STARRING AT BIG BEAR

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Aggressive promotion is the key to picking up where Blockbuster left off, said David Stewart, owner/operator of Star Time Video here.Star Time Video has moved into three leased-space departments in supermarkets of Big Bear Stores, also here, that were vacated last fall by a Blockbuster franchisee. The live departments range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet with 3,500 to 4,000 units

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Aggressive promotion is the key to picking up where Blockbuster left off, said David Stewart, owner/operator of Star Time Video here.

Star Time Video has moved into three leased-space departments in supermarkets of Big Bear Stores, also here, that were vacated last fall by a Blockbuster franchisee. The live departments range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet with 3,500 to 4,000 units of inventory.

The retailer, who also runs 10 specialty stores in the area, recently opened a fourth department, in the new Big Bear in Powell, Ohio. The shop has 3,500 rental units that will eventually grow to 4,000, in 1,500 square feet, said Stewart. A fifth Star Time rental department is planned for a Big Bear store that is scheduled to open in June on the east side of Columbus, he said.

"I would eventually like to get into stores that they are remodeling, or where they have space available. Big Bear has a lot of stores in the area and the more we can get inside of, the better," said Stewart.

The Big Bear store manager at the Powell store is glad to have the Star Time department. "It's an added service that makes the total one-stop shopping experience more enjoyable," said Bob James. "If the customer is coming in to rent a video, and they walk past everything in the aisles, hopefully they are going to stop and buy something else."

James is also happy that the leased-space operation does not take up his time. "It's a big process to get into video. This works out a lot better for me," he said.

So far, building traffic has been a challenge for Star Time. "We had originally expected that the supermarket traffic alone would be enough to drive business for us, but it hasn't brought in the numbers that we had hoped for," said Stewart. "So we are going to have to generate the business."

Stewart found some customers were disappointed to find Blockbuster had moved out. "Even when we offered them a free movie, they still turned and walked out. Blockbuster has a tremendous brand name loyalty and I have to give them credit for that."

With lower rental rates and greater convenience, the key is to take full advantage of the supermarket store traffic with frequent and effective promotions, he said.

For example, a promotion last month for the release of "Air Force One" helped drive traffic into the department and increased the number of new memberships. Using door hangers and in-store fliers with two-for-one and 50-cents-off coupons, "we got a lot of responses and rented a lot of movies. It brought a lot of new people in, and that's what we were looking for," said Stewart.

Star Time is counting on its relationship with pay-per-transaction distributor Rentrak Corp., Portland, Ore., as part of its promotional strategy. This month, the retailer will run a promotion featuring "Peacemaker" and "The Full Monty," two Rentrak titles, again using door hangers and in-store fliers.

Since the first three stores have only been open since October, and the fourth one since January, Star Time is still evaluating the number of titles it needs to make a Rentrak promotion work. "We've been buying 20 to 25 copies initially just to get an idea of where we need to be." A banner promoting the guaranteed availability of "Con Air" helped draw attention to the departments.

Permanent signage highlighting Star Time's $2.49 new-release rental rates, which are lower than other specialty store competition, is another component in the marketing strategy. In most stores, the large two-sided signs hang from the ceiling and are visible from the checkout area, as well as the video departments.

Facing the checkouts, big letters proclaim, "New Releases $2.49," while the other side says, "Star Time Video $2.49. Top Renters. New Lower Prices. More Hits. More Copies."

The retailer also uses big marquee signs with flashing lights, posters, large banks of nine monitors playing trailers and, for grand openings, an Elvis impersonator.

To break down resistance, especially with loyal Blockbuster customers, Star Time offers free rentals to those who will sign up for a video membership. At busy times in a new store, Stewart will station an employee outside the department to buttonhole customers as they walk by. Star Time also sends out a free rental coupon for customers' birthdays.

Star Time is facing a tougher competitive situation than the Blockbuster franchisee -- Buckeye Entertainment Corp., Dublin, Ohio -- as it is competing in some cases with new Blockbuster stores that opened nearby, a new Hollywood Video store, and in one case a new Kroger and a new Blockbuster. But Stewart feels the supermarket location will ultimately work in his favor.

The Good, The Old and the Buyable

POWELL, Ohio -- Previously viewed videos are featured prominently in the leased-space rental department Star Time Video, Columbus, Ohio, recently opened in the new Big Bear supermarket here.

Customers see the 21 feet of used tapes on their right as they enter the department. Among the well-known titles priced less than $10 are "Birdcage," "Dead Man Walking," "The People Versus Larry Flynt," "Twister" and "Primal Fear." Disney Masterpiece titles also were priced less than $10.

"With all the traffic going by in the Big Bear stores, we feel there is an opportunity for impulse purchases," said David Stewart, Star Time's owner and operator.

"People come into the supermarket to spend money, and as long as they are in that spending mood, we are going to hit them first thing with a lot of tapes they can own for a real reasonable price. Everybody has got their favorite and there are about 700 cassettes. We've got a little bit of everything for everybody," he said.

A unique design element in the new department is a large open space inside the entrance where customers can park their carts. The retailer also uses the space for sell-through shippers and standees.

"I would prefer aisles that were a little bit wider just so you can get two carts to pass, like they have in the grocery store. But we don't have that luxury of space. We are operating in 1,500 square feet and we have to put as much merchandise in here as possible," he said.

Star Time is testing the rental of DVDs in another store about 15 minutes away and will consider extending the test when demand picks up, he said. "If someone wants something that is in limited supply, they are willing to drive a little bit further to get it. But if we are seeing enough turns at that location, there is enough room here to do something with DVD. I'd gladly take out some of the general category stuff and put in a format that is going to make me some money," he said.

But Stewart has become more pessimistic about the future of DVD because major studios like Paramount and Fox still are not supporting the format. "What it is going to take to make DVD work is having every studio on board. If they remain split, they are going to confuse the consumers and they aren't going to sell anything," he said.