Vision Video still successful despite widespread change

It’s Friday night, and several people form a line outside of a local Kroger. Some look impatient as they wait for their turn at the big, red machine in front of them. A few years ago, these people might have been in line to buy a Coke.

But this machine dispenses movies, not soda, and only takes credit cards. Meet Redbox, one of the newest members of the movie rental industry.

Across town, there are also people looking for the evening’s perfect film, but these people aren’t in a single-file line; they are walking up and down rows lined with hundreds of movies.

Welcome to Vision Video, the only local video rental store still in business, and it’s doing quite well, says co-owner Charles Seward.

The movie rental industry has changed dramatically over the past few years in reaction to a proliferation of new competition fueled by technological developments, such as streaming video, reports the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), the trade association for anything related to home entertainment.

Consumers haven’t stopped renting movies, but the number of places they get them has increased, said Grace Lee, manager of public relations and marketing for EMA. These include subscription services, streaming through cable and satellite companies, and the growing number of kiosks.

“There have been several changes in the home entertainment industry the past few years that paved the way for new types of delivery channels,” Lee said. “Each channel of video rental business offers consumers an attractive combination of convenience and value, and the consumer can choose which combination best meets their needs.”

Many of these new channels are thriving. EMA reports that Redbox now has over 24,000 locations across the country, compared to 15,000 in 2010.

“Traditional video retailers will no doubt experience even more competition in the coming year,” said Ross Crupnick, Senior Industry Analyst for the NPD Group, a leading market research firm, in EMA’s annual report.

Former industry leader Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in September 2010 and was bought by DISH Network, reports EMA. Movie Gallery, the second largest rental chain, went out of business earlier that year. Additionally, the number of independently operated stores continues to shrink in towns and cities across the country.

These traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores are closing at a rapid pace, Lee said, but they aren’t going to disappear altogether anytime soon.

“Video rental stores are not going to go away any time soon,” Lee said. “Many consumers appreciate the large selection, numerous copies, customer service, and ease of browsing that are available at their local video store.

“We anticipate that they will continue to adapt their business models to meet customer demands,” Lee said.

It probably won’t be long before another competitor enters the business, but Vision Video has proven that it can adapt to changes in technology and competition.

“It keeps us on our toes,” Seward said.

Seward and his brother started offering movies for rent as part of their pizza delivery business, and when the movie rentals became more popular than the pizza, they opened the first Vision Video downtown in 1986. Today, there are four Vision Video locations—three in Athens, one in Watkinsville—that employ 31 full-time employees, Seward said.

Vision Video continues to operate successfully, and Seward is confident that the business is here to stay. The two other movie rental stores in Athens, Blockbuster and Video Link, recently went out of business, but this doesn’t worry Seward. He said his stores would adapt if necessary in order to keep up with the onslaught of new competition, but that there are features that make all of his stores unique—and keep customers coming back.

His employees share the same attitude. Jeremy Long, manager of the downtown location for the past 15 years, said the overall atmosphere of the store “definitely” contributes to its success. It is hard to miss the old-school vibe upon walking into the store downtown.

The large selection of movies reflects the mix of people that frequent the business, Long said, and many of them are “regulars.”

“We get a lot of everybody,” Long said. “The best part of my job is seeing people all the time. It’s like a club of some kind.”

Long compared the store to a library, where people browse, talk to each other, and can ask for help from employees.

“We try to make it a place where people want to be,” said Long

Customers enjoy the service provided by Long and other employees, as well as the overall feeling of being in a traditional movie store.
“It’s cool that there’s actually still a movie store in town,” said customer Sarah Bruker. “They have a great selection and the staff is always willing to help you pick out something good, whether it’s old or new.”

The staff is carefully hired, said Seward, and all employees love movies. They help stock Vision Video with a wide variety of movies, and enjoy helping customers discover new movies.

Customer Stephen Mulherin says the “tranquil setting” and “helpful service” found at Vision Video is unrivaled.

“The staff is always willing to go out of their way to help you find whatever you’re looking for,” said Mulherin.

And although there may be more places to rent movies than before, there are things in Vision Video’s extensive library that can’t be found elsewhere.

“We make a point of stocking the best movies from not only the United States, but the world,” Seward said.

“They have stuff that no one else does,” Bruker said. “I can’t find a lot of the TV shows and movies I watch anywhere else.”

Customer Taylor Critz compared using NetFlix or RedBox to playing the lottery.

“I use them all for different purposes, but so often I leave the RedBox feeling disappointed,” Critz said. “Here, I’ve never had a bad experience.”

Some local experts attribute the success of local businesses like Vision Video to the diverse cultural make-up of the town.

Dr. Marcus Cunha, Associate Professor of marketing at the University, says that Athens’ “artsy” cultural identity contributes to the success of locally owned and operated businesses like Vision Video, Jittery Joe’s, and the dozens of restaurants and boutiques downtown.

“Artists appreciate uniqueness and these types of stores provide it,” said Cunha. “This could also explain why people in Athens want to keep the city’s character, rather than being overtaken by chains.”

Airee Hong, owner of Agora, a downtown boutique, says that it is these small, independent stores that keep visitors coming back to Athens.

“The whole reason why people come to Athens is because you get these really cool, unique, eclectic mom-and-pop stores that you don’t see anywhere else,” Hong said.

Seward says that his staff, the wide selection of movies, and the affordable prices are the main reasons why customers return to Vision Video.

However, he says that these things wouldn’t be possible if not for the sense of community exhibited by Athens residents.

Much of Vision Video’s continued success is due to the community’s support.

“Athens has really fostered a sense of community where the citizens have a real sense of local flavor,” Seward said.

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