Lenny Dean & Sal Mirando Celebrate Their Company’s Three Decades This Month
The traditional gift for a 30th anniversary is pearls, but in the case of Coastal Amusements, it should be quarters…bags and bags of them! There’s no question that the games Coastal has produced over its three decades have earned a lot of revenue for operators, as well as created a lot of fun for players across the globe.
Co-founders Sal Mirando and Lenny Dean have been working and growing their Lakewood, N.J., company, through the industry’s ups and downs, for 30 years now (and have been in the industry for a combined 83 years).
Back in the 1980s, Sal had a manufacturing company with a big redemption hit called Pop-A-Ball. Lenny had built a successful distribution business, and developed an exclusive sales relationship with famed U.K. pusher maker Harry Levy. It’s always been a small industry so the two knew each other but things really started to click when Lenny became one of Sal’s customers.
“Pop-A-Ball was the link that formed the partnership that would become Coastal,” Sal said of the duo deciding to combine forces. “My company was moving more and more into manufacturing redemption games, and Lenny knew the redemption market. His distributing company sold more Pop-A-Ball games than all my other customers combined.”
The two started to collaborate more on design and in 1988 merged their companies under the Coastal Amusements banner, focusing on game production and distribution. Today, Coastal is a multi-faceted company where the main focus is on game design and manufacture with a lot of additional emphasis on import (for example, Ice Man, Black Hole and token pushers).
Coastal’s Cast of Characters
In the day-to-day running of Coastal, Sal focuses primarily on product development and operations, while Lenny directs the sales group. However, the two veterans often overlap into one another’s area of expertise, combining their longtime industry knowledge as they guide the direction of the company and the products it will bring to market.
Coastal employs a core group to round out the sales, marketing, development, production and business operations, including a few who’ve been with the company since the beginning like: Director of Software Development Dan Bennett, software developer and game test expert Jason Bixenmen (Coastal’s resident “Rainman,” says Sal), and troubleshooters Kerry and Karen Sprague.
On the sales front, leading the way domestically is Patrick Mills, who joined the company about four years ago. The company’s international sales chief is Michael Dean, Lenny’s son, who has a well-rounded background at Coastal having started part time in the factory over 10 years ago while he was in school. Afterwards, he transitioned full time into purchasing and operations, and has been leading global sales for about three years. Keeping things rolling smoothly within the company is Office Manager Donna Grzybowski, who handles all office and accounting functions, among the many hats she wears on a daily basis.
Top Billing: Coastal’s Amusements
Sal once said being in the game industry was a bit like being in the movie business: “Every year we have to make new movies. Some are good, some not so good, and some are blockbusters. But, no matter what the outcome, we have to keep making movies.” When talking about their latest release, the carnival-themed Ring Toss, it was clear where it stood: “Ring Toss reached blockbuster status on the first day of IAAPA!” Sal said.
“The reaction we had to Ring Toss was the real definition of a blockbuster,” he continued, adding that they had orders on the opening day of the show even though they had no earnings reports to back up its potential. “That we had a real winner was obvious from day one with Ring Toss…and demand is still growing.”
The in-house-developed Ring Toss is a redemption game version of the classic toss-the-ring-on-the-bottle midway game. Its colorful cabinet, complete with red and white striped tent top, the 46 RGB LED-lit plastic bottles, large video display and fun audio combine for a piece that is truly a game room attraction.
In Ring Toss, the player is challenged to toss as many rings as possible onto the translucent, LED-lit plastic bottles within a short period of time. As the player lands the ring on the physical bottle to score points, it’s reflected on the virtual bottle shown on the game’s vibrant 32” LCD display. Bottles are color-coded by point value with the ones furthest away worth more points than those closer to the player. Adding to the excitement is a bonus jackpot win when the player reaches a high score. Two or more games can be linked together with a progressive bonus jackpot overhead display. This display, ringed with flashing colored lights, increases the appeal while updating players on the running prize total.
“We can’t think of a better way to celebrate 30 years in business than with a blockbuster like Ring Toss,” Sal said.
But Wait, There’s More!
Coastal is far from a “one-game wonder.” Sal and Lenny report that demand keeps growing for Ice Man, the company’s 2-player ticket redemption game that earned a first-place IAAPA Brass Ring Award. Players shoot a continuous jet of water at the video screen to freeze the onslaught of attacking zombies. Getting the “super sprayer” power-up unlocks an intense, 12-stream, zombie-slaying water canon with extra stopping power. For operators, Ice Man has a four-stage, in-line water filtration system with an innovative ultraviolet purification system to keep it running smoothly and cleanly.
“Ice Man has been a really strong product for us,” Lenny explained. “Its reach continues to build and I think it’s going to become a staple in redemption for years to come.”
Another top title is the company’s second carnival-themed game, 3 Ring Circus, a game room floor standout with tall rotating drum, three player stations, flashing lights and video display.
Video redemption remains strong for Coastal and the trade in general. Back in 2012, the company seized upon the popularity of the Temple Run app by licensing and porting it to a convertible video redemption game system that sports a 65” vertical monitor and eye-catching LED lighting. Games are available as standalones or as conversions and the sixth and most recent game in the lineup is Qubes. Players tap a button to change the direction of a ball rolling down a playfield of cubes, dodging obstacles, collecting coins and power-ups while trying to make it to the end. By the way, Subway Surfers another “coin-app” game for the system, continues to sell and perform well, the execs said.
