On Wednesday, Blockbuster announced it would begin the process of shutting down all of its remaining stores, officially bringing about the end of an era.
This move kicked off a firestorm of Google searches as people around the country looked to see where the closest Blockbuster was to them, having assumed all the stores had already closed like three years ago.
But no, a few resilient locations of the former juggernaut remained, limping along, refusing to die until this week.
I worked for Blockbuster for right around a year back during my college days. During my time with the company, I met a lot of amazing people. In addition, I also learned how not to run a company, should I ever decide to start one.
Netflix gets most of the credit for ending Blockbuster’s reign, but really, Blockbuster did that it itself. It treated its customers like garbage, because, well, where else were they going to go? It had a near-monopoly of the at-home entertainment industry for a long time and so it could basically do whatever the hell it wanted.
You guys don’t like late fees? We hear you. Let’s get rid of them for good … and replace them with restocking fees! Oh, you don’t like that? Well, I guess you can go to Hollywood Video … oh that’s right, we killed that company. Sorry!
In case we needed more evidence why monopolies suck, look no further than Blockbuster or also the state of the WWE since WCW folded.
Anyway, so the second a viable alternative to Blockbuster came along, i.e. Netflix, people ran, ran away as fast as their angry little legs could carry them.
In addition to being a giant corporate dick, Blockbuster was clearly completely clueless about the industry it had dominated for so long. It horribly misread the Netflix threat, choosing to ignore it until things were too late.
Eventually, Blockbuster threw its hat in the DVD-by-mail business, Blockbuster Online, but that was a total cluster f, as well. Streaming video, the rise of onDemand, etc., etc. also were more than happy to donate to Blockbuster’s early retirement celebration.
I’ll get into my experiences working for Blockbuster in a different blog, but the best salespeople I knew at the company all pitched the online membership the exact same way: “It’s like Netflix, only you can drop your DVDs off at the store so you can get a free in-store rental and we mail them out for you!”
I’m not a marketing guru, but it seems to me that if you’re using the competition’s name recognition to sell your product, you’re already behind the eight-ball.
Hey what’s Coke? You know, Pepsi? Well, it’s like that but with more sugar!
And these were the best salespeople. The worst ones, like myself, we were so far over our heads that we could have been offering customers money out of our paychecks instead of a free trial of online and they still wouldn’t have taken it.
The company was the ultimate hot mess. Despite that, I can’t help but remember my time there at least a little fondly, mostly because of the people I worked with. We made a job fun that had no business being anything other than an aggravating pit stop on our separate ways to some better.
Luckily those good people I worked with have all found those better things, jumping off the S.S. Blockbuster while it was still busy running itself into iceberg after iceberg and not where it is now: Disappearing under the icy cold waters of the north Atlantic.
Perhaps somewhere a band is playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” while a stately, old bearded gentlemen in a navy blue golf shirt clutches a DVD box with a red insert marked with the words “Two Day Rental” to his chest, remembering the good times while he waits to go down with his ship.
The times when customer lined up on Friday nights just so you could kick them in the ass by not having whatever movie they wanted in stock. When the internet was still just a thing you used for porn.
When girls were girls, men were men and returning a movie a day late was a crime that could legally cost a family its first born.
And most importantly of all: When the phrases "God bless America" and "Make it a Blockbuster Night" were still one in the same.