Video Store Champions: Snips Movies

Our first UK champion, Snips Movies is keeping the video dream alive on the Wirral, near Liverpool. We spoke to Dave Wain about his family business, and the future of the industry.

The entryway beckons you to search for a movie!

The entryway beckons you to search for a movie!

How long has Snips Movies been in operation?
Back in ’95 the local video store owner (first generation) was retiring and my Dad had the opportunity to buy his stock of a couple of hundred VHS tapes. So he did, and set them up in our family business that had been in operation for 15 years. I came in 11 years ago after being a Store Manager for Blockbuster for a few years, armed with plenty of lessons of how NOT to run a video store.

This is David, in his natural habitat.

This is Dave, in his natural habitat.

What sort of experience are you trying to create for a customer who enters your store?
I think the most important experiences are familiarity, comfort and excitement. With familiarity we try to acknowledge the fact that customers have names! In Blockbuster you were a number… a barcode, while at Snips Movies we try with as many customers for the rental process to simply be an act of putting your money on the counter and walking away with the film – no interrogation necessary.Comfort of course breeds from familiarity and we want a trip to the video store to be a relaxing process. We’re not going to push you into a movie because we need it to rent – if it’s awful, we’ll tell you. Similarly the customers won’t be upsold on popcorn and coke because we’ve got targets to hit. With regard to excitement, hiring a movie is still an event. I speak to people who meticulously plan their Saturday nights around their film rental, or folk that make a special journey solely to see what new stuff we’ve had in. With the well-researched buying, we always have plenty of new, classic or just plain weird films coming in – so every time a customer visits they know they’ll find something they haven’t seen.

The catalog stretches in every possible direction.

The catalog stretches in every possible direction.

How do you decide what to stock on your shelves?
With the ‘box office’ films they pretty much buy themselves, the rest though are purely bought to offer the greatest variety to cater for every possible taste. We have over 1000 world cinema titles organised by country so this area is vital to maintain, as are the releases of the key independent UK distributors. Being independent ourselves I believe it’s vital we support this industry, so make a point of buying every title by such labels as Arrow Video, Masters of Cinema, Second Run, 88 Films, Third Window, Shameless and Network. By making these purchases we’re guaranteed expertly produced releases manufactured by people passionate about their product, and give ourselves the reputation of being the only people of stocking titles as leftfield as the ones offered by such labels. These are companies that can’t get their product into the supermarkets, and with the UK high street struggling it’s a rarity to see these products in the flesh. By displaying them in Snips Movies it provides a rare chance for customers to hold in their hands a tangible product of a unique film.

A sampling of the Arrow Films collection.

At the top, you can see a sampling of the Arrow Films collection.

How has the proliferation of online distribution affected your business?
It’s fascinating to see how our industry keeps changing. When we began in 1995 our main competition was Blockbuster as well as swathes of independents. Now though we have no bricks and mortar rivals as we’re literally the last store standing. Whilst this has provided us with a great database of customers who come from an ever growing distance, the increasing popularity of Netflix and other UK streaming sites has brought about our biggest challenge – getting people to leave their house. It is appealing, I can’t deny it, the thought of having access to thousands of films at the push of a button without having to leave the comfort of your sofa. I’ve tried every service myself just to get knowledge of the advantages – AND the limitations of what they offer, and there are many limitations. I saw a great promo film for Scarecrow Video in Seattle recently, and the guy who presented it gave such a perceptive quote when he said “You can stay at home and watch what they’ve got, or you can come in and rent what you want”. Online distribution sites simply can’t offer the experience of coming to a video store, because even the most advanced algorithm can’t see the look on a customer’s face when they return a film they loved only to go home with something else better – directly tailored to their taste. Nor can you replicate a group of strangers standing in a shop passionately exalting the same film they’ve just seen, sharing the experience of something memorable. Sitting by yourself with a remote control and a widescreen TV doesn’t seem to cut it. How has it affected us? Truth is, it hasn’t. Yes, people disappear and experiment with free trials, low monthly subscriptions and the idea that it’s new, so it must be better. By and large though they come back when they realise the limitations of that service, and that there’s an Aladdin’s cave of movies that exists only around the corner from where they live.

A few of the niche titles the shop specializes in.

A few of the niche titles the shop specializes in.

