Veteran Oregon Operator Takes AMOA Helm
Anybody who knows operator Jerry Johnston, who heads up Amusement Unlimited in Eugene, Oregon, knows that he loves the Oregon Ducks and the game of golf. What becomes equally clear in talking to him for any period of time: he feels the same way about the Amusement and Music Operators Association and the industry it serves.
Johnston, who played table soccer as a professional in his younger years, launched his route in 1974. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Oregon AMOA, and has been an active member of that group’s leadership for four decades.
“I realized pretty quickly that I needed to be involved in my industry in some pro-active way,” he explained. “So, joining the AMOA board was a natural extension of that earlier commitment to my state association.”
The AMOA New Director’s Task Force first recruited Johnston in 2002. At the time, he was serving as president of the Oregon AMOA.
“I thought about it, but I decided not to do it at the time,” he recalled. “The next year, at the trade show, I was having lunch, and Frank Seninsky, an AMOA past president, sat down at the table. I started talking to him about AMOA, and I kind of thought that maybe this was some kind of message. So that’s how I got started. That was 2003. As a director, I served on just about every committee, and I’ve chaired a few, including the State Association and Education Committees. I have also worked closely with the New Directors Committee, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to recruit a number of people to get involved in AMOA.”
Johnston cites many within the AMOA organization who have influenced his thinking during his time in the leadership, particularly past president Marion Paul. “She was like a big sister to me. I remember during one of my first years on the board, I was at a show in Las Vegas, and she and Ken Wade invited my wife Carol and I to dinner. That was a big turning point. Here I was, just a little operator from Oregon, and she’s the association president asking us to join her,” said Johnston.
“Being president was never my goal in joining the board. I wanted to be involved in my industry, and it just kind of unfolded this way,” he continued. “When my first term as a director was up, I was seriously considering just going back to being an operator. Several people strongly encouraged me to run for one of the vice presidents positions. I wasn’t chosen at first, but they found a position for me in another director’s class. When I came up again, I was chosen to be a vice president. When that term was up, I was ready to move up to the chairs.”
When asked about the effect of being a member and leader in AMOA on both his business and personal life, Johnston said it’s hard to overstate the value of networking with other operators, particularly those who are part of the association’s board of directors.
“It’s really priceless,” he stressed. “I have learned so much from the people I’ve been surrounded by in AMOA and OAMOA. Every once in a while, I come up with a good idea, but most of the good ideas I’ve been able to implement have come from others. So many times when I face a question about which I’m really not sure, I reach out to my fellow AMOA members around the country. On many occasions, I’ve received advice from them that has either saved me a lot of trouble and money or opened new doors for my business.
“On a personal level, my wife Carol and I have really enjoyed getting to know so many people involved in AMOA,” Johnston added. “We like traveling to association meetings, and we have made many new friends that we look forward to getting together with each year. Being on that New Directors Committee, I always try to talk to a potential board member’s spouse to let them know how much Carol and I have enjoyed this experience as a couple.”
Looking ahead to his year as president of AMOA, Johnston plans to focus on the health of the annual Amusement Expo and the association’s ongoing educational and government relations efforts.
“We want to continue growing Amusement Expo,” said the incoming president. “I think adding the bulk vending show several years back was a home run, and I think adding the laser tag component this year will also help spur growth. It only takes one good idea at a trade show to make a big difference in your business. I remember back in 2008, we looked into ATMs at the trade show, and now that’s something that really complements my business. That’s the point of attending shows –– to offer more avenues for operators to grow and expand their business.”
Johnston recalled another show, the blizzard-bound spring show in 1995, where he discovered an unexpected game changer for his business. “We had a heck of a trip getting there in the blizzard. I decided to drive from Eugene, trying to save money, but the roads were blocked so we had to take a huge detour and my transmission went out on the way there,” he said. “But I also remember walking by a little video game company in a 10 x 10 booth with a video golf kit. It was Incredible Technologies with the original Peter Jacobsen golf game. We ended up buying a lot of those and putting them out, and they did really well in our market. That’s why we go to shows.
“I really work the show when I’m there,” Johnston added. “I try to go to every booth to meet the suppliers, the manufacturers. If you are going to sell your product, you need to know your product.”
On the educational front, Johnston believes that the Notre Dame and Road Scholar programs, as well as the annual Council of Affiliated States Meeting, continue to represent important member benefits. “Education remains a top priority,” he said. “The beauty of an educational event put on by AMOA is that it offers both real content and a great chance to network with other operators who are not your direct competitors.”
Johnson has also served as a lecturer at a recent session of the AMOA Notre Dame Management Program, offering advice on salesmanship. “We need to put our equipment in better locations. We need better splits on that equipment,” he related. “I think salesmanship is the way we get there so we will continue to focus on providing education both on salesmanship and many other topics at the trade show and as part of our various educational gatherings.”
Johnston has already done a significant amount of travel on behalf of AMOA, and, as such, has a good sense of the state of operators, particularly AMOA members, around the country.
“I think it’s a mixed bag. A lot of it depends upon the local market,” Johnston concluded. “There are some states where the economy is doing pretty well. Here in Oregon, we took the recession really hard because our timber industry is so tied to housing. We’re doing better, but we’re lagging behind some states. As the economy gets better, we all start to look smarter. I think operators really need to keep growing their businesses, and work with locations to put better equipment in those spots, on better terms, of course. We have to step up to face the competition we have from mobile devices and other forms of entertainment. We really do need to remain vigilant.”
During the course of his AMOA presidency, RePlay will be checking in with Jerry Johnston on a regular basis to get his views on major industry issues and learn more about his travels and activities on behalf of the national trade association.
Jerry Johnston of Amusement Unlimited in Eugene, Oregon, is the new president of AMOA.
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