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April 2014

 

Mark of Excellence

Benchmark Games Rededicates Itself to Operator Needs And Diversity in Game Development



Benchmark Games, the Florida factory that has established a strong reputation for profitable games, isn’t resting on its laurels. In fact, the company has embraced a new wave of change as it enters its third decade manufacturing redemption and novelty equipment.

Company president and co-founder Al Kress, a former operator and distributor, keeps customer needs front and center as the firm pursues new product development, expedited parts shipping and a responsive customer service department. To maintain this focus, this factory has embarked on a number of crucial changes.

For starters, Benchmark CFO Trevor Gianaris has been charged with serving as company COO. He will be responsible for developing the policies and procedures that shape the future direction of the company. “I am confident that we can execute Al’s vision for the future,” said Gianaris. “We want to become the true ‘benchmark’ by which all other manufacturers are measured.”

Over the past year, Benchmark made the tough decision to retire many of their signature games in order to make room for the next generation. Workhorse games like Slam-A-Winner, Wheel Deal and Pop it for Gold Standard, all of which had served the company and their operators well over the past 12 years, were discontinued. As difficult as it was, factory leaders say it was necessary to evolve the product line. Plus, these time-tested and proven game concepts continue on in Monster Drop, Coin Flip and Explosive.

The R&D Department at Benchmark Games leads the firm’s charge into the future. This department is challenged with bringing to market the next generation of innovative, high earning machines. In an effort to create an environment conducive to creativity and concept development, the R&D lab has been renovated and expanded. The additional space, along with the ability to be around the new products, will help in the evolutionary process of bringing games from concept to market ready. Long time Lead Engineer Steve Corso, Curtis Elrod (Software), Mike Bacon (Design) and Scott Spooner (Graphics/ Sound/Music) anchor the talented team, while recently added staffers Heather Darby, Dominick Nicolosi and Scott Powers bring the total R&D team to 11 employees.

At the 2013 IAAPA, Benchmark displayed four new titles: Blaster, Spindrome, Coin Flip and Super Shifter. A few of these titles aren’t slated for production until later this year, but the factory wanted to get player and buyer feedback.

“Based on the feedback from the show, Blaster will be the headliner for the Amusement Expo,” said Corso. “The other titles are being further developed and tested, drawing from the feedback obtained at the IAAPA show.” At the 2014 IAAPA this fall, those games that produce the best test results on income and performance will be on the trade show floor ready for immediate shipping.

Benchmark’s engineers are constantly being pressed to provide a form of entertainment that cannot be replicated at home. Factories must create a game with simple and compelling play that is wrapped in an attractive cabinet and pays out the right amount of tickets in order to hit it big with players. Quick coin games have been very successful over the years in creating a “ticket frenzy” that appeals to players. However, the potential for depleting players’ spendable dollars in a short period of time has become a concern for many operators. Location owners and operators are now looking for games that have the same basic elements of the quick play games, but with a little longer playtime. Benchmark R&D recognizes this and has been looking at ways to increase playtime, with an appropriate pay-out, but not at the expense of player throughput.

“Blaster was developed to increase play value and ticket pay-out through skill,” explained Kress. “Blaster is a true skill game where players are challenged to aim a ball at a set number of target lights and turn all the lights out. Turning all the lights out advances the player to the Super Bonus Level for what could be a huge payout of tickets. The end result is increased playtime value as the players take their time to line their shots for accuracy.”

Benchmark’s manufacturing facility has also undergone a recent and complete makeover. Production lines and component shelving have been set up to increase staff efficiency. “Having the ability to manufacture our games in-house gives us an advantage that not many factories enjoy,” exclaimed newly appointed Production Manager Chris Mead. “We can change a design on an integral game part and have the new part cut and installed on a machine in as little as a half hour. That helps reduce our development time and bring product to market a lot sooner. We choose to spend very little time on things that we cannot control. Things that we can control, we will take the time to execute properly and in a timely manner.”

