Gameroom Guru – March 2019


Those Moments of Discovery!

Embracing the Aha! Moments in Your Personal and Business Life

By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

George McAuliffe

George McAuliffe

This column marks the start of our 23rd year writing for RePlay and we just celebrated our 40th anniversary in the arcade/FEC business. If we’ve learned anything in that time it is that change is necessary.

In that spirit, I asked Key Snodgress, RePlay’s vice president, for ideas on how to make this column better for our readers. Key’s idea was to look for and feature those “Aha! moments” in business when the lightbulb went on with us and people in the business we come across. So we will! We’ll ask industry leaders to share theirs. We’ll also shorten the regular column. That’s one of my Aha! moments: less is more when it comes to articles.

What is an Aha! moment? We’ve all had them. When the fog of our day-to-day work life lifts and we can clearly see something that we hadn’t seen before. Or we realize something familiar isn’t exactly what we thought it was.

It can be trivial: Webster’s used this example: “My Aha! moment” was when I put on my shorts from last summer and they didn’t fit.”

Like that example, it can be personal. As my wife and I stumbled through early parenthood, we realized our job wasn’t to control our sons, our job was to control the circumstances in which they operated.

And they can be business moments. We’ll accept these revelations from all areas of life, and from folks of all ages and stages of their careers. Sure, there is something to the wisdom of age (at my age you bet I’ll promote that idea), but the secret is that wisdom comes mainly from making and observing many mistakes.

Which reminds me of a story I read that was an “Aha! moment” to me. An IBM exec championed a business idea requiring a $15 million investment. She made a critical decision that turned out to be a mistake, the venture failed, and the $15 million was lost. Called to her boss’s office, she stood before his desk. “Do you know why you’re here?