“We would have closed a year ago if Blockbuster hadn’t closed in the Falls. The only reason we’re still around is because Blockbuster closed.”
Mike Pinkepank is a realist. He’s been in the video rental business for more than 20 years and, if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s that change is the only constant in his line of work.
Pinkepank, who owns Movie Man Video & Games at N80 W14962 Appleton Avenue, thought he’d have to close the store last year. Instead, it was Blockbuster’s store up the street that went belly up.
Movie rental stores of any kind are getting harder and harder to find these days. Do a Google search for movie rentals in the Falls and practically the only results you’ll get will be Redbox or Netflix. Movie Man Video & Games is one of those rare exceptions. Pinkepank points to his willingness to adapt to change as the main reason he’s still in business.
“Originally, we were a video game store that sold movies. I bought the store in May 2003 and we became more of a video store at that point. We went from being a video game store that sold movies to a movie store that sold used games.
“I was a big movie fan and DVDs were selling well at the time. I knew people were dissatisfied with Blockbuster and, with the cost of DVDs, I thought we could put them out for rent and then turn around and sell them if we have to. The previous owners had several game stores and didn’t want to do that.”
Adapting to change has also meant a drastic shift in his planning process. New releases come through the doors all the time and you’ve got to grab what’s hot for the moment.
“In the beginning when it was VHS and it was predominantly a rental business, you had to plan months ahead of time,” Pinkepank explained. “You don’t do that now. I place an initial order for titles but a lot of times I’m planning a week or two ahead of time.”
The irony of Blockbuster’s demise in the Falls is certainly not lost on Pinkepank. After all, he vividly remembers the way big chain rental stores drove so many mom and pop shops out of the market. At that time, he was an employee at one of those shops in the Falls.
“If you could go back and ask Blockbuster if they would have been better off with the mom and pop stores still around, I think they wouldn’t have put as much effort into wiping them out,” said Pinkepank. “It really destroyed whatever leverage video stores had at the time. What happened to stores like mine in the 90s happened to Blockbuster, except it was Netflix and Redbox that got rid of them.”
So what keeps Mike going? Why run a brick and mortar video rental store in this day and age?
“Blockbuster and Netflix try to pound in the notion of how horrible it is to go to the video store and how terribly inconvenient it is,” said Pinkepank. “The truth is that people like going to the video store. They like looking at what’s out, what’s on the shelf. People don’t like going to Redbox and seeing what 5 titles they have there. They like that they can get their titles cheaper there but as an independent video store we give them an alternative. We can’t give them a dollar a day but what we do is a $3.33 price for a three-day rental.”
Variety is the spice of life. In the movie rental business, it’s the lifeblood. Customer service is also crucial in generating repeat customers.
“You give them a wide variety of movies to pick from and you make it enjoyable to go to the video store, whether it’s being able to talk to them about what movies are good and what isn’t good. Just seeing the movie in a box and being able to look at it, instead of looking at a little thumbnail photo on a computer screen is what makes the difference. The one thing you can count on is that there is always going to be interest in this product.”
There are other factors that Pinkepank knows he can’t count on, like the weather.
“In a lot of ways, the business is you pray for rain or bad weather,” said Pinkepank. “If it cooperates, you will do OK. It is a more weekend business, not seven days a week. We got hurt badly by all the perfect summer weather in March. That cut into the business and it hurt.
“Another factor this summer will be how the Brewers do. If they’re doing well, people will be watching them on TV. Also, during the summer you’re not getting the major releases on video. You combine all of that and it affects the business.”
In the same way he stocks his shelves, Pinkepank no longer has a long-term plan for staying in business.
“I certainly don’t look 10 years down the road anymore,” said Pinkepank. “You look at it on a year by year basis. You just look at the present and look short term. But you know that there’s always going to be a market for this stuff.”