This month we focus on the street operator, reminding us all of the challenges they face and the resilience they demonstrate as small business people in a rapidly changing entertainment landscape. In our survey of street operators around the U.S., a majority of them expressed a positive attitude about the future even though many market factors seem lined up against them. I believe those results accurately reflect the kind of people willing to take on the job of entrepreneurial business owner. In all my years as a business reporter, I often hear a similar refrain from those who have succeeded in building a business from idea to achievement. They say something like this: “If I had known or focused on all the potential downside, I would have never started this business in the first place.”
I encourage all members of the trade to peruse our survey results for the many insights they offer. Generally speaking, the economy and unemployment remain the biggest concerns for operators with a full 25% of survey takers citing that as their most significant challenge. Other challenges include a declining location base (22%), government regulation (21%) and competition from smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices (11%). “It is not one challenge; it is many things happening at one time,” summarized one operator.
The definition of success in business resists easy categorization, and route operators represent an example of the kind of Main St. accomplishment that may not hold up under Wall St. analysis. Take this month’s profile on Canadian operator and VNEA veteran John Matheson of John’s Vending. Similar to many route owners I’ve interviewed, Matheson started the business because he wanted to be his own boss. Instead, the lifelong bachelor became the father figure for a family of staff members who have remained with the company for decades. They are committed not only to servicing their customers but also to taking care of each other. “You’ve got to give people a wage that provides for a good standard of living and you have to provide a pleasant place to work,” explained John.
Finally, we point your attention to our chronicle of another kind of success from Maryland, where operators –– through diligent engagement over recent years –– managed to dodge a regulatory bullet that might have outlawed redemption.
“This was the summation of all the work we’ve done, of all the time we have shown up at the meetings and presented our position to the commission and continued to be engaged even when our issues weren’t on the front burner,” explained MAMOA President Larry Bershtein. “You can’t discount how important this effort has been for our industry. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 80% is showing up and the other 20% is showing up again and again and again.”
Bershtein’s comments crystalize a unique attribute we find in so many successful route operators. Through the ups and downs of the fickle amusement industry, they just keep showing up for duty.
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