Captain Chris Campbell Continues to Command Business
by Matt Harding
When you make a deal with Chris Campbell, owner of Captain’s Auction Warehouse in Anaheim, Calif., consider it done.
He said he was taught that his word and a handshake was a bond, and a few years ago, the tattoo enthusiast decided to get the ink to permanently show the confidence he has for that idea and his brand. On top of his right hand — his “deal-making shaking hand” — he proudly displays the Captain’s logo. “I created and designed something I thought was reflective of my business,” Campbell said.
He claims that his business is the “only arcade game and pinball machine auction warehouse operating on the West Coast,” which he formally started in 1999. But, his entry into the business might not have come about in the way you’d think.
Captain Chris recalls hanging around a skateboard park in the late ’70s and playing the games. He also remembers growing up around people doing business in coin-op, which always piqued his interest. In the late ’90s, he bought a couple of arcade games from that era. One was a 1980 Pac-Man that he bought for $75. He sold it on eBay for more than $800. “That resonated,” Campbell said. “From there, it just grew around me like a fungus.”
But it was actually his ability to pack and ship games that paved his way into the amusement auction business. Campbell had grown up around the shipping business and knew banding and wrapping processes. By selling his own games on eBay, he noticed a need and started offering a way to pack and ship the full-size games for other people who were selling online. (He still ships today, though primarily for his auction customers.)
Things have grown quite nicely and today, he operates from the 35,000-square-foot warehouse he’s had in Anaheim for nearly a decade, which is about the time he began to auction games himself.
In 2008, he handed out some flyers, hired an auctioneer and did a few sales. For one event, the auctioneer, who was on the A&E show Storage Wars, was unable to call the auction due to a scheduling conflict. “I just decided to do it myself,” Campbell said. “From that point on, I’ve shaped and built what I do today. I’ve owned the business and, for the most part, controlled the daily auctions.”
While about 60 percent of sales are made online, Captain’s Auction Warehouse has in-person events every four to six weeks or so, about 10 total annually. And it’s the in-person auctions where the Captain really shines.
Campbell says he’s worked to “build somewhat of a spectacle experience” with these sales events by having free game play, interesting graphics lining the walls and dual video walls showing the items up for sale. Prospective buyers can get questions answered from staff or even people in the audience who know about games. Captain Chris also recently started to have catered food brought into the warehouse, noting that there are people who hang out all day at the events.
“I like interacting with people,” he said. “The Internet’s great for business, but I still love social interaction.” Campbell says people tell him they love his enthusiasm, passion and knowledge about certain games. He’s not an expert, but knows quite a bit about the games, especially ones he grew up playing.
For the online portion of his business, Campbell consistently uses the software BidSpotter because “they’ve done a great job hosting our auctions and have given us great exposure.” Captain’s is a commission-based consignment auction warehouse, selling equipment “from here (in California) to the tip of Maine.”
The growth has been steady, he says. The warehouse started with about 50-100 games initially. “With time and some of the testimonials and reputation we received, I saw a growth in equipment,” Campbell said. “In the past two years, we’ve been at peak levels.”
A peek into the warehouse today will reveal anywhere from 400 to 700 coin-op arcade games, pinball machines, trade simulators, bulk vending machines and more at any given time. A small portion is art and other collectibles geared toward coin-op that’s usually derived from a warehouse cleanout or someone’s estate.
“We’ve been booming,” Campbell said. “You name it in coin-op and we’re selling it. The equipment comes from everywhere around the country and from Canada by the semi load.” He added: “We’ve got a broader national distributor base sending us equipment over the past two years. The numbers we’ve been posting out here have just been incredible.”
For example, a game that cost $5,000 a decade ago might bring around $3,500 at auction today — and that’s after someone’s made 10 years of money off of it.
Classic items and pinball machines “have been seeing all-time highs, even above what they were originally paid for in the ’80s.” Pre-1990s games represent about 10-15 percent of the games Campbell usually has in the warehouse. For the most part, it’s collectors who want those machines, though Captain’s has seen an increase in retro arcades and bar arcades seeking the classics, too.
“I anticipate it continuing,” he said. “They are harder and harder to find but there’s still a steady stream of people bringing that (classic) equipment in.”
Captain’s Auction Warehouse doesn’t exactly have a typical customer. They tend to cover the whole spectrum of coin-op and amusements. Campbell said buyers and sellers include FEC owners, active and inactive street operators and collectors. While a big portion of the business is from independently owned FECs, Campbell has a soft spot for street operators who’ve had it tough as manufacturers gear equipment more toward FECs.
He thought what really stymied street operators was that many distributors were not accepting trade-ins, and were left to pony up the cash to buy new equipment or go out of business.
“I’m not a game operator myself, but I’ve got a lot of friends who are,” he said. “I was really driving the auctions so they could sell equipment.”
In addition to business, Captain’s Auction Warehouse is also a sponsor of the Orange County-based Spirit League, which provides an opportunity for children and young adults with special needs to play team sports. Campbell has two nephews with autism and he loves sports, so he said the League is especially important to him.
“I know that the funds we raise are going to go directly to them to be used immediately.”
Captain’s Auction Warehouse has a small staff of six, including Chris’ wife of nearly 25 years, Tiffany, who is the communications director. More information about the company can be found on their recently revamped website, www.captainsauctionwarehouse.com or by calling them at 714-701-9486.