New Pic A Flic owner has faith in video-store format

Kent Bendall knows that some people think he’s crazy.

He knows they are thinking: Who in their right mind would buy a video-rental store in the age of Netflix and shomi and 24-hour-a-day on-demand movies?

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But Bendall, 46, isn’t too worried about that; he’s worked at Pic A Flic Video in the Cook Street Village for nearly 15 years and knows that it isn’t just any video store.

He took ownership of the store this month, in part because it’s the best job he’s ever had and he didn’t want it to end. He also believes the store, which opened in the mid-1980s, can survive by playing to its strengths: selection and customer service.

Even before Blockbuster, Rogers Video and other competitors fell by the wayside, Pic A Flic was known as the place to go for movies you couldn’t find anywhere else — from foreign films and documentaries to black-and-white classics and quirky independent releases.

“Pic A Flic was always the staple,” said Lucas Woods, who has been renting videos there for 20 years. “They had everything.”

The store’s vast catalogue of more than 30,000 titles remains a draw today, despite the rise of streaming video, Bendall says.

“In the past year or so, I’ve seen a lot of customers we haven’t seen in three or four years,” he said. “And they’ll sheepishly admit, ‘Oh, we got Netflix. We got Shaw.’ And they’re like, ‘But we couldn’t find anything good.’

“That’s what I hear most often, ‘We had Netflix, but there’s never anything good on there.’ Or: ‘We have Netflix, but it doesn’t have the Star Wars films or it doesn’t have this.’ ”

Others keep coming back because, like Laurel Dowd, 54, they simply like the “feeling of the place.” Dowd said she’ll sometimes stop at Pic A Flic just to hear the staff joking or bantering about pop culture.

“It just feels good to be able to come into a place where they’re here because they want to be here,” she said. Downloading movies off the Internet never occurred to her. “I just go with what I’m happy with.”

Bendall hears that often, and believes that, despite the ease of watching movies online, many people still prefer the experience of getting out and browsing the video racks or getting a recommendation from a knowledgeable staff member. After all, where else can you go to find out the name of the movie that had the guy who was in that other thing, with the girl and the dog?

“Sometimes we can nail that,” Bendall said, laughing. “‘Oh, you know, Marley and Me with Jennifer Aniston.’”

Rob Nesbitt, who co-owned the store previously with Karen Rissling for about eight years, said Pic A Flic needed shot of “newness” and that if anyone can provide it, it’s his longtime friend, Bendall.

“Kent is super passionate,” Nesbitt said. “He’s super knowledgeable. The customers love him … I know he’s going to inject a lot of colour and life into the place.”

Bendall said he has no plans to fool with Pic A Flic’s success, but does want to get into video sales, and possibly expand into movie memorabilia. He also envisions hosting movie-related events in the community.

“I love movies and I really believe that a collection like this — it’s a great resource,” he said. “And for a city like Victoria that prides itself on being very artistically inclined, I think it’s important to have something like this that has a huge volume of movie history at people’s disposal.”

Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University, said Pic A Flic’s massive selection will likely be key to pulling in younger customers like the “millennials” — those born from the early 1980s to early 2000s.

“He’s got one serious problem on his hands: Geezers like me,” Meredith said. “We have a bad habit of dying off, and when that happens, your market disappears. Then you gotta say, ‘How do I replace it?’

“With a selection like that, there may be a whole pile of retrofitted millennials out there who have a little hankering to see Rock Hudson and Marilyn Monroe, who may want to see Humphrey Bogart or watch some of the big movies of the ’70s and ’80s. Guess what? He’s got it all.”

Pic a Flic’s location in the Cook Street Village doesn’t hurt either, Meredith said. “He’s got the best of both worlds. He’ll be getting your downtown highrise millennials in condos and he’s also getting your geezer factor. So that’s a good combo, no question.”

Meredith said a little advertising wouldn’t hurt, as would a few promotions that might encourage customers to “bring a friend” to the store. “Anything to strengthen the loyalty of the current segments he has and, of course, gently use them to expand it through to their friends.”

In the same way that vinyl records have enjoyed resurgence, Bendall is hoping people rediscover the pleasure of visiting a video store where staff have carefully selected the best products for you.

“People think I’m crazy for investing all my time and money into a video rental store,” he said. “But I think as the online thing and the instant gratification of digital downloads become more prevalent, people are going to want a cleaner, more accessible, retro way of getting their entertainment that’s more personal.

“God, I hope they do.”

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