While there are fewer amusement manufacturers producing new equipment, the challenges Benchmark face are no different than for any other factory. The most daunting and exciting challenge they face is testing equipment thoroughly and bringing product to market at a price that is competitive and commensurate with the game’s earnings. “Chris Mead and Quality Control Manager Jeff DeLong are solely focused on delivering games that meet the highest quality standards, meaning zero defects. If the product does not meet those standards, it will not leave the building,” declared Kress.

Recently, the trade has been subject to considerable scrutiny about the legality of certain amusement devices. Prize merchandisers and ticket redemption games have come under the microscope in a few states, and legislation has been passed or presented that limits the prize amount that can be obtained by the player. This has caused a number of states to turn their attention to amusement devices and the operators of these devices. Benchmark execs acknowledge that they cannot necessarily change some of the state legal requirements for redemption game operation.

“Benchmark can, however, engineer our games to be in compliance for that state,” said Kress. “Our goal is to maintain that Benchmark games have the element of skill, which says that our games are not games of chance. Benchmark games go through a testing laboratory to ensure that our games are skill-based and comply with various state, local and, in some cases, federal laws and regulations. As the factory, we can only do so much. It is unfortunate when the occasional greed somewhere out in the field ruins it for all of us.”

Domestically, North American Sales Director Tony Maniscalco is focusing his sales team’s efforts on supporting U.S. distribution. That team includes veterans Richard Long and Bill Freeman “Having a nationwide sales force talking about Benchmark games has helped increase the exposure of our products to the target customers,” said Maniscalco. “Ultimately we are selling more games by supporting their efforts.”

Across the pond, International Sales Director Frank Ballouz rallies his distributor network to expand the global coverage for Benchmark. “It is a big world for a U.S. based factory to cover,” said Ballouz “Fortunately Benchmark has aligned itself with companies that are well-known and well-respected in their respective markets. Their efforts have certainly paid off.”

Linda Connor, Sales Administrator for both Domestic and International Sales, makes sure all orders are accurate and expedited for shipment.

IT Guru Brian Capallero keeps all the telecommunications, computer and Internet services up to date and up and running. Brian is also responsible for implementing new systems controls that will ensure the accuracy of Benchmarks extensive parts inventory and order entry. In the front office, Office Manager Tiffany Lomax keeps the day-to-day administration process moving smoothly.

When Benchmark execs looks into their crystal ball, they see an ongoing need for high earning, attractive, entertaining, reliable and cost effective redemption equipment. But that doesn’t mean that Benchmark is focusing solely on redemption equipment. In addition to staying focused on its core business, Benchmark will continue to diversify in order to serve a variety of markets.

During last year’s IAAPA, Benchmark displayed its first, in-house developed video game –– the drag race themed driver called Super Shifter. “We were a bit early displaying this game, but we wanted feedback,” explained Kress, who said they received plenty of positive input. “Super Shifter is an important product for Benchmark. We will take our time and make sure this game is right before we bring it to market!”

At the 2014 Amusement Expo in Las Vegas, Benchmark planned on displaying a mechanical bubblegum machine called Beat the Monsters. “We have added a new twist to the popular bubblegum bulk vendor,” boasted Kress. “Players will be rewarded for getting the gumball past the monsters with accurate timing.”

While the factory may look familiar to those in attendance at Amusement Expo, a new Benchmark is emerging back in Hypoluxo, Fla. Kress is re-dedicating his company, including its 100 employees, to the industry. “Times change and with that Benchmark has been quick to respond, declared Kress. “This time, Benchmark will lead the change and the times will have to keep up with us!”

To live up to this bold statement, Kress said he’s committed to “putting the company’s money where its mouth is” in order to reinvest in new equipment, new technology and most importantly, the right personnel.

Benchmark has setup a mailbox, suggestions@benchmarkgames.com for customers that want to offer compliments, complaints or any suggestions to help make the firm more responsive to the needs of the operator. “I haven’t been this excited about our business since we shipped our first game over two decades ago,” beamed Kress.

To learn more about Benchmark, log on to www.benchmarkgames.com.

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