One Smile at a Time
Redemption Plus Focuses on Each Customer’s Unique Needs
Entrepreneur Ron Hill launched prize supplier Redemption Plus in the basement of his parents’ house just over 18 years ago. When asked through the years what his company does, Hill usually replies in simple terms: “We sell novelties.”
That answer may not encompass the wide range of products and services offered by the supplier. Those include selling toys and offering full service redemption management including game room consulting. But it’s a quick attention-grabber that prompts engagement and a typical follow-up question: “What type of novelties?”
Along the way, Redemption Plus has built a strong business and introduced many innovative services including the Digital Packing List (DPL) and on-site merchandise and training. Company leaders say the secret to their success is simple: their desire to enrich the lives of their customers and their customers’ customers through smiles and laughter. That’s more important than other vital attributes like marketing prowess or buying power.
Hill explained it this way: “When I first started talking about a DPL, eyes would glaze over and people would ask ‘why?’ They didn’t understand. But we did, and we waited patiently for them to see it, too. In time, people started calling us about DPL.”
Redemption Plus has always strived to be an agent of change for the industry. “When the company was launched, we saw so many opportunities to streamline the redemption process, making it easier and more efficient for customers to purchase and manage their merchandise,” Hill declared.
So what’s on the horizon for this energetic company? For starters, they vow to continue pushing the envelope and breaking things in order to make them better. “Redemption Plus is singularly focused on enriching lives through smiles and laughter,” furthered Hill. “If we can excite real passion, purpose and commitment from our employees and customers, then we can make a real difference in the world.”
A Family Affair
From the beginning, Hill wanted to create a company that embraced the idea of work/life balance. He wanted to intentionally design an environment where people didn’t just show up and put in their time, but were instead able to live their lives to the fullest and comfortably integrate work and home. The idea was to work hard, do whatever needs to be done and be available for family when it counts.
As the father of two boys, 13 and 11, Hill realizes that the education system doesn’t recognize that most of us work during the day. Many events, activities, and sports take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Redemption Plus employees are allowed and encouraged to attend important family events. The firm aims to give them the tools to get their work done regardless of what their schedules looks like.
Bridgette Stone, Redemption Plus account manager, came to the company a year ago seeking a new career opportunity that would allow her to balance her work and home life. She had been working long hours in a fast-paced environment which frequently took her away from home. She knew what was important, and it wasn’t money or status. It was about watching her little girl grow up and being there to support her two sons. Redemption Plus allowed her the flexibility to work from home one day a week as well as spend every Friday with her family. She alternates schedules with her husband, also an Account Manager with Redemption Plus, giving them both more time at home with their children.
Going The Extra Mile For Customers
Redemption Plus is also proud of the way its employees share a strong bond and sense of playfulness with their customers, providing a deeper value than simply the lowest priced goods.
Tyler Hutsell, a member of the distribution team, recently received an order with a special request. It is not out of the ordinary to have a special request from a customer, which typically involves customized colors, when to ship an order, product assortments, etc. But this particular one was truly unique. Tyler was asked to draw a monster with horns on the outside of the customer’s box. So, he drew the monster. He didn’t ask his supervisor or the sales team member for approval. He just did it, and the customer loved it!
In 2011, Jason Patterson, Redemption Plus’ Director of Sales & Customer Success, was introduced to customer Dusty Cole. Dusty’s family had been operating traditional bowling centers since 1959. They had always been known for food and bowling, but they saw the industry evolving and knew they had to change with it. In 2008, Dusty –– along with his parents Sonya and Butch Cole and sister Amber –– built Gulf Bowl and started to dabble in redemption. In 2011, Redemption Plus, Brady Distributing, and Embed teamed up with Dusty to revamp the game room and redemption area. Dusty knew he had to change his whole philosophy for this to be truly successful.
“I began looking at my guests differently,” said Dusty. “Their first impression is the redemption area because it’s what they see as soon as they walk in. I knew it was more important than any other counter in the facility, but I didn’t know how to get it to where it needed to be.”
