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Video Cat purrfecting online sales strategy in battle against streaming giants

Vancouver video rental store shifting business model to keep up with changing viewing habits
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Video Cat owner RJ Rudd has shifted his business model from a focus on rentals to online sales as streaming services claw into the home entertainment market.

Shares of Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX) have been tumbling after the company revealed in late April it was losing subscribers for the first time in a decade.

The streaming giant’s business troubles, however, don’t seem likely to ease the challenges facing Vancouver video stores.

“Way more people are just relying on streaming services because obviously you don’t have to leave your house to do that,” said RJ Rudd, owner of Video Cat on 3541 Cambie Street, where a sandwich board invites customers in with puns advertising titles like Catsablanca and O Brother, Where Art Meow?

After working at the rental store under its prior Black Dog Video banner, Rudd bought the outlet in September 2020 after talks started with the previous owner before the pandemic unfolded. 

“We didn’t really know how long or how much this would affect society and retail, and so I took the chance that it might be shorter than it was,” he said. “There were thoughts that it would just be over in the fall or whatever. Obviously, things didn’t pan out that way, so here we are two years later.”

Rudd estimates foot traffic coming into Video Cat is down about 70 per cent since prior to the pandemic, as even more people have gotten comfortable relying on streaming services for home entertainment.

And Black Dog’s Commercial Drive location is now set to close in June after owner Darren Gay revealed in an April blog that rising costs mean it “can’t feasibly stay open any longer. We lost the war to what I call the ‘convenience of mediocrity’ that is streaming.”

With online streaming cementing itself as most viewers’ go-to way of watching movies at home, Rudd has had to shift the focus of his own business.

“I saw that people were getting more into buying movies rather than renting, so I devoted more of the store’s space to sales, and I did a couple of special events – sales events – where I sell a variety of things, not just movies,” he said.

Toys, records and Nintendo products have been up for grabs at those sales, while customers can still walk in and find a mix of movies ranging from Z-grade horror flick Wedding Slashers to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

But going up against those online streaming giants also led Rudd to devote more of the business to online sales and specialize in rare titles that could fetch hundreds of dollars from cinephiles and collectors across North America.

A copy of a collaboration between the Backstreet Boys and animated children’s series Arthur recently netted him $120. That one came into Rudd’s possession after a customer walked in and donated it (a common practice at the store).

“I had an eBay [Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY)] business. It was just a personal thing that I’d been doing off and on for years,” he recalled, adding that Video Cat likely wouldn’t still be around had he not made an effort to curate rare titles and sell them online. “That was always my plan when I took over – it was to incorporate that.”

torton@biv.com

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