Add Coastal’s popular Black Hole, Yahtzee, The Simpsons Soccer, Showtime prize crane and the cute Lucky Duck rubber ducky crane, and you’ve got the redemption bases covered. By the way, older titles still find their way to the production line from time to time, too.
“If it’s in demand, we’ll build it,” Sal said. “The product life is long for redemption equipment, unlike video games, so we’ll build short runs to accommodate our customers.
“It’s essential to have a variety of equipment for redemption locations,” Lenny continued. “You want to fill floor space, so you’ll find customers don’t order one item in bulk, they order variety. This is especially true for export. You almost have to be like a supermarket in terms of offering variety, and I think you see that very well in the range of games we offer.”
As for what’s next, the duo didn’t want to tip their hand, but said they have several redemption pieces in development covering the full spectrum – carnival type, traditional redemption and video redemption. Lenny added “We will certainly have new product at IAAPA.”
Some of those might be from Coastal’s in-house design team while others might come from one of the four foreign game makers they’re currently working with, including the previously mentioned Harry Levy Amusements Contractors Ltd.
“Our relationship with Harry Levy continues like it always has,” Lenny said. “We’re actually testing a brand new pusher from Levy called Justice League.” (Coastal had a prototype of the game at their Amusement Expo booth.)
Smiling, Sal added, “Harry never changes. He’s the same as he was 30 years ago –– stubborn, opinionated, stubborn, unyielding and stubborn –– but with a heart of gold. Doing business with Harry is never dull, especially after dark. After all these years, his hair may be a little grayer, but it’s still full. In fact, I will never believe its Harry’s real hair!”
Aside from working with Harry Levy, Coastal has built relationships with other overseas game makers as well. “We do a good bit of importing,” Lenny said. “We’ve been bringing cranes in for over 10 years, plus theimported Black Hole from Korea and Ice Man from China.”
However, importing equipment from overseas isn’t as simple as unpacking a container and shipping them around the country. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes before an imported game is ready for market.
“In the case of Ice Man and Black Hole, both are ETL certified and that work is done by Coastal,” Sal explained. “For each imported game, we go through the machine and advise the foreign maker on what changes to make it so it will comply with U.S. specs. The end result is not nearly the standard game they sell throughout the rest of the world.
“We’re heavily involved at great expense,” he continued. “We also get software modifications made for the U.S. market and enhance quality and reliability, as well as get the certifications. We do that here. That’s a very important part of the process of importing games from Asia or anywhere else.”
Good Times in the Amusement Biz!
The fact that this is a healthy, robust time for games isn’t lost on the Coastal execs and they feel they have a good handle on why.
“The healthy economy is certainly helping,” said Lenny. “We’re seeing great expansion domestically among the larger players like Dave & Buster’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Main Event and Lucky Strike, as well as many of the smaller chains and independent FECs. Domestic sales are certainly expanding and we see that continuing for the forseeable future. That helps all the manufacturers, and with the products we have, it helps us significantly. Working with Dave & Buster’s, for example, we supply a game package for each new store that opens. As they expand their store openings, we expand our market.
“Now, you’re also seeing an expansion in the international business pretty much all over the world,” he continued. “Especially since the introduction of Ring Toss, our export business is exploding.” So much so, the duo says their domestic-to-international sales ratio is roughly 50/50 today.
“We’re seeing new markets develop because of the international economy, which is expanding right along with the U.S. economy,” Sal said. “All that growth is opening up new markets and the result is that we’re doing business in more countries than ever before. The global economy is very strong.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” he continued. “At Coastal, we’re operating at capacity right now. The operators are happy and making money and that just flies right down to the distributors and, in turn, to the manufacturers.
“The industry hit its low five years ago, but business has improved greatly over the last several years,” added Sal.
“Right now, we’re seeing expansion like we haven’t seen in years.
“There’s low unemployment across the country and people finally have more disposable income,” he continued, “and what’s great is they’re spending it in the local bowling alley, Dave & Buster’s, Lucky Strike, Chuck E. Cheese’s and other locations that have games. Not only are we seeing expansion and sales with new locations, we’re also seeing replacement of the older equipment. We haven’t seen that in a long time and that’s a real key to the growth we’re all experiencing.”
When asked about the milestone this month, Sal asked: “Did we know 30 years ago we’d be talking today about this anniversary? I don’t think so –– and don’t imagine anybody does when they start out –– but we’re very happy about it!”
“Not much has really changed in how we do things,” Lenny added. “We still come to work every day.” Though Sal added laughingly, “Unless the weather’s nice and we go play golf instead.” As is typical when you get the two together, there’s fun banter back and forth with one often completing the thought of the other. It speaks to chemistry, friendship and the passion they have for the business and industry at large.
“I think when we started years ago, the interaction was different than it is now,” Lenny remarked with Sal quickly quipping, “Yes, now that we’re both older and more calm.”
“Though it depends on the day of the week,” Lenny laughed.
Any day of the week, you can bet the Lenny Dean and Sal Mirando are thinking about the next step for Coastal Amusements, ideas for game development, sales and their many other ins and outs of running the business.