Redemption Plus helped revolutionize the way Gulf Bowl ordered and managed prizes by integrating with the Embed system. On two separate occasions, the Redemption Plus team visited Gulf Bowl to overhaul the counter, specifically utilizing their expertise from merchandising over 500 redemption centers, to transform a customer visit from merely transactional to experiential. After they revitalized their redemption area and game room, arcade revenue doubled. Dusty and his family now operate two locations, which include Eastern Shore Lanes, both of which have expanded since the original concept to include a multi-level arena with laser tag.
In working with customers, Redemption Plus staff members steep themselves in the customer’s business and marketplace. They focus on understanding what makes them tick, as well as their challenges and their unspoken needs. When they focus on the customer and not selling merchandise, they are able to truly listen and learn what customers really need. There are many conversations about products, design, colors, and licensed properties.
“In order for Redemption Plus to really enrich lives, we must truly understand what our customers need from us,” said Patterson. “On a recent customer visit, we walked out with about 20 pages of notes on what can be improved but also opportunities to solve some real challenges that have nothing to do with toys, prizes or plush. We will never be all things to all people, but for customers that really understand it is not about the cheapest plastic frog or plush, we can be a source of solutions that help them become more profitable and successful.”
Whatever the challenge, question or task at hand, Redemption Plus adheres to its true north in asking: Does it enrich lives through smiles & laughter? Everything they do and every decision they make comes back to that one essential, guiding purpose.
Back to School
In December 2013, Redemption Plus launched Rtown Academy (www. rtownacademy.com), an online educational resource for the amusement industry. Rtown dives into common challenges and opportunities for bowling centers, FECs, amusement parks, and other segments of the industry. They partner with other experts to provide tools including free webinars to help make operators more profitable and successful.
Operations Experience & Insight
Redemption Plus has a unique ability to understand its customer’s needs by virtue of the company’s in house operating experience.
Howard McAuliffe, Crane and Merchandiser Specialist, has spent his whole life in the business, working as a “secret shopper” in arcades from the age of 7, and working the family’s crane route through high school and college.
Jim Kipper, Family Entertainment Specialist for the company’s Pinnacle Entertainment Advisors division, has helped over 60 clients launch, modernize, or improve their redemption game rooms and related FEC attractions.
George McAuliffe is president of the Pinnacle unit and brings 29 years as an operator to the table. His first 15 involved rising from Arcade Manager to CEO of one of the largest national arcade chains and leading the team that developed one of the first modern-day FECs in 1989. Post corporate, he launched an operating company that grew to 500 cranes and an FEC in three states and Puerto Rico.
Keitha McBride, Account Executive, spent 12 years as the merchandise buyer for Dave and Buster’s, as well as an advisor for Starlight Consulting, assisting FEC owners with their game and merchandise programs.
Redemption Plus’ VP of Product Solutions Mark Hollywood had a 20 year operating career, including FEC experience with FunTime. Mark also has deep experience in the amusement park sector as well, including positions with Premier Parks and Six Flags. He founded Global Amusement Consulting, which advises parks on their game and merchandise execution.
Rounding out the former operators on the team, brothers Justin Michaels, Account Executive, and Jason Patterson, Director of Sales & Customer Success, literally grew up in the business, starting by sweeping floors in their grandparents’ Cool Crest FEC in Kansas City, Mo. They grew with the business to master every position. Justin went on to route management for Lee Vending in Kansas City while Jason moved on, first to Lee before becoming an Amusement Manager for the Dave and Buster’s chain.
E-Commerce in Action
Redemption Plus’ e-commerce website is designed to maximize controls and ease of ordering while minimizing management time. A DPL, the digital packing list that the company introduced to the industry, eliminates data entry time and errors while ensuring inventory security. All orders arrive on site with items bar coded to customer ticket values, a huge labor savings, as well as helpful with quickly getting items on the shelf at the correct ticket price.
All of these tools are backed up by the Redemption Plus “Happiness Guarantee,” which means the customer can’t make a buying mistake and keeps cash available for the business instead of tied up on a back room shelf.
“Together, this package of innovations provides the means for dialing in cost of sales percentages, helping the company’s customers to be more profitable and successful,” declared the pros at Redemption Plus. “The tools also benefit the players by allowing FEC management to regulate redemption value returned to players for their game play expenditures, a key factor in a positive guest experience.”
The holy grail of the FEC business model is to get players to stay longer and return more often. A great guest experience allows its customers to achieve just that, and the Redemption Plus approach is designed to support operators every step of the way.
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