It’s the end of an era. The days of video store movie rentals is coming to a close as Blockbuster Video has announced that it will close the remainder of their stores by early 2014.
We all knew this was coming. Most of the stores have already closed. It’s a bit surprising really that it’s taken this long for the rest of them to finally close their doors. Still, it saddens me. I used to love going to Blockbuster as a kid and looking for video tapes to rent before the days of by-mail and streaming. If you wanted a new release and it was all checked out, there was nothing you could do except wait and hope it was there when you returned whatever it was you’d rented in its place. Now, you don’t even have to leave your home to rent new movies with services like Netflix and Vudu.
I am also an ex-employee of Blockbuster and it was a job I enjoyed for a long time. Sure, it was retail and there were aggravations that come along with that territory but I loved movies and as an employee I got free rentals and was able to talk about movies with customers all the time. It was great.
I first started working at Blockbuster in June of 2002. I was 18 years old and I remember in my interview my store manager asked me what one of my favorite movies was. I replied “Good Will Hunting” and he asked me to describe it to him. My store manager was a really nice guy and expected hard work from his employees. I respected him and he liked me. My sales weren’t great (they never would be) and he once told me I “couldn’t sell water to a man on fire.” But he thought that I had more movie knowledge than anyone else at the store and saw that I loved helping people find a good movie to watch. In his mind, good customer service skills were more important than how much candy or Rewards cards I sold. If the customer keeps coming back, that was key. During that time, Blockbuster started putting an employee out on the sales floor during peak Friday and Saturday night shifts. They were there to try and sell the Movie Pass to customers before they reached the register. My manager placed me in that position knowing that customers don’t want to be sold something while they’re browsing for a movie and that I wouldn’t do that to them. (Although, I’d occasionally pitch it if I thought a customer was a “secret shopper.”) I was on the floor to talk about movies and help people find what they were looking for. One of my favorite games was “I can’t think of the title for this one movie…” I worked at Blockbuster in Georgia from June 2002 to January of 2006. This was when Blockbuster was at the top of its game. Netflix had just been introduced and people were still coming to Blockbuster a lot.
After I moved to California, I returned to Blockbuster in September of 2010. On my first day, my new store manager informed me that Blockbuster had just filed for bankruptcy. I was a little worried I’d lose my job right away, so soon after getting it, but as it turned out, it took quite a while for me to notice the effect of the bankruptcy. It was business as usual for quite a while. In fact, the employee rentals had gone up. Used to be we’d get five free rentals a week. Now it was ten a week! It wasn’t until the beginning of 2012 that the news came down that our store would be closing. I had no idea what to expect. What would it be like working at a closing store? Would I still have to meet sales goals? What happens once the store closes? Would I lose my job?
Turns out, working at a closing store is actually quite awesome. There was a sales goal but with a great incentive. They wanted us to get as many customers as possible signed up with Blockbuster Online. The first month (or maybe it was two weeks…) was free and the associate who signed them up got $5. You better believe I made a few fake email accounts and signed myself up. A couple of times. Also, my DVD collection grew quite a bit. I wasn’t supposed to, but I’d set aside movies that I wanted to buy and wait for the price to drop. I even got an HD TV out of it. And a computer monitor. Not too shabby.
Normally, when a store finally does close its doors, you’re out of a job. I actually wish I had let that happen. Then I would have left Blockbuster with a good taste in my mouth. As it happens, I was able to transfer to one of the few remaining stores in my area. I worked there from March 2012 to June of 2012. Not a long time. Somewhere in 2011 DISH Network bought Blockbuster. I wasn’t too affected by it at my previous store because we were closing and, at the time, only select stores would be selling DISH Network tv packages. By the time I arrived at my new store, every store that still existed was selling (or trying to sell) DISH to it’s customers. Blockbuster was no longer about renting movies to customers. It was about putting DISH Network TV in their homes. Before I left, a Blockbuster employee (I forget his title. He wasn’t our District Manager but he didn’t work in a store either. He was some sort of Sales Manager) talked to me about the future of Blockbuster. He flat out told me that DISH was the #1 priority and their plan was to remove all the older movies off the floor (we called them “Favorites”) and put them in to a Redbox style machine in the corner of the store. The wall would still be New Releases but the sales floor would be all DISH.
I wanted to slap him.
Are you kidding me? It was one of the last straws. On top of all that, I had a District Manger who managed his stores through fear. “Sell DISH or you’re fired” was his strategy. It didn’t work for us. Six out of eight employees left in June of 2012, never to look back. And now Blockbuster is finally closing its doors.
I really wanted Blockbuster to return to its former glory, but knew that would never happen. If someone can get a movie at home, for the same price (if not cheaper) than they can at Blockbuster, where it’s due back the next day, then they would stay home. And that’s precisely what they did. DISH didn’t help things but then again, Blockbuster needed a lot of help.
I’ll always remember the days of browsing for videos with my parents as a kid. It’s too bad my future kids won’t get that same experience.