S &B Candy and Toy in St. Louis, Mo., has built its success around the concept of the winner-every-time crane, and in the process tackled nearly every aspect of the crane machine business. Now, the company stands ready to revolutionize the same concept on which it built its current success.
The company, which was founded in 1991 from the garage of Brian and Diane Riggles, operates winner-every-time cranes, develops and sells winner-every-time cranes, as well as a new line of merchandise machines, and provides other operators with just the right mix of prizes to be successful with cranes.
Over the past quarter century, S&B has grown from a small operator that also sold candy and toys to other crane operators to a full-fledged manufacturer and prize supplier, emerging from humble roots to becoming a dynamic player in this increasingly complex trade.
“People often think of us as simply a supplier of candy and toys, but we also have a route, which means that we understand the customers’ needs and challenges,” said S&B sales pro Paula Rinker. “Plus, we make and sell machines. All of that combined makes us a really unique player in the amusement industry.
S&B was honored recently by the Amusement and Music Operators Association with its prestigious Innovator Award for a new machine called Prize Express. The unit combines crane game play with a light-driven merchandise game that provides players with a chance to win an even bigger prize or a consolation coupon for a wide range of promotional opportunities.
S&B also recently introduced another new machine, the Redemption Crane, featuring traditional crane game play and then a chance to play a second game in hopes of winning a big-ticket payoff.
At the heart of this exciting business is Brian Riggles, a human dynamo gifted with unique insight into the nature of operating prize machines and the imagination needed to translate that vision into products designed to expand opportunity for many other operators.
Blazing New Trails
Riggles said the idea for the new games came to him while watching somebody hit three jackpots in a row in a casino. “I knew at that moment that I wanted to make a crane that could help create that kind of excitement,” he enthused. “This business is changing, and there are so many things competing for players’ time and money. If you don’t give them something exciting to keep their attention, they aren’t going to keep coming back.”
Prize Express, which won the Innovator Award, was several years in development. S&B has filed for patent protection for this new attraction. The self-merchandiser, which is comprised of a crane and two keyless prize towers, affords three levels of game play. The first level of play involves the crane component in which a player may or may not win a prize. The unit can be set up for winner-every-time operation, or the operator can disable that feature. The second level of the game involves the lights on the game cabinet; each individual light on the machine can be programmed to a specific value or prize offer. The objective during the second level of game play is to stop the light on a jackpot light, which corresponds with one of the prizes in the towers. The printer will then print a coupon indicating the prize and the winning combination that can be used to retrieve the prize. If a player does not land on a jackpot light, a coupon will print with another promotional offer for the player (like a discount on a product or service equal to the value of the cost to play the machine).
S&B says the game has tested well on $1 per play, but has the potential to be set at $2 per play, depending upon the perceived value of the prizes being offered in the towers. The game is available in multiple size configurations including 24”, 28” and 32”, and the two prize towers offer a total of 14 different items.
“These games should literally be in every Wal-Mart, every Buffalo Wild Wings, every bowling alley in America, not to mention the 55,000 sit-down pizza restaurants in this country,” said Brian Riggles. “The promotional discount opportunities abound in all of those locations.”
The new Redemption Crane operates on a similar principle by featuring two levels of game play The first level involves the crane game, while the second level challenges players to engage in the light game with each light displaying a ticket value. The object is, of course, to land on the light that has the highest ticket value.
Riggles stresses that these new games are part and parcel of the long-tradition of winner-every-time machines. Ultimately, with multiple opportunities for winning something of value, the player is going to walk away with a worthwhile prize.
“Our machines are set up for the player to win, not to lose,” he furthered. “In this industry, a large percentage of machines are set up so that the player does not win something. There is nothing worse for me than to go to a family event and, when people ask me about my work, they say, ‘Oh, the machines that rip you off.’ Nothing drives me crazier. I explain that my machines ensure people always win.”
Riggles got his start in the industry in the Baltimore area running a route of games on the street and in several pool halls. In fact, he was first introduced to the game business while working as a bartender. “I happened to be there when a collector came in, and he left the location’s share with me,” he recalled. “When I realized how much those machines were making each week, I knew right then and there what I was going to do for a living.”
