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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.