Despite competition, Janesville video rental store still kicking

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Saturday, March 19, 2011
— Carole Casper understands the changing landscape.

Her video rental business, after all, has outlived Beta and VHS.

For nearly a decade, now, Slantrax Video & Tanning in Janesville has leased the latest movies on DVD.

But Casper worries about what’s next: a delivery system that completely bypasses the brick and mortar stores such as the one she started in 1983 in the Memorial Plaza.

In fact, it’s already here.

Netflix, an Internet subscription service provider of movies and TV shows, is rapidly growing market share. Small video kiosks such as those operated by Red Box have popped up in nearly every grocery store in town.

And Blockbuster—the industry stalwart—is coming out of bankruptcy and looking for a buyer. It closed its west side Janesville store last year and is now shuttering its remaining Janesville store and one in Delavan.

That leaves Slantrax and Family Video, which has two stores in the city, as the only remaining stores dedicated to video rentals in Janesville.

Slantrax is the only independent operation in the area, while the Family Video stores are part of a chain of 700-plus stores that stretch across 19 states.

“When the west side Blockbuster closed, we picked up some of their customers, and now we’re seeing more from the eastside store,” Casper said. “And not everyone is comfortable going online and giving out their credit card numbers.

“But still, it’s becoming a harder business.”

Casper isn’t sure how video stores will survive.

In her case, she knows it’s not possible without the “Tanning” part of her company’s name.

If it wasn’t for the diversification provided by the 11 tanning beds at Slantrax, Casper said the business likely would have closed years ago. She knows that a strong eight-month indoor tanning season can carry her for a year.

Shortly after opening in 1983 in the Memorial Plaza, Slantrax opened two other locations in 1984 and 1985.

“I can remember our first New Year’s Eve in business,” she said. “Video rental was pretty new then, and I think we had all but about 10 movies rented out, and that was a time when we were charging a lot more for rentals than we do now.”

In 1986, Slantrax consolidated all three operations at 203 Center Ave. in what was the former Beef-a-Roo near the Five Points.

Casper remodeled and expanded a few years later.

With manager Barb Ripp at Casper’s side since 1984, Slantrax added its first tanning bed in 1996.

“That’s about when Blockbuster arrived in Janesville,” Casper said. “We could see that we needed some way to diversify, and at the time it was being suggested to independent stores that they look at tanning.

“We have great employees and great customers, and we wanted to find a way to keep the business going for them,” said Casper, who retired in 1998 after a 30-year career at Janesville Auto Transport Co.

Competitors have come and gone, but Casper said Ripp has been a constant that’s made Slantrax a success. The store has added an extensive line of moisturizers, lotions, vitamins and other products, as well as a variety of candy.

“We get tremendous support from the neighborhood,” Ripp said. “But I also have people who come from all over Janesville and Orfordville, Footville, Edgerton and other communities.”

On any given day, Ripp and her staff will greet 70 to 150 people for tanning sessions. A growing percentage of them are males.

“Our customers who tan are very committed to it for a lot of different reasons,” Ripp said.

Casper said she’s had her business for sale before. But she’s removed the “For Sale” signs from the store’s windows.

“I don’t think tanning will go away,” Casper added. “We have lots of very good customers, and as long as I can make a little bit of money with the tanning and video, we’ll stay in business.”

Last updated: 4:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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