slip, and hold it at the front desk for the customer to pick up. You’d have to decide how to deal with customers who don’t show up to pick up their reserved videos, customers who keep your employees on the phone for a long time asking about videos, etc. But if you can make this work, many customers will really like it. If you can provide a drive-thru window where customers don’t even have to get out of their car to do this, even better.

Excellent idea! I’d thought of ways to use just about every other business on our strip, but was stumped with the grocery store, even though it is by far the biggest draw in the complex. But a membership drive there could easily work – and we already have a deal where people can get a free rental when they sign up, so we already have our gimmick. We only have one girl on our staff, but she might be able to entice a few new members. The sign up process is fairly quick; we just need to get some information from a driver’s license and credit card.

Interesting. Any other opinions on this?

The owner’s averse to giving out any more free rentals (we already have a rent-10-get-1-free special, as well as the free one when people join), but maybe we can do something special with the kids movies – kids being out of school for the summer and all.

This is something I want to do long term, but I think I will have to prove myself to the boss (and make the store profitable) before he’s willing to try it. But I like the idea about being able to charge more for the adult stuff, because you’re right – that would be a huge draw, and people would definitely pay for it.

People HATE late fees. I have managerial discretion to erase late fees, and I have been told that I should never lose a customer because of late fees, but I also have to fax my daily financials to my boss, and I get flak if they see I erased too many. When I think about it though, I do have a way I can give people the movie’s for more days without charging them more, and it wouldn’t show up on my reports. Maybe that’s something I can use…

Interesting point. I NEVER mention the adult room to people (at heart I’m a 20th century man :)), and I think a lot of people aren’t aware of it because it’s kind of tucked away around the corner. When I first started at the store (I worked there part time for months before becoming manager) a couple came in and noisily cancelled their membership in protest of our back room. That only happened once, but I think it scared me off from mentioning it to people who don’t already know about it. Maybe I should start mentioning it to people. So there’s another question for everyone: if a clerk informed you about an adult section, would you be embarassed, offended, intrigued? What if you were with your spouse – would that change your reaction?

We do have an outside drop box. A reservation system might be a good long term goal; (I thought of a similar thing – they’re building a new hospital up the street from us, and I thought maybe we could deliver videos to overnight patients, though the technicalities of doing so seem a bit much for us at the moment). We would not be able to do a drive-thru window because of the way the store is built.

Here’s an old thread on the topic. There’s been others in the past but the search function is being stubborn about the word “name” for some reason. The general consensus is that most people would prefer you not do this, though it’s not universal.

Same rule of thumb as the name thing. Be unintrusive above all else. With the name thing and with the adult section referrals there’s a certain percentage of people who will like it and an opposite percentage who will hate it. Either choice is going to lead to lost customers and neither is apt to have a dramatic effect on your bottom line in the positive. For that reason your best bet is to just leave well enough alone.

You certainty should not hide the fact that you have an adult section. Be smart and make sure that the video game and family film section isn’t near the back room. Have it clearly marked so that those interested know it’s there, but don’t approach people about it. It can only cause you trouble.

If, on fliers and coupons, you choose to note that you have adult video you should choose your wording carefully. Don’t make it more prominent than anything else for fear of scaring off soccer moms. One example of a wording is this:

*“Here at Rodgers01’s Fabulous Videos we have a terrific selection of new releases, comedies, thrillers, children’s and family titles, independent films and mature titles.” *

The "mature’ wording comes across as a little less obviously elicit to me and by pairing it with the other options you avoid being known as the “dirty video store”. The point is, don’t hide form the fact you have the titles, treat them like any other movie, but be careful that you don’t place that above all else in peoples minds.

I like the idea of a reservation service. To do it through a webpage as well as phone would be ideal, but the webpage would require some serious money and work to hook it to your stock-keeping system.

How about having an internet terminal permanently connected to the IMDB, so people can look up info on movies on the spot? You could scrounge an old compiter and monitor and get your friendly neighbourhood geek to load it witn Linux and configure it to display a browser only (and thus avoid paying a lot of money to buy a new computer, another copy of windows, etc.). It may be that you have to pay for a subscription to the IMDB for this commercial use, I’m not sure.

Definitely thumbs-down on the greet-by-name thing, especially if you have an ‘adult’ section. If knowing someone’s name doesn’t arise naturally from their relationship with you, it’s not friendly, it’s stalker-creepy.

No, I actually think that not mentioning it is better. You might want to have a discreet sign up at the room’s entrance, but depending on your locality, saying “We have a two-for-one special on erotica this week” to every customer as they check their movies out might not be a good idea. :slight_smile: Are you required by local bylaw to have the adult room separate, covered, no window displays, etc?

I would be intrigued, but then I’m a neo-pagan who thinks that sex should not be treated like a shameful thing. And I hope any potential spouse of mine would be equally unoffended.

So my idea about putting a flashing neon sign over the door to that part of the store would not work? :slight_smile:

Minor naming nitpick: I wish the sellers of sexually-explicit material would call their section ‘erotic’ rather than ‘adult’ or ‘mature’… it’s more precise. Mature material can be violent or subversive, for example, not just erotic.

