PICO BLVD — Like any savvy business owner, Cathy Tauber knows you should never give the impression that you’re down on your luck. It’s better to come from a position of power.
But the reality is Vidiots, the independent video rental store that she co-founded with childhood friend Patty Polinger in Santa Monica in 1985, is struggling. The recession, coupled with a dramatic shift in how people rent films, has hit Vidiots hard, forcing Tauber and Polinger to take extreme measures.
Last week, the two sent out a letter and e-mail to their loyal customers asking for their support during these difficult financial times. The pair pleaded with customers to turn to Vidiots on “movie night” and not Netflix, Redbox, Hulu or other online sources for Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar winners.
“It’s been a long, slow decline and we have nowhere else to cut. We just thought we owed it to the community and to our customers to get the word out before we’re shutting our doors,” Tauber told the Daily Press last week. “If you want to see us survive, then we need your help.”
Vidiots isn’t alone. Behemoth Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010, promising to restructure itself to be more competitive in the digital age, as did Hollywood Video.
Some are predicting that brick-and-mortar video rentals will be obsolete in five years.
“It’s online and DVRs and people just having less time to watch movies,” Tauber said. “We are trying to diversify, but we need more time to get the word out.”
Vidiots has renovated its space to now include the Vidiots Annex, a miniature film school and screening room where aspiring screenwriters and directors can take classes from experts in the film industry. Students pay a fee for a series of classes and the screening room is available for parties or other gatherings.
Another source of revenue is production companies. Tauber said several use Vidiots as a reference library, checking out scores of titles at a time for research.
That said, Vidiots, which has a collection of over 40,000 VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu-ray, is calling on customers to just rent one movie a week and donate old DVDs for sale. If customers do that, the business can survive. If not, Vidiots could close within months, Tauber said.
Tauber and company have faith in the human experience, believing that the knowledge and guidance their staff can provide, plus their collection of obscure titles, will continue to entice movie lovers. So far customers have responded and are offering suggestions on how to help the business. One customer told the Daily Press that as soon as he got the e-mail he went to Vidiots and rented four films.
“It’s a scary thing,” Tauber said of sending the letter and e-mail to customers. “In business, you are always told that you want your customers to believe you are doing well. But it’s a whole different thing right now. People are worried and we just had to do something. This is it.”