Monday Q&A: Video Fan celebrates its silver

As its 25th anniversary approaches next year, Video Fan faces an uncertain future. The major rental chains are going the way of the dinosaur as more people get their movies from players such as Netflix, Redbox, Amazon or good old-fashioned digital piracy.

BizSense caught up with Doug McDonald, the 38-year-old owner of the Fan institution, to find out how he is coping in a rapidly changing industry.

Below is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: How did you come to own the business?

Doug McDonald:
Ten years ago, the owner was selling it. I worked here at the time. Everyone was really worried that she would sell it to someone who would come in and change a lot of the stuff. One day, I realized I could buy it, so I did.

RBS: A lot has changed in the video rental world since then.

DM: It has been interesting. The DVD changeover was slow at first to come on, [and then] all of a sudden distributors weren’t even distributing VHS anymore. Everything went DVD. Now we run in to BluRay, which we have no luck renting. We have a few titles but no one rents them.

RBS: We have just seen Blockbuster file for bankruptcy after losing market share to Netflix. How have you been affected by Netflix and other new rental formats?

DM: Our biggest competition is digital downloads, Redbox and Netflix. When Netflix came big on the scene, we lost a big percent of people to it. But after a short period of time, some of them realized you don’t get to choose exactly what you get at a specific time, so a lot of people came back.

RBS: How many movies do you rent a day?

DM: It’s up and down, but on average between 100 and 150.

RBS: How big of a role does VHS still play in the business?

DM: It is kind of amazing people still have VHS players. Looking at returns this morning, we have 15 DVDs and 3 VHS tapes, so they still get rented.

RBS: Do you think you might pick up more business if Blockbusters closes most or all of its locations?

DM:
I don’t think I ever considered them a strict competitor. We have 14,000 titles and carry a lot of things they never had. They don’t keep older copies of movies very long. If we can, we keep everything we ever bought.

We have foreign stuff, cult stuff, rare [films] and a lot of stuff Blockbuster wouldn’t touch. If cinephiles go to the French Film Festival and want to see something again, they can come to us. Nine times out of 10, we’ve got it.

RBS: What else do you offer that you can’t get online or at a Redbox?

DM:
Our employees are very knowledgeable and helpful and offer interesting insights about movies. You can come in and talk to them about what they saw recently, old and new. They talk to customers and find out what they like and don’t like.

RBS: Where do you see the future of the business going? Could you make it last another 25 years?

DM: I don’t think so. We are struggling now. I don’t know how long we’ve got. The economy is down. People are not spending a lot of money and are getting digital downloads. We do well through the winter with students and stuff, but summers are tough.

Twenty-five years is a big milestone, I don’t know what the next move will be. There is not much we can do, because we are tighter than we used to be. Advertising is not as easy. We used to support festivals more, but every year we have to cut back on what we can give to places, and it sucks for everybody. It is nice being a part of that community, [which is] one of the things you lose with digital.

We are on the cusp of a new era. Hopefully we’ll be around.

RBS: What is the most rented movie in Video Fan’s history?

DM: “Blue Velvet.” It far and way [beats] everything else. I always wonder if that is a statement on our neighborhood or community.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

As its 25th anniversary approaches next year, Video Fan faces an uncertain future. The major rental chains are going the way of the dinosaur as more people get their movies from players such as Netflix, Redbox, Amazon or good old-fashioned digital piracy.

BizSense caught up with Doug McDonald, the 38-year-old owner of the Fan institution, to find out how he is coping in a rapidly changing industry.

Below is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: How did you come to own the business?

Doug McDonald:
Ten years ago, the owner was selling it. I worked here at the time. Everyone was really worried that she would sell it to someone who would come in and change a lot of the stuff. One day, I realized I could buy it, so I did.

RBS: A lot has changed in the video rental world since then.

DM: It has been interesting. The DVD changeover was slow at first to come on, [and then] all of a sudden distributors weren’t even distributing VHS anymore. Everything went DVD. Now we run in to BluRay, which we have no luck renting. We have a few titles but no one rents them.

RBS: We have just seen Blockbuster file for bankruptcy after losing market share to Netflix. How have you been affected by Netflix and other new rental formats?

DM: Our biggest competition is digital downloads, Redbox and Netflix. When Netflix came big on the scene, we lost a big percent of people to it. But after a short period of time, some of them realized you don’t get to choose exactly what you get at a specific time, so a lot of people came back.

RBS: How many movies do you rent a day?

DM: It’s up and down, but on average between 100 and 150.

RBS: How big of a role does VHS still play in the business?

DM: It is kind of amazing people still have VHS players. Looking at returns this morning, we have 15 DVDs and 3 VHS tapes, so they still get rented.

RBS: Do you think you might pick up more business if Blockbusters closes most or all of its locations?

DM:
I don’t think I ever considered them a strict competitor. We have 14,000 titles and carry a lot of things they never had. They don’t keep older copies of movies very long. If we can, we keep everything we ever bought.

We have foreign stuff, cult stuff, rare [films] and a lot of stuff Blockbuster wouldn’t touch. If cinephiles go to the French Film Festival and want to see something again, they can come to us. Nine times out of 10, we’ve got it.

RBS: What else do you offer that you can’t get online or at a Redbox?

DM:
Our employees are very knowledgeable and helpful and offer interesting insights about movies. You can come in and talk to them about what they saw recently, old and new. They talk to customers and find out what they like and don’t like.

RBS: Where do you see the future of the business going? Could you make it last another 25 years?

DM: I don’t think so. We are struggling now. I don’t know how long we’ve got. The economy is down. People are not spending a lot of money and are getting digital downloads. We do well through the winter with students and stuff, but summers are tough.

Twenty-five years is a big milestone, I don’t know what the next move will be. There is not much we can do, because we are tighter than we used to be. Advertising is not as easy. We used to support festivals more, but every year we have to cut back on what we can give to places, and it sucks for everybody. It is nice being a part of that community, [which is] one of the things you lose with digital.

We are on the cusp of a new era. Hopefully we’ll be around.

RBS: What is the most rented movie in Video Fan’s history?

DM: “Blue Velvet.” It far and way [beats] everything else. I always wonder if that is a statement on our neighborhood or community.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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