11/11/2020

Small Business Spotlight

Top Tips for Increasing Online Sales During COVID: Rare Film Vault

Justin Gideon from Rare Film Vault shares his top tips for e-commerce success, how his business has actually expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic and also discusses his favorite films and projects.

Katie Lee

Marketing Manager


Hatch:

Hello, and welcome to Hatch: Small Business Spotlights where small business owners share stories about getting started, lessons learned and victories they've won along the way to building their businesses. I'm Hatch from Artifact, and today we're joined by Justin, the founder of Rare Film Vault. His company ships extremely hard to find movies to customers around the world and during the pandemic has seen a boom in business with so many people stuck inside craving some nostalgia.

Justin:

So my name is Justin. I've been in the e-commerce business for about more or less of 17 years, and with a main focus on custom videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, and that sort of thing since about 2015, and we have a store on eBay that we've had for the last 17 years actually, and also what we do with our videos is we look for rare non-copyright and/or public domain movies, and we basically custom make them for our customers and put them on disc or other media format and we send those out to them. Then we also do custom movies as well. So if we have some folks that have home videos that they VHS that they want to have transferred over to DVD, we also offer that service as well. We're now kind of expanding with the pandemic.

Our business actually has gone up a little bit and probably more or less just because we have some customers that are inside the house, nothing else to do and want to watch movies. So we've really kind of taken this year as an opportunity to grow and expand and look at more opportunities that we can really get involved in.

Hatch:

I'm curious. There's obviously so many things you can sell on eBay. What gave you the idea to start with rare hard to find films?

Justin:

So before we got started, I was working with a gentleman that was over in London. He had sold a lot of documentaries, which is actually one of the primary things we also sell as well, that were free public domain. The authors wanted it shared just to spread the news about certain topics that were important, such as health, science, technology, things of that nature. And he was getting into another part, which is really just old classic silent films that some folks want, they're looking for. So he took a break from the documentaries, we took over on that and really kind of assumed control of those type of films and then it just kind of grew from that. That started in 2015, and then as the years kind of progressed, in 2018 he started getting out of the business a little bit so we also took over some more into the silent films. Some of the audio radio shows, we call it old time radio. So you have The Shadow, you got all kinds of different old TV shows and radio programs that people wanted.

So we started carrying those and then also other films that were kind of high in demand, but out of print, rare, you couldn't find, but at the same time, we wanted to ensure that we weren't violating any copyright structure or anything like that. So we had to do our due diligence, really looking into that and making sure it was public domain, that there was no copyright claim on it and we would have the ability to go ahead and share it. So we've been doing that, and then recently what we've been getting into now is a little bit more of some older TV shows from the eighties and nineties ... or I'm sorry, not TV shows but TV movies, low budget ones that are public domain. We're looking into those. So we've got a lot of folks that are looking into those and we certainly take requests, not all requests we can fulfill just based on legality issues, but we'll certainly look into it for our customers. We like to offer that open communication and build that relationship with the customer. If they're looking for something particular, we'll never turn down a request, but we may have some situations that we just can't fulfill just based on other issues out of our control.

Hatch:

You mentioned your phenomenal customer service. How do you make sure that every day you're giving your customers that just high level attention that you want to offer them?

Justin:

So one thing we've understood, really myself is a lot of sellers, doesn't matter what type of e-commerce business you're looking at, if it's eBay, if it's Shopify, if it's Etsy, it doesn't really matter. The one thing that comes around is offering that world-class customer service and if you don't offer that to your customers, they're just not going to come back. In fact, half of our business that we've looked at from our spreadsheets are actually returned customers. We get a lot of returned business and we've been able to do the numbers that we have and grow and be successful because we offer that excellent customer service. Without it, you just don't have a business. And we've seen a lot of our competitors that you can just tell by looking at their feedback on eBay that ... and it does happen.

It's frustrating when you get a customer who leaves a negative review, and you can reply to that feedback. We've seen a lot of our competitors basically reply back with something, a snide remark or something just, you can tell they're upset and you really have to take emotion out of that equation because if you don't, you're setting yourself up for failure. And if you're looking to expand, that's where you get into some trouble. So what we do is we take it as a learning opportunity. If we have a customer that's upset and even if they do or they don't leave negative feedback, we'll always reach out to them and say, "Well, what can we do to make it right?" What we can do is this, I can send you out another film and then even offer a free one just to kind of bridge that gap and win their confidence back with the customer.

Hatch:

Can you talk through a little bit what it's like when a customer comes to you with a request and you then try to go out and...

