People are tribal by nature. And while the “us versus them” attitude that can spring from this natural instinct is unfortunate in this “civilized” era we live in, it still exists. It also occurs in industry. Recently, we all spent a lot of time discussing the “polarization” of the nation on the political front? But, what about the coin-op amusement front where we have route operators on one side and game room people on the other? Only a minority of operators have their hands in both (like Family Amusement in Los Angeles and the Quassy FEC in Connecticut). It may be time for some folks out there to open the mind to a little expansion.
I’m not suggesting that Dave and Buster’s starts putting games out on the street, or that every “Sam the Jukebox Man” borrows $5 million from the bank to build “Sam’s Wonder World.” I’m simply pointing out that arcades have gone through the valley of despair and are coming back up on the other side. Game rooms nowadays are often slick, themed places rather than the converted vegetable stores we had back in the boom times. And there is no one as familiar with buying, placing, maintaining and rotating games than the street guy.
To be in a “box” doing only one thing can be comfortable, as long as the money’s there. But to stay boxed up because you’re reluctant to peek over the edge and explore growth opportunities is a tad on the shy side. AMOA’s former president Jerry Johnston championed what some call “FEC lite” where the route guy can put a handful of machines into a variety of locations, so long as there are cranes and auto-prize games in the mix to fill that need for redemption (you ain’t got an arcade without it!). And just because there’s been this big, huge buzz about bowling centers knocking out walls to put up a game display doesn’t mean every bowling alley in the country is taken. (Route operators: Always look around for the “FEC lite” hotspots, just like you look for new bars and eating places.)
This is a big country on the rebound from a nasty recession. Places are being built, businesses are starting up or changing hands, new ideas are replacing old, and there’s opportunity in all that as long as our seasoned business people keep open minds (never forgetting, of course, that their core businesses –– the nation’s routes –– need your most serious attention as well). A new year is coming with a new administration. I hope it’ll be a good one for all.