Netflix Hartford Distribution Center Maintains Low Profile
SHAWN R. BEALS
July 22, 2009
It's Tuesday morning at the Netflix Hartford Distribution Center. Time to hand-sort 90,000 DVDs that were played over the weekend and mailed back on Monday.
Surprisingly, it's not all that high-tech. There are actually people there. Just an average-size, well-lit warehouse that's not even close to a movie nerd's dream. They've got a few movie posters on the walls, but nothing spectacular. No robots, and hardly anything that represents the major profits the company is raking in for its quick service and extensive selection.
We can't tell you where it is though, that's a secret. The building isn't labeled, and the trucks are white except for small, black lettering on the cab that tells you the company is based in Los Gatos, Calif. And forget looking up the address because everything goes to a P.O. box.
"Netflix is so loved that people want to come in and see it," company spokesman Steve Swasey said Tuesday. "We'd rather have them interact on the website."
That's because distractions lead to mistakes, Swasey said.
"Eyes off the disc could potentially mean a mismatch, and that's verboten," he said. "If you ordered 'Goodfellas' from Netflix and you received 'Peter Pan,' your kids might be happy, but you're not."
The nationwide numbers are mind-boggling: 10.3 million customers, 100,000 titles, 89 million discs, over 2 billion shipped. All in 10 years.
The Hartford market watches about 275,000 a week — right now its top five rentals are "Knowing," " The Haunting in Connecticut," " The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Revolutionary Road" and "Push."
Ever wonder how they get your movies to you? That, we can tell you.
More than 50 workers started Tuesday at 3 a.m., ripping open packages and making sure the disc matches the title printed on the sleeve. Each disc is checked for scratches or smudges and passed over to the sorting machine, which sends an e-mail to the subscriber to let him or her know the movie was returned and the next one is on its way.
Then, all the movies are scanned again, this time to see if anyone else wants them. Now it's off to the stuffer — yup, it's really called the stuffer — where a DVD is packed in the red envelope and stamped with its destination before going into the stack for its local post office.
It's all done by the afternoon so the U.S. Postal Service can get them in mailboxes the next day.
Hartford was the 55th Netflix distribution center in the country when it opened July 30 last year, and three have opened since then. By staff size it's considered pretty big, and it serves a large chunk of southern New England, halfway between the Worcester and Long Island centers.
Netflix has facilities in Hawaii and Alaska, too, but each has only six people working there.
For now, Swasey said, Netflix is by far the top choice for DVD rentals, although Blockbuster has a similar mail-order rental program.
Swasey said more and more people are using the option of streaming video instead of waiting for the movie to come in the mail the next day. Netflix has about 12,000 titles available to stream through the Netflix website.
There's strong competition for the streaming video market, with TV networks offering shows free on their websites and other third-party sites jumping on board as well.
Swasey said the company is planning for at least 10 more years of increased DVD sales and rentals, and whenever they become obsolete, Netflix will be ready to offer the same service with streaming. Until then, the company is looking to expand to any platform it can, and has a partnership with Microsoft to offer Netflix on the Xbox 360.
The company also has one-day, $1 rental competition with Redbox, the DVD vending machine in grocery stores, perfect for a last-minute stop after dinner.
"We want to be on any device that you watch movies on," Swasey said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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