Video rental store owners develop new product line

The times are changing in the video rental business, and American Family Video is changing with them.

“We are reinventing the video store, making a 21st-century video store,” said owner Kathi Benson. To that end, Benson and her husband, Doug, have remodeled, opening a new local artist room Friday afternoon, June 18.

The new art room joins art display cases and other rearrangements. It will showcase local artists of all kinds, some of whom will even use it as a studio while selling their work.

Traditional video rental stores such as American Family Video have been impacted by the rise of DVD rental mail services such as Netflix, Redbox kiosks and video-on-demand cable delivery services. At the same time, prices on videos have decreased drastically, changing the business pattern at the store.

The Bensons are trying to take a different tack for customers, Kathi said. “We still provide the same kind of services to our regular customers, but showcasing art is awesome, especially local artists.”

It’s a good move for the community, providing an outlet for local artists to share their work, she said.

The video rental industry, like the newspaper industry and book stores, are rapidly changing, Kathi said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen to some of these businesses.”

American Family has been doing well enough though, Kathi said. “I have confidence in Sweet Home. We’ve been blessed. I think we’ll continue to be blessed.”

American Family gives to the community in many ways, from free videos for the high school to donations to the Reading Program at the Sweet Home Public Library.

She questioned whether businesses like Red Box will do that, but it does mean the store needs to adapt.

“You have to reinvent the store,” Kathi said. “You have to give the customers a reason to come in, make it so everybody enjoys coming to the video store again.”

Doug has been working at the store for two years. Kathi started working at the Sweet Home store in 1985. Eventually she began managing the Sweet Home and Lebanon stores and then went full time at Lebanon.

When owner Jim Woodry, who opened the video store in 1984, retired, he sold the stores in Dallas and Silverton to his sons and the Sweet Home store to the Bensons earlier this year.

The Sweet Home store has the chance of catching the interest of tourists, who may be interested in the art, she said. They also often stop in to rent videos to play in portable DVD players. As often as not, they simply buy movies.

Some 80 percent of the store’s business used to be rentals, Kathi said, but in recent years, video sales and rentals each account for about 50 percent of the store’s business.

As part of their adaptation, when “Avatar” was released, American Family Video offered a sale price for a used copy of the movie. Within a few weeks, the renters returned with copies of their receipt to claim their copy of “Avatar.”

A new shelf includes a growing variety of Christian movies, and a video game sales section has been carved out in the main room of the store.

The new art room, named “Hometown Art” by customer Mike Speck, is on the north end of the building, painted in soothing, earthy tones, with paintings and woodworking spread around the space.