Justin:

In most cases what we do is we have partnerships with other individuals and other groups that offer some public domain films and we'll search, and if it's in a database that we have a connection to, we'll find it and we'll get it for the customer, but if it's available. If it's not, then we have other avenues we can go to as far as requesting it and seeing if we can purchase it, if it's a way that we can buy the rights to it, if it's possible. Now that can get very expensive. But if it's a film that is in high demand or something that someone's looking for, we can go that avenue. We really also have to look at, is this something that we're going to sell a lot of? Is this something that we're going to offer to our customers that they may want?

If it's too expensive from a financial standpoint for our business, we know that it's just not going to work. We'll have to turn it down. So we have a lot of folks between their sixties and their eighties right now that grew up with these movies. Really you have to understand who is your customer, what is their age range and what are they looking for? So if we think that we understand a customer and what they're looking for, and then we find out that, "Oh, we want all these films," well, then we'll look into it and some other similar titles that they might be interested in, that's really helped us grow as well.

Hatch:

You mentioned the ambition to grow to possibly be a distributor, but I'm interested in the stage you're at right now, which is, sounds like making this transition from an eBay business to a startup company. Can you talk a bit about that process and any struggles that you faced?

Justin:

We first started small, obviously on eBay. We were only making a general revenue of maybe about 500 to a 1000 a month in gross revenue. We have about a 50 to 60% overhead. So it is quite considerable. We do have to pay some royalties to some of our companies that we do business with as far as some movies that we offer, some we don't, and then of course we've invested about 12 to $15,000 in equipment over the last five years, and also had to do a learning experience, how we get quality content, how we make it and everything. So we basically create the disc, we have a sophisticated piece of equipment that will basically take the disc, put it onto it, and then go ahead and print it professionally. So we have a whole situation and I run it all out of my home office.

So it's something that's small, but getting bigger and bigger. I've had to teach myself video editing. Right now I'm taking a course through Final Cut Pro. So we're really trying to expand and get better at what we do. Now, one thing we're also looking into is we wanted to grow, eBay's a great source, but at the same time, there's a lot of controls that are there that we can't just offer our customers like the option to have them fill out a form if they're looking for a specific request. Right now they just email us or call us on our phone if there's something they're looking for. So this is really going to open up a broad horizon, exactly what our customers are looking for. They can have a direct line of communication through a form on our website, request it and then one of my team can get back and let them know if we can capture it.

Hatch:

So as you've grown and entered this new phase of your company, how has Hatch supported your growth?

Justin:

Well, Hatch has offered a unique opportunity for us. So with being a new LLC and new business, a lot of folks have trouble obtaining business credit. It's almost like you're 18 again. You're starting off with zero credit when you're a new business and that's very frustrating and difficult. Hatch has offered us a unique opportunity to establish a business credit card, but they've taken the approach where they don't really have to check too much into personal credit. They're not so much concerned with it. So that's given us an opportunity to start, get our foot in the door with some sort of financial product and then grow from it. So we've used our Hatch card quite a bit to purchase supplies and whatnot, and from what we've been told from them, they're looking into expansion as far as offering credit line increases so we can maybe move on to equipment.

But the great thing that if anyone is looking for Hatch, is that they don't require a lot what other traditional banks do. And that's been great for us because when you're starting off and you need to purchase equipment supplies, whatever the case may be, if you are a new business, you don't have any credit. So Hatch has given us a great opportunity to at least get our foot in the door and get that started and get some business credit established.

Hatch:

So you mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I'm interested in drilling down into how your business has fared during the pandemic. Can you talk a bit more about the unique circumstances of the pandemic and how that affects Rare Film Vault?

Justin:

With the pandemic we were, as many other e-commerce sellers were very concerned. But as it turns out, we're in a unique opportunity because we are not, of course, a brick and mortar store. We're not offering services just in our locality, in our city or our state, anything like that. We're a global e-commerce company. So not only do we ship our movies in the state and in the country, but we also offer a global service through eBay. So that's been great as well. There's been some challenges, but honestly, knock on wood, our business has actually increased. And I think because really with the pandemic, you've got a lot of folks that are huddled inside, they don't want to go anywhere and that's completely understandable. So a lot of people just want to watch movies and just hang out and chill at home. So we've had a lot of big orders that we didn't have before.

We offer a unique sales promotion. We offer buy one, get one on all of our films, pretty much most of our films, unless it's a collection or set, of course we don't. But 90% of our films we do offer buy one, get one. So the customer gets a good value and they're able to not feel like they lost a lot of money or anything like that.

Hatch:

So you're a global business. I'm curious, outside of the US, what are your primary markets?

