Prize Automation’s Future Seen Years Ago
BMI Merchandise Builds New Tech Around Redemption for Better Operations & Higher Profits
If you were a fly on the wall at BMI Merchandise nearly 30 years ago, the talk may have sounded a lot like what we’re hearing in offices across the nation today as companies look to technology to improve methods, efficiencies and profits. Back then, this forward-thinking, solutions-focused company was hard at work in the redemption world coming up with new ways to help its customers run more efficiently, and three decades later finds itself well positioned with a new slate of top-tier merchandise and revolutionary analytical tools.
David and Shelley Katz established BMI Merchandise in Lakewood, N.J., evolving it into a pioneering, tech-focused company that made its name by eliminating unnecessary hassles and time-draining tasks often accepted as the “way of life” in the prize redemption business. In 2009, they decided to create an end-to-end solution that would automate inefficient tasks related to inventory management. That year, BMI created its Automated Merchandise Replenishment System (AMRS), which takes those and other tedious tasks away from the operator.
“We’ve been involved with redemption for almost 30 years,” David Katz said. “During the course of that time, we kept seeing the same mistakes and inefficiencies bogging down a lot of our customers. So we created AMRS, and haven’t looked back since.”
Shelley Katz added, “We kept coming back to the question: How do we help our customers maintain their merchandise mix and look great no matter who is behind the counter? We really wanted to bring retail methodologies like EDI to the redemption industry to improve the entire process.”
AMRS is best described as an integrated, end-to-end solution for prize redemption, helping customers with everything from product selection and inventory management to the design and installation of their redemption center down to the smallest, but important, details like where each item should be placed. With AMRS, redemption centers are managed with ultimate efficiency and brought to their full performance.
The company has studied and built programs around automating redemption processes, while keeping the necessary human touch with their customers. Members of the BMI team work with every customer to develop a customized program for seamless integration. It begins with the plan-o-gram creation, item selection and proposal process. The BMI Merchandise team creates the redemption mix and presentation based on item size and sales history with a focus on demographics of each center location and its mark-up structure. The plan-o-gram depicts exactly how every item is to appear on every wall and counter specific and unique to the location.
BMI Merchandise’s hands-on, experienced merchandise team travels to every AMRS prize counter or room to install and manage all aspects of the merchandise mix, from planning item rotation, introducing new items and analyzing inventory levels. They also train the redemption staff on the entire AMRS program including how to use the website management tools customized to their location by their dedicated BMI analyst.
“It doesn’t end there! This remains an ongoing relationship,” Katz continued. “AMRS keeps them stocked 52 weeks out of the year. But every week, our experienced AMRS team is evaluating and reviewing inventory, and making sure the merchandise is right.” For the customer, Katz said, it transfers the multiple tasks of keeping a redemption counter or store stocked to its full efficiency so the operator can focus on their guest experience.
“This automated process takes guesswork out of weekly re-ordering by doing it all for you,” Katz continued. “We have it down to a science, and simply, our system minimizes costs and risks with efficient restocking.”
BMI Merchandise offers a premium product mix, asserting that every customer is unique and has different demographics so their product needs are specific to their location. The AMRS program reads and analyzes a location’s weekly usage report to create just-in-time, automated product refills and rotation based on actual sales usage. BMI calibrates the par value for each item’s in-stock quantities, ensuring a location is “in-stock,” but never over-stocked.
AMRS is compatible with every leading redemption POS system in the industry, the company asserts. BMI even has an inventory re-order solution for customers that don’t have a POS system, which they say is revolutionary for smaller entertainment centers who don’t have integrated technology.
“Other merchandise companies want to sell products in our market, but very few take the time to give the customer a full remedy to the challenges an operator faces,” Katz said. “We provide that with AMRS. It’s a complete circle, from design to installation to replenishment of your redemption center.”
Delivering Innovative Product
The company says it has been consistently recognized for their hands-on commitment to distributing and merchandising a constantly changing mix of novelties, toys and electronics.
“We recognize the hottest trends in the industry and understand the need for a diverse array of products, Katz said. “We create items integrated with the most advanced technology, source and design unique merchandise and supply the best brands and most popular licenses.”
“We’ve worked with a lot of our customers for years,” Katz said. “We have proven ourselves to be a dedicated and reliable partner.”
The result, he said, is that the company has experienced unprecedented growth in the past few years. Our staff has increased to over 120 employees today. Katz attributes this to the company’s success with AMRS and, of course, our customers’ success with the program.
“We’re like the lifeguard standing in the back of each FEC,” Katz said. ”We watch the activities of all our customers, another set of eyes managing their business, correcting any issues and applying solutions.”
Contributing to the growth at BMI Merchandise is a list of long-standing employees, many of whom are recognizable thanks to countless years involved in the industry. One of BMI Merchandise’s newest additions is industry vet Jimmy Chapman, who joined the company early this year as a regional sales manager. He earned his chops in the amusement world working with Coast to Coast and Family Fun Companies, and brings invaluable experience to BMI. The company also recently added well-known merchandise specialist Keitha McBride to a similar position (she has a lengthy resume of work in the FEC and prize business working with Dave & Buster’s and Redemption Plus).
BMI Merchandise has a strong internal sales team led by Vice President of Sales Dave Schwartz, which includes Michael Katz, Eddie Katz and Michael Maresca as regional sales managers.
Moving Fun Forward
Redemption centers and FECs may be a big focus of BMI Merchandise, but it’s far from all they do. The company has multiple patents for hanging devices used in instant redemption machines, and is constantly working with manufacturers (such as Bay Tek and Benchmark) to ensure the best possible merchandise for their prize machines.
“We believe very much in both attended and unattended redemption,” said Shelley Katz. “We’re continually innovating, bringing forward solutions to the industry, and always have new things in development that people will get excited about. Things that could cut labor in half,” she hinted. “It’s very forward thinking.”
One of BMI Merchandise’s more recent tools is the 3D, in-store plan-o-gram technology. This is essentially a roadmap that lets customers easily envision what their new redemption space will look like. The customer can access it online and gain access to a host of analytic tools that can help them more efficiently run their store.
“That’s where some of our biggest growth has been,” Shelley Katz continued. “We’re a true resource, not just a shipper or a computer that takes your order. We have people assigned directly to your account. If you have a question, we have an answer, and it’s one from a real person!”
BMI Merchandise execs say they look beyond the sale, and focus just as much on the customer’s ability to consistently change and grow their business. The company is actively forecasting what product is trending, leveraging historical sales data per item distinct to each location, and informing the customer when the redemption cycle is experiencing peak periods and when it will be quiet. Beyond all the data and trend tracking, BMI stresses that it focuses on its customer as a true partner and is willing to go the extra mile.
Katz concluded: “Put our experience and technology to work for you and see why BMI Merchandise is the industry leader in redemption and merchandise solutions.”