Brian Riggles later moved to the St. Louis area in the 1980s to follow his wife Diane, who worked in the clothing business and had taken a job with retail giant Edison Brothers. While visiting Diane’s office, Riggles happened upon a former Baltimore acquaintance working in Edison’s entertainment chain. Shortly thereafter, he found himself working for Edison’s Time Out Division alongside many industry luminaries including his boss at the time, George McAuliffe, as well as other familiar names like Rich Long and Marty Luepker, who joined Riggles at S&B in the company’s infancy.
By the early ’90s though, Riggles was looking to do something on his own again, and what he found has defined his career ever since –– the winner-every-time candy crane. Riggles discovered the cranes by accident having traveled to Florida to invest in pizza vending machines. He was dissuaded from the pizza venture, but stumbled upon the cranes being created by a company called Advanced Games and Engineering (AGE). Many tradesters will remember AGE founder David Hodges, who later went on to work at Benchmark, and his flamboyant partner J.R. Fishman.
Riggles began operating the cranes with another fellow Edison Brothers veteran (who was the S for Steve in S&B but later left the firm), and S&B also took on the role of distributor for AGE, ultimately selling close to 10,000 Snack Attack winner-every-time candy cranes for that manufacturer. Riggles was also quickly joined by Luepker, who began specializing in prizes for S&B’s route as well as providing crane mixes for other operators.
“When we first got started, we really were working out of a one-car garage, not even a two-car garage,” said Luepker.
When AGE closed up shop in 1999, S&B began distributing cranes for other factories, but then decided to launch their own line of machines, starting with the Candy Depot and then evolving to the Route 66 crane, which is still part of the company’s core line-up.
“I wanted to start my own company after a number of years at Edison Brothers, and we launched our business based on the winner-every-time crane that we discovered almost by accident,” summarized Riggles. “Today, with the release of our new line of games, I believe we are again re-inventing the winner-every-time product category and helping to re-energize the crane business for everyone.”
The Candy and Toy Biz
Almost from the beginning of its existence, S&B found itself working with other winner-every-time crane operators, providing them with the successful product mixes that it was developing in its own operations. Luepker, who heads up that part of the business, remains bullish on the ability to bring value to route operations through savvy prize selections.
“We love scouring the country for exciting products that drive our revenues,” he said. “We’re operators so we test everything we provide our customers, and because we sell goods for winner-every-time cranes, we have to be very competitive in pricing.”
S&B offers prize and candy mixes at several different wholesale prices (10, 15 or 30 cents per item), depending upon the unit’s price-per-play setting and whether the operator is splitting the cashbox with a street location. Meeting these price points remains challenging for S&B as the plush business has consolidated and freight costs have dramatically increased in recent months and years.
“We recommend that our customers aim for about 30% product costs in order to maintain enough perceived value, but obviously if you’re an FEC operator and keeping all the cash box, you can pay more for product and still maintain your profitability than if you are revenue sharing with a location owner,” said Luepker, adding that operators who can charge a $1 per play can (and must) also offer better value prizes.
Luepker stressed that winner-every-time cranes can offer more than candy or a single novelty product like knobby balls. “A key to the perceived value of a crane is that it must represent a grab bag of treasure that the player competes for,” he said. “It’s all about keeping the player continuing to play for that desired item.”
Licensed prizes, like Frozen, Toy Story, etc., and seasonally themed candy also help drive more play based on perceived value. “Prizes that are linked to upcoming movies do really well,” added Luepker. “And seasonally themed candy, which changes the colors inside the crane on a regular basis, assure kids and moms that the products are updated on a regular basis and that the candy is still fresh.”
With the new Prize Express, operators will be able to use the light show to color coordinate with prizes in the two towers. “We’re seeing really good numbers with an average prize value of only $10, which gives players much more opportunity to win,” concluded Luepker. “The promotional opportunities abound. The operator can program the lights to correspond with, say, a box of Cherry Blow Pops in the prize tower. We can work with the color of the product, the corresponding light and even the color of the prize container.”
