By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– If you think the days of the video rental story are history, prepare to be schooled again.
Family Video will open a new location in North Liberty this spring, and the privately-owned chain of video stores has transitioned well from its origins in 1946 to the 21st century.
Yes, 1946; the four is not a typo.
“We are a privately owned company, which started in 1946 as Mid-States Appliance,” said Family Video district manager Oliver Owen. The wholesale company grew until the mid-1970s, when “the company had a warehouse in Springfield, Ill., full of VHS tapes.”
Thus, the business of renting video cassette players and the tapes to play in them became part of the company.
Today, there are 825 stores within the Family Video group.
And in another recent evolution, the company is not just comprised of video stores. In North Liberty, as in six other Iowa locations within the next six months, the video rental store will be paired with another of its companies, Marcos Pizza, a full carry-out and delivery pizza joint with pizza dough made fresh by hand every day.
“So people will have the opportunity to have their pizza and videos or games delivered together,” said Owen. If the customer has videos that go back to the store, the delivery driver can return those to the store, too. “So when it’s four degrees outside and you don’t want to go out, we’ll take care of it.”
It’s part of Family Video’s focus on complete customer service.
“We are customer-based first, and then we bring them the low pricing as well,” Owen said. Most rentals are just $2.99 for new releases. Older titles rent for $1 or less, and there is a large section of free rentals– children’s titles and a sports and fitness section that includes popular UFC wrestling events, workout videos, titles from the Discovery Channel, IMax movies and Disney Earth.
“No catch,” Owen said. “Someone could literally come in and walk out of here with free rentals and never have to spend a dime.”
These features are part of the reason the video business has thrived. Owen said another reason is the store’s huge selection of DVD and game titles. Not only do they get many copies of new releases– between 40 to 100 of the newest titles– they also tend to get them 30 to 60 days before competing stores, so there is a much better chance of renting them right away. New video games are delivered to the store every Tuesday, and many of them are exclusive launches at Family Video. And besides the mainstream demand for new releases, Family Video tries to accommodate every audience.
“We don’t just order the big titles, like a lot of other stores. We get a lot of small, independent titles too. We want to have as much in the store as possible, so we have the best selection at hand.” And if a desired video is not in your neighborhood location, Family Video will call around to see if one of their other stores can send it over.
The staff is a resource in other ways as well, said Owen.
“Our employees actually watch most of the movies that come in, so they are knowledgeable. If you want recommendations, you can ask the staff,” Owen said.
“And we’ll tell you if we don’t like something,” said Iowa City store manager Alex Braner, who will be managing the North Liberty location when it opens this spring.
In addition to video and game rentals, most of the titles in the store are for sale, at very reasonable prices, and very quickly after their release to the public. The previously-viewed titles are cleaned before leaving the store, and come with a 30-day guarantee to play perfectly. Family Video has both disc cleaning and disc repair services that, for a very small price, will keep discs in good condition for years to come.
Staying on the A-list in a world that brings video and gaming on demand has not been a problem for Family Video. “(After experiencing) the best November we’ve had, ever,” Owen said, it’s proof that customer service, selection and lower pricing has kept Family Video strong in an industry that sees competition from technology such as Netflix and Hulu, or the conveniences of video vending machines.
“I think we have more movies on one shelf than some of those have in their whole machine,” said Braner. “A lot of times, customers will come in looking for something they can’t find in the Red Box, and once they’re here, they don’t try other places. We hear it a lot.”
They are already hearing a buzz about opening in North Liberty.
“I have friends who loved Mr. Movies, and they can’t wait to see what we have,” said Braner. Signing up is easy, and pressure-free, he added. “Sign up is totally free, and you get some great deals when you sign up.” Free half-price rentals for the first 30-days of membership is one way Family Video will get you on your way to enjoying movies, television series and games right away. New members get a load of coupons as well– and coupons are available in Spanish.
Family Video regional manager Denise Miller is from North Liberty, and she has fought for a long time to bring a Family Video store to her hometown. It was the right location, at the right time, she said. Depending on the rest of the winter weather, the North Liberty location is scheduled to open in early February.
But the company has already been at work in the community. As they do every year for Thanksgiving, the store purchases turkeys to give to struggling families. In November, Braner and his staff passed out 20 turkeys to residents in some low-income housing units in North Liberty. Family Video also does a great deal to raise funds at the local level to benefit lymphoma research nationwide.
“It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of,” said Braner. During a recent fund drive for lymphoma research, customers were asked if they wanted to round up and donate their change to the cause. Those who did were entered into a drawing to receive half-price rentals for a year.
“By sheer luck of the draw, I drew the name of one of our regular customers, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma,” said Braner. “He said he couldn’t express how much it meant to him.”
Open from 10 a.m. until midnight every day, 365 days a year (except for a noontime opening on Christmas day), Family Video will continue to serve customers in Iowa City at 101 Highway 1, and Braner and his crew look forward to launching the North Liberty location this spring, on the corner of Highway 965 and Penn Street, next to the University of Iowa Community Credit Union. Customers who create an account in Iowa City will be able to create a new account in North Liberty, taking advantage of the half-price rentals and new customer deals in both locations.
“If you’ve never been to Family Video, I guarantee you’ll be excited and save money,” said Owen. “Just sign up and give us a chance.”