Technology with attitude

Scarecrow Video: A Seattle Cinema Landmark

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“Desperation.”

This was what Kevin Shannon attributed to his initial start at Scarecrow Video.  He began in 1995 as a clerk at the famed Seattle Video store, now he is the General Manager and is confidently sailing Scarecrow towards the future.

“The vision of Scarecrow is simply to connect people to movies…and vice versa” Kevin says, “We want to be able to offer any title to our customers, so if someone asks for a film we don’t have we will do what we can to get it for them.”

This attitude has been what has driven the popularity of Scarecrow from its humble beginnings in 1986 with 200 movie titles to now where they proudly offer over 100,000 films.  Scarecrow has a following of around 80,000 active members, including 15 who come in daily to rent from the store.  This meteoric rise in popularity can be attributed to their unique collection of rare and mainstream films.  However Kevin would deny that their “niche” feel is what makes them so popular, it is simply that they have the largest physical collection of films available for rent. Even some rare and out of print films that require the customer renting to leave up to a 1,000 dollar deposit to insure a safe return.  This commitment to offering a unique experience for the customer has driven the growth of this cinematic treasure.

When one walks into Scarecrow they can often be quite intimidated by the selection.  There are two floors of film, with the store bursting at the seams trying to hold its collection.  On the first floor there is your traditional new release wall offering well-known, mainstream films on Blu-ray and DVD.  Then the main part of the floor is taken up by shelves of films organized by Director, allowing the customer to browse and find other films they may like by a certain Director.  Scarecrow then offers the customer a tour of world cinema in an attached room that has all foreign films organized by country.  Upstairs the films are more traditionally ordered by genre, allowing for the customer to choose what type of movie they are in the mood for and pick accordingly.

Even with the meticulous organization Scarecrow can be a hard place to find a film, essentially the customer is picking 1 or 2 out of 100,000.  So if you have no idea what you want to watch coming in you could be in for quite the long trip.  This is where the Scarecrow Staff comes in.  Scarecrow has not hired a new counter employee in over 2 years; such is the commitment and loyalty of those that work there.  They don’t ask that you know all there is to know about film to work there, because in the process of working there you get to know everything you would ever want to know about movies.  Kevin Shannon estimates that his staff members watch 10-15 films a week, and that’s not counting all of the films playing in the store during the day that they must watch.  The Staff member’s knowledge is so much that libraries have called before with queries about certain films for their own catalogue.  They are there to guide the customer on their journey to finding the perfect film, and are always available to talk to and ask questions.

This friendly feel and warm reception is hard to find in the modern world of Netflix and Blockbuster.  This is what has made Scarecrow the bane of the mainstream video rental stores.  So much so that a few years back Hollywood video moved in down the street with the intention of putting Scarecrow out of business.  They lasted about 2 years before the opposite happened.   In fact when I was interviewing Kevin about this topic a customer overheard and mentioned how he once went to Blockbuster trying to find the film “Amadeus”, only to find that they did not offer it and he has been a Scarecrow customer ever since.  Because at Scarecrow you can be sure to find everything from a Best Picture winner like “Amadeus” to the vague and rarely offered films the store boasts.

This is what makes Scarecrow so different from these huge, corporate stores.  This is also why Scarecrow isn’t worried by the rise new industry giant Netflix.  While they offer instant streaming and mail delivery they cannot match the catalogue that Scarecrow has, a catalogue which is growing by 400 to 800 films a month. This is where most of Scarecrow’s profits go towards, even though their building could use some work and they could spend more on advertising.  However Kevin says, “We would rather have dirty carpet and offer more movies.”  Advertising is mainly done by word of mouth, and Scarecrow likes it that way.  Their customers are valuable to them and they trust what they will have to say.  So as Scarecrow continues moving forward in this era of Film by Mail and Instant Streaming they are not daunted by growing challenges or competitors.  Like always, Scarecrow is simply going to let their movies do the talking.