The team at S&B believes that its new line of products, as well as a trio of projects in the pipeline, will create both promotional and pricing opportunities for operators. To better drive product sales, S&B has also been forging new distributor relationships, having previously worked directly with operators.
Noting that candy cranes were operating at 25 cents per play when he first started S&B, Riggles says higher-end mixes can easily justify $1 per play on the street with an average win of one to one and a half pieces of candy, using a 10-cent mix. However, the new products coming from S&B might well justify a $2 vend in certain locations, he added.
“There are so many ways to use Prize Express to market prizes as well as other special offers,” said Riggles. “There are essentially three different ways to win a prize. With the location offering promotions through the coupons being given to players, they are creating an incentive for that player to hang around and spend more money on food, drink, etc. These machines are not there for the location to pay their electric bill out of the cash box. These machines are designed to help keep players around spending more money in that location, and operators should stand firm in negotiating better commissions. The Prize Express gives the operator a valuable tool to drive more plays and to get a better commission.”
According to Riggles, S&B has been running its Prize Express machines set on $1 play, generating approximately $1,200 a month, using a varied prize mix that accounts for 30% cost of sales or less. “We’ve been working on this game for three years, and we believe we’ve got this formula figured out,” he said. “We’re still gaining momentum with players. We haven’t seen play fall off. In fact, play growth is increasing.”
As for the promotional opportunities, they aren’t limited to the consolation coupons either. For instance, Riggles recounted one pizza location that offered a major prize of a $250 discount for a party in that same store so long as the winner spent a total of $500 (before the discount was applied). That engendered goodwill with patrons and players in that restaurant, while also providing a high value prize to the winner.
Riggles and Rinker are also exploring the possibility of using the lights on the Prize Express to help advertise or promote a location’s business or maybe even multiple locations for machines placed in shopping malls, and linking those “advertisements in lights” to prizes and promotions from the business being highlighted.
“There are 168 lights on the machines, and only 14 of those are connected to the prize boxes,” said Riggles. “The other lights can be used for an infinite number of promotions as can the coupon printer.”
In pursuing traditional distribution, S&B has retained the consulting services of industry veteran Jim Roe, a longtime Merit/AMI veteran. “Distributors and select operators are going to be the funnel to help us drive sales,” said Roe. “That gives us more feet on the ground, and even more credibility with customers. We are also going to be working through distributors to help further drive our candy and toy business by using their show floors to demonstrate how to properly merchandise machines for maximum profitability. I’ve got 30 years working in the three-tiered system, and this is the right way to help S&B move to the next level.”
To learn more, log on to S&B Candy & Toy’s website at sandbales.com.
S&B Presents the Smarties Scholarship
S&B Candy & Toy recently awarded its first-ever Smarties Scholarship. The scholarship money was presented to the winner, Jana Putney, at this spring’s Amusement Expo in Las Vegas.
Putney is a college student from Sacramento, Calif., who received her winning Smarties card entry from a Smarties Crane located in a Round Table Pizza in Vacaville.
The licensed Smarties Crane scholarship program was made possible as a result of a partnership between S&B Candy & Toy and the Smarties Candy brand. Players of all ages have the opportunity to win a unique coded Smarties Card in the cranes that, in conjunction with the website www.smartiesland.com, allow them to access special VIP features, as well as to compete to win a 529B educational savings plan. Students get a chance to win a scholarship for each card registered in the website –– the more cards collected, the more chances to test the player’s knowledge and win.
The program, in its beta phase, has already proven a great success, according to S&B, which currently has Smarties Cranes operating in several states and generated over 1,400 unique contestants on the website. S&B donates a portion of each sale from the machines and scholarship mixes to the program fund.
Putney will use her scholarship to help pay for the next phase of her education, graduate school. “I wish to thank S&B Candy & Toy and Smarties for making this program possible. This scholarship is definitely a reminder that my education, although expensive and difficult at times, is a gift and a joy in my life,” said Putney.
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