Irradiated by LabRat
Unfortunately, we did not actually manage to personally close a Blockbuster. We just drove the staff to distraction because we are usually incapable of agreeing on a set of two movies in a timeframe of less than half an hour, at least without a professional mediator.
However, a store from the most successful video-rental chain in America DID in fact manage to go out of business in a town with no nightlife, high affinity for technology, and with the only competition being an independent local chain with a miniscule selection of severely abused DVDs and half the store given over to a coffee shop. Impressive, you say? It sure is! Here’s how they did it:
1) Employee customer-deterrence. This one is actually not the fault of Blockbuster or the local store’s management, so it goes up top. The problem with a town like Los Alamos is not only that you get the “company town” effect of almost all the local labor pool having a narrow set of skills, but that there are only two kinds of jobs that are abundantly available:
1. The kind that you don’t even need a high school diploma for, and
2. The kind you need a graduate degree for.
People who are unskilled and want more generally either leave town or take one of the low-end jobs in the Lab that offer opportunities for education, training, and fantastic job security. That leaves businesses like Blockbuster with a pool of potential employees that consists mainly of the most unmotivated teenagers in town. The cool film-fan kids go work at the competition, since they get more influence over the store stock and can sneak in obscure and independent titles, which Blockbuster’s corporate structure discourages. End result? A store with a few good employees that are hampered by their colleagues who ignore the customers, have only the barest idea how to work the register, won’t answer the phone, and invite friends in to just hang out and shoot the shit. On one delightful evening, one of the employees up front had his girlfriend and a pack of her friends in whose primary method of communication was shouting at each other from opposite ends of the store. You try settling a tense negotiation over movies with someone screaming “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY! IS THIS ONE ANY GOOD? HOW ABOUT YOU GUYS, YOU WANT TO WATCH DESCENT?!” in your ear, addressing someone at the opposite end of the store, who is on a cell phone. No one cared- except the customers. (It didn’t look as though the shouters were required to pay.)
2) Unpredictable hours. I don’t know if this one was the fault of the aforementioned flaky employees or the store manager, but our Blockbuster tended to be closed at random times. Being closed at seven pm on a weekend night is not generally regarded as a good business tactic for video rental outlets, especially if the customer has no way to find out without making the trip, since the odds are only fifty-fifty that the phone will be answered even if the place is open.
3) Lack of compliance with advertised corporate policy. No late fees, no problem- everywhere but here.
4) Insensitivity to the local customer base. I understand that Blockbuster corporate policy does limit the number of lesser-known titles stores can stock as opposed to big-budget ones with huge ad campaigns, but you’d think they’d take a hint when, on the New Release shelves, the three copies of (insert slightly more obscure but good title here) are constantly rented out and asked after while the entire wall full of (Adam Sandler vehicle) never rented out more than one or two copies at a time.
5) Damaged goods. I understand this is a problem for all rental outlets, but it still doesn’t do much for customer confidence when there’s always a high chance that the DVD or cassette tape rented will be so badly abused as to be unwatchable- without a great deal of likelihood of getting your money back unless it’s actually snapped in half. With their bigger budget, this should have been an area where the Blockbuster outlet should have been able to easily best the competition, but the odds on one of their DVDs were only slightly better.
6) Shelf space taken up by video game rentals. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it was even remotely worthwhile for a gamer to use them; the handful of titles that weren’t chronically out were obscure ones that nobody ever seemed to want to rent, and none came with instruction books. As it were, they had two shelves taken up by a product that almost never justified its real estate.
In the end, both stores lasted as long as they had a captive audience. Now that Netflix and, ironically, Blockbuster Online (which is heavily outcompeting Netflix, mostly due to being able to use its stores as exchange points) are there, there are far fewer people willing to put up with the hassle. I expect the other store to go down eventually, unless they turn most of their business over to coffee and pastries.