Why do you feel the video store is an important business and what will be lost if it ceases to exist?
The video store is vital to the community. That may come across as a self-serving, self-preserving statement but it just happens to be true. We’re becoming a nation of shut in’s, embracing convenience in every aspect of our lives, from the weekly food shop delivered to our door to the family’s Christmas presents dropped off by a courier. On the face of it, it may seem great and wonderful and easy and hassle free, but in reality it’s eroding our communities and making us a society of hermit-like individuals who too quickly forget the pleasure and contentment that can be derived from daily social interaction. It’s a meeting point – a place to share experiences, recommendations and theories like “who was Keyser Soze?”. It’s a place to make friends, meet new people and expand your horizons. Somewhere to return a Kurosawa film then rent a Troma movie – no rules, no predications, and no browsing for half an hour only to watch ten minutes and then go to bed. What will be lost if it ceases to exist? Choice for starters – online we’re given the ILLUSION of choice, but nobody really tells you that on January 1st the classic Fritz Lang film Frau im Mond? It’s not available on streaming sites, so maybe you’ll buy it? Ah – it’s out of print, currently fetching a mere £70.00 in the Amazon marketplace. If only the video store was here for me to rent it for £2.50….It’s the little things like that, the specialism aspect that would be missed the most. They’re taking our book stores, they’re taking our record stores, but they’ll have a fight on their hands taking this video store.

The Directors Collection, showcasing the most acclaimed directors of cinema history.

The Director’s Collection, showcasing the most acclaimed directors of cinema history.

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  1. Chris Rogerson
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I live locally to SNIPS Movies and no matter how obscure, how old or how ridiculous my request Dave is right there with it in his hand. I have yet to be told “NO” to anything I ask for. This place is THE true giant of independents and long may they continue. Friendly, helpful no-nonsense service of the highest calibre.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Chris, this is heartwarming to hear. Thanks so much for posting your feelings about Snips. It is beyond obvious that Dave cares about what he does.

      • Chris Rogerson
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Cheers Josh. Just read that again……”with it in his hand”……..the movie naturally !

  2. Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Dave is a reviewer on the UK Horror Scene website that I run. He is hugely passionate about films and has a knowledge that is truly astounding. I have the pleasure to call Dave a friend and I am in awe of his work ethic and his love for cinema (especially genre film). A great article indeed!

  3. Mark Bissoni
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Brilliant, insightful interview that’s not afraid to go into detail and get to the heart of the matter. Snips is the best. If Dave had been Blockbusters CEO, they would be a profitable, thriving business right now. How Snips manages to defy inflation year after year and keep it prices so low is beyond me. And it’s choice of films is staggering … when Blockbuster used to be open I would ask for a film that Empire or Total Film magazine were raving about and they didn’t have it in. I would go to Snips, a third the size of the big Blockbusters, and there would be two or three copies in. Why is Snips the last video store standing? Simple. Because the owner loves films. That’s the reason and, in this world of cut throat business, it is ruddy refreshing!

  4. Gaz
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    In February 2012 I sent Dave a message, asking him if he’d heard of a film called ‘The Perfect Host’. A low budget, independent film from 2010 starring David Hyde Pierce (of TV series ‘Frasier’ fame) which I had stumbled upon whilst researching films one day. 
    He hadn’t, but agreed it looked interesting & said that fingers-crossed we’d receive a UK release date in the not too distant…
    Fast forward 18 months & Dave’s elephant-like memory for anything film related recalls our conversation.  So when the (albeit small & relatively obscure) film is finally released by independent distribution company Moviolla, Dave has purchased a copy, knowing that the likelihood of anybody renting the film after myself is quite slim. 
    This is one of possibly hundreds of examples I can give to you of how Snips is a shop for the people. It’s about the love of film over the desire for revenue. That kind of integrity has undoubtedly won the hearts of the community. It’s a service that you can’t get from the likes of LoveFilm & Netflix (who incidentally has had to remove titles from its catalogue when the license to stream them had expired!)
    Try to find ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’ this year on Netflix. You can’t, they’ve had to remove it! By the same token, try & find on the ‘streamers’ the niche genres, foreign cinema, documentaries, anime, & classic horror that you can find amongst the near 7000 titles available at Snips & you’ll be a long time searching! 
    It’s an experience & an education just to set foot in the shop & engage in conversation with Dave. Long may it live on!

  5. Pete
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Snips is fantastic. Why use Netflix etc.. when you can go to Snips and choose from thousands of films backed by Dave’s amazing knowledge and experience. He knows my favourite genres and is a great help in choosing movies. Really great service.

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