Justin:

One of our primary markets that we've seen, we sell a lot of JFK documentaries on the assassination and some conspiracy theories on that. One market that we have, well, actually two, I would say but the biggest right now is Australia. I'm not sure really what the reasoning is, but those folks are really involved with the JFK assassination. There's a lot of folks over there that are very interested in it, like to follow it and get information on it. And then also of course, Canada, and in Canada it could just be anything. There's really not really just one movie or one genre. It's just anything. But yeah, we've seen a lot. We've shipped all over the world. We've shipped to military bases out in Afghanistan, those were APO boxes. We've shipped to Indonesia, Japan, France, Germany, just pretty much anywhere, in the UK. So we'd like to expand and offer movies to India with some of the Bollywood films. We'd like to expand to parts of Asia if we can with some of their movies. So that's going to be a unique opportunity for us as well as we get into 2021.

Hatch:

So I'm curious about your catalog and specifically, what is your personal favorite film that you've sold and what is the rarest?

Justin:

My personal favorite is a film called The Men Who Killed Kennedy. This is a film that came out back in the 80s and was [inaudible 00:13:21] a few years. It was first filmed and established in the United Kingdom from a correspondent over from the BBC. I won't go into great detail, but I will say that the film was taken out of print and you can find parts one through six here and there. Sometimes there's folks that post on YouTube, but for whatever reason, there's parts seven, eight, and nine and those are the ones that are very, very rare to find. They're almost virtually impossible. When they are put on YouTube, they are quickly taken down and not for copyright violation because we've established that's not the case, which is why we're able to sell it, but it's really because of the content that's on there. It is pretty damning information against some folks that were involved in the conspiracy and not from a perspective of what we learned in high school and grade school, but really the truth of what really happened.

So I won't go into too much detail, but I'll say that it is the most rarest. It is our most widely sold film that we have and it's one that our customers really look forward to. So that one is probably the rarest and most sold that we offer. And then we offer a few films that were from the 60s and the 70s that maybe only viewed a couple of times, sci-fi thrillers, if you will. And then as I said before, we've expanded to old made for TV movies and really what we've seen, and this is another opportunity that we saw for us, we look at a lot of the names and we talk to a lot of customers, I think we have more of the males that were buying from us, and we were really missing out on sales from females. So that's why we offer a lot of older made for TV movies, because we've noticed that we've seen a huge influx of the ladies purchasing movies from us from that genre. So now we're kind of seeing where can we grow, what are we missing, and that's really helped us as well, especially in the last six months.

Hatch:

What advice would you give to someone looking to grow a company of their own, whether that's in a similar industry or just something completely different?

Justin:

It's funny you mention that. I actually had a customer that reached out to me that called me last week, just inquiring about a movie that I sent him, but then he also asked me some questions, how I got started. And one thing I can offer is really what my biggest hurdle to grow was motivation. I'll be honest with you, I had a lot of doubts. I thought, "This is never going to take off." "This is going to take too much time and money." But that was one of my biggest weaknesses was just getting motivated and telling myself, "Look, it's going to take time. Rome wasn't built in a day. You've got to start small and as you grow and get bigger and get more liquidity in your business, you can find more opportunities to get involved in and then it multiplies from there."

So I think really what I would say to other sellers is don't get down think that your product won't sell and you might actually see that maybe you're offering a product that many other people are selling, don't let that get in the way of you thinking you can't sell that as well, because you can. The key thing that I did was, I looked at: Who is my competitor? What are they offering? What are their prices and how much sales have they done? Just looking at their feedback and whatnot. And one big thing that I did was I offered buy one, get one. Other sellers don't offer that. So that's been a huge, big role for us in expanding the business is really just looking at: What is your competitor doing? What can you do differently to offer something better? And then also having that motivation and that's hard to do sometimes. You really have to do a pep talk to yourself and build yourself up from there, but if I can do it, anyone can do it. And like I said, you want to start small, but you'll get there eventually.


---


This interview was recorded and produced by the awesome team at Artifact. Give them a visit if you're looking for personal podcasts to tell your story!


Keep reading…

How a Brewery Successfully Opened During COVID-19: Dr. Brewlittle's Beer Co.

How a Brewery Successfully Opened During COVID-19: Dr. Brewlittle's Beer Co.

Learn why Jack O'Connell was happy he opened his first business, Dr. Brewlittle's Beer Co., during COVID-19, and how he used social media to form his community of loyal customers.

Read more…
A Business Born from Grief: Drake's Memorial Services and More

A Business Born from Grief: Drake's Memorial Services and More

In this exclusive interview, entrepreneur Andy Cole shares how he honors his late grandson through his business, Drake's Memorial Services and More.

Read more…
Smarter Online Marketing for Evolving Times: WeAdvertiseYourBusiness.Com

Smarter Online Marketing for Evolving Times: WeAdvertiseYourBusiness.Com

Paul Kleen, CEO of WeAdvertiseYourBusiness.com, shares how he built his digital marketing agency to fit the needs of today's businesses, and why learning from failure was crucial to his success.

Read more…

It's Time to Hatch!

There's no catch with Hatch. Get fast and easy access to funds to grow your business.

Apply Now!