Q&A with Vince Guzzo, AKA ’Mr. Sunshine’ on His Career & the State of the Movie Industry in Canada

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Vince Guzzo is a well-known entrepreneur based in Quebec who is owner and President of Cinémas Guzzo. He also owns a pizzeria and construction company. Guzzo is also a dragon on the popular Dragons Den CBC TV series,

He spoke to Retail Insider recently about his career and the state of the movie industry in Canada.

Retail Insider: Can you tell us a little bit about your career?

Guzzo: “It’s my fathers’ company. My father bought his first theatre in 1974 and then I started working with him right out of university while going part-time to law school. From Vice President to President. I’ve been President by title in the last only two years. But I’ve been doing the same job I do even though I didn’t have the title for the past 15 years.”

RI: How many locations do you have and where?

Guzzo: “We have nine locations with a 10th one under construction. We’re at 144 screens. Nine IMAX. All the theatres are in Montreal, greater Montreal, as far north as Two Mountains which is the north shore of Montreal and as far south as Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu which is about half an hour from the Vermont border which is the one under construction right now. All of our theatres are stadium seating so we have no old sloped theatres. Our oldest theatre right now is a 1998. It was the first theatres we built in 1998. They all have arcade facilities, they all have full stadium. Three only locations do not have IMAX screens. We’re also the only guys to have double IMAX screens in three locations.”

RI: Pre-COVID 2019, what was business like for the company?

Guzzo: “The movie business is on a seven to 10-year cycle and we were I would tell you coming out of the negative cycle. The worst of the cycle was in 2014 and things were basically looking up year-after-year. And then last year with Avengers: Endgame I think it was the relaunch of these big, huge box office pictures. This year we had a few pictures back to back. We were going to have Fast & Furious, we were going to have Tenet, we were going to have Wonder Woman and the James Bond. They’re still there but they’ve pushed in a way that we’re probably going to have nine months worth of movies in six months. It’s going to be a great end of half a year. Next year we have a series of pictures including the Avatar trilogy is going to come back. So we’re going to have the second Avatar and then the year after the third Avatar.

“It was an upswing. We were looking up as an industry. While everybody believed streaming platforms was going to eat away at us gradually I disagreed with it. I think COVID-19 while it shut us down, and that’s a huge negative, I think the positive is that it made a lot of people realize that streaming platforms are nothing else but a fancy word for TV. And all of sudden rumours of an Amazon wanting to come in to the brick and mortar business of movies where there’s no real real estate to buy — the fact that a streaming platform would consider that purchase for me tells me that they’ve realized that the movie business is here to stay and there’s going to be an upswing once people get un-quarantined or un-confined.

“While some people may believe that people will have a hard time going back to movie theatres, the truth of the matter is one of the only rare entertainment venues that exist where social distancing was being practiced even before it was the buzzword of the year is movie theatres. Nowhere have you ever seen or ever heard of a movie theatre being half full and somebody coming to sit right next to you. I think this social distancing is easy. People will come back to theatres.”

RI: As you look forward and beyond, what’s your outlook for the cinema industry in the future?

Guzzo: “My big concern about reopening movie theatres is I want to reopen them when there’s actual movies to play and not just play the vintage stuff because the truth of the matter is the vintage stuff really won’t do that well. Most entertainment industries, including the movie business usually had these huge upswings when they came out of recessions and/or pandemics. After the Spanish Flu, theatres had a boom. After the Hong Kong Flu, theatres had a boom in the 70s. After great social events, tragedies like for example 9/11, everybody thought nobody is going to go back to these places where there’s a whole bunch of them together and allow potential terrorist attacks, whatever. That wasn’t the case. Actually there was a huge boom in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 which seemed to end in about 2010 and then the swing started to go down and the bottom of that swing was 2014 and then it started coming back up.

“I suspect what’s going to happen is with the upswing of the natural cycle of the movie industry, plus this pandemic, I think we’re going to have a huge boom the last six months of the year and a huge boom in 2021, 2022 and I would probably predict even 2023 based on some of the titles that I’m seeing.”

RI: What’s happening in terms of reopening of theatres?

Guzzo: “We mentioned at a certain point to the government that we wanted to reopen the 19th. Then we pushed it to the 26th and now with Tenet being confirmed on the 17th of July and will land on the 24th of July and then Wonder Woman on the 14th of August we’re now asking the government to open on the 3rd of July. I know in the rest of the country in Canada they’re basically talking about the 26th or the 3rd. And our Minister of Culture in Quebec has said we are hoping to reopen theatres before the 24th of June. You have to remember the 24th of June is our civic holiday (Saint Jean Baptiste Day) for our province. But once again the problem is we’re not restaurants. We open up and I can sell you my pizza I was making six months ago. We sell movies. The movies that we’re going to show, we don’t make them. We’re in discussions with various suppliers of movies to make sure that they inline their movies in a way that makes sense.

RI: Any plans of expansion in terms of the number of locations?

Guzzo: “Well we have two locations right now that need to get worked. The first one is obviously the one that’s in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu that we’re basically finishing. Because of the way construction is going and because of the delays movie theatres can’t open whenever they want. They’ve got to open inline with movies. So we’re looking now at the end of September or early October to open that location. As for other locations, we have approached various circuits in the U.S., which will remain nameless, and offer them that we would be interested to look at their circuit if they’re willing to sell. We were looking at building out West and creating a certain sense of competition out there. I’m a little concerned about what the landscape is going to look out there.

“Going to the movies in Canada is considered an entertainment form. In the U.S. going to the movies is considered a religion. People go to the movies very religiously in the U.S. For example, you’ll see drops in attendance in Canada when the weather is super nice. Because of our bad weather, when we get those incredible days we spend them outside and not in a movie theatre. In the U.S., you can have 30 plus degree days and people will be in line going to the movies because it’s Friday and that’s when the new movies come out and they want to go see a movie. So if I would have to invest big dollars I’d rather invest them in a cult-like following of customers versus ‘we like you but it’s a nice day so we’re not coming kind of atmosphere’.”

RI: On a personal note, when we have a crisis like we’ve seen currently and a few years ago with the financial crisis, how do you as an executive deal with things like that in making decisions?

Guzzo: “The first thing you have to do when something like this occurs is you’ve got to stay extremely calm. I always like to say nothing good has ever come from panic. So I don’t understand a lot of people seem to panic, and they get concerned and they worry, but it doesn’t give you anything. You might as well just relax, take a breather and remember that things will eventually get to normal. So you’ve just got to ride the wave. You can’t do anything extreme . . . Ultimately your insurance policy should be before. You take insurance before an event occurs and not in the middle of the event. And normally that means keeping anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent of your annual income very liquid. It makes me sleep at night. The most important thing in a pandemic is actually to be cool, calm and collected so that you can actually analyze and influence any public decision that’s got to get done without being in panic mode. When you’re in panic mode, it comes out in your decision process and people don’t trust people who panic. It’s a certain military style discipline that needs to come out.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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