Treat the erotica section as maturely and non-sensationally as possible. Keep it well-lit, clean and tidy, at least as clean as the rest of the store. Some people are going to dislike it anyway, so it’s best to avoid looking sleazy. There are several erotic video stores on Yonge Street in Toronto; if I go to one, I will go to the one that does not look furtive and scuzzy.

My impression is that people are picky about their erotica, and one person’s interest is definitely not the liking of another. If you can connect to an IMDB-type internet search service here as well, great!

If you have staff members who are knowledgeable about erotica, and don’t mind helping the customers with that knowledge, even better. (“What movies have performer X? Does this movie have content Y”?) Staff mini-reviews would be nice, same as in the rest of the store, but they could be under pseudonyms or anonymous.

But, depending on where you are, you may want to make that kind of help duty strictly optional for the staff.

Yes. Here I’d go with ‘mature’ rather than ‘erotic’, because that covers both erotica and restricted movies, violence, psychological horror, things with recreational drugs in them, etc… all the things that may be Bad for Kids if not handled properly.

I skimmed through the tread Omniscient linked to, and out of 88 replies, 2 people were neutral on the “call customers by name” practice, 1 person said they liked it, and everyone else HATED it. Kind of funny, really.

I like **sunspace’s ** IMDB idea, and I agree that erotic is more specific than mature, but I think mature is less likely to inspire hissy-fits among the more conservitive patrons.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking “first name basis” and “Adult section” don’t play well together. At least, I know I’d want at least the illusion of anonyminity when I come in to rent “One Legged Butt Buddies” for the third weekend in a row.

As for other ways to get customers in - I agree with the late fees thing, and also I think more emphasis on customer service. The only reason I’ve ever dumped a video store is because of bad customer service. Every freakin’ weekend night there’d be 5 teenage employees out front smoking and socializing while the one poor nerd checked out a line that took 20 minutes to get through. Ugh, no. I’m sorry. Even if it’s only a 10 minute wait, I got better things to do on a weekend night.

I like the idea of the IMDB kiosk.

My Three Flicks Package Deals. Three Robert DeNiro movies for the price of Two. Three WWII movies for the price of two. Three kids movies for the price of two. Any logical combination the *customer * can come up with. The challenge alone will draw people in!

Make sure the employees are knowledgeable about the movies you carry. Make sure they watch as many as possible. I ask the Blockbuster folks what they thought of various movies and I value their opinions.

As a former video store manager myself, two things I think you need to add to your list:

Account Management

You mentioned that you charge late fees. Do you have someone specifically trained to handle outstanding accounts and late returns? If not you may want to work towards having a single dedicated person handling all outstanding accounts or customers with late films who is firm but pleasant, and has the power to give credits and make exceptions. Outstanding accounts and late movies can quickly become a problem if not properly addressed and can drag down even a thriving business.

Inventory Management

I’m not sure how much control you have over inventory stock, but if you have a hand in that (even if you don’t) go over expected ROI (return on investment) data with your immediate supervisor or manager. Learn how you are paying for new releases, older titles, games, etc. and whether you have any price-sharing deals with studios set up. Knowing how much you are spending on your inventory can give you a better idea of how to merchandise and what to promote.

Also, if you don’t perform regular full-store inventories you may want to start. You’d be surprised how many items go missing from one month to another. In addition, you should be checking the shelf daily for items that are overdue to make sure you’re not missing them at some point in the check-in process.

Cross-promotion is well and good, but in my 5 years working at video stores I never saw a program that seemed to really catch on for any length of time. Cross-promotions work better for gaining brief spurts of new rental activity, but the downside is that those people may come in and open an account, rent a movie, and never bring it back, or rack up late fees they will never pay.

How about an email sign up sheet to advise people of the latest movies that are coming out and then do some kind of coupon in the email. Rent one new movie/ get an older title for free.

Build up your impulse purchase sales in candy, pop and popcorn. Offer weekly deals on previously viewed DVD’s or maybe $ off a used DVD purchase along with a new liscense/good report card/full moon. Whatever. Stick it in your customer’s minds to always want to buy used DVD’s from your store.

If you rent games, offer to buy used games off of kids, or they get two free rentals in exchange for a game they are tired of. ( something like that.)
I also believe in recommending your staff get to know the patrons. When I worked at a video store, I knew everyone who walked in the door. I mean everyone. If not by name, but by their movie selections. Get to know them and recommending movies. Encourage the staff to read up on movies and play movie games* in the store. Everyone loves movie trivia.

The reason I got my job at the video store was I had been home sick and sent my completely clueless mother in to pick out something for me while I recouped and my future boss (who already had a pretty good idea of my tastes) picked out some really good films ( one being Buckaroo Bonzai.) and I beleive I was hired shortly after I survived my minor illness.

*One of our favorite movie games was to put on a G-PG13 movie in the store, fast forward to the actual movie and the other player would have to guess what the movie was by dialog and music without looking at the screen.

Other movie game: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Oscar Trivia: First Color picture to win best picture. First best picture. Most awards. …
I always like it when a video store has an Oscar Winner Section from January to March.

Good luck!

Getting back to the food thing, is there a pizza place within a couple blocks? How about a pizza and a movie deal? Bring in a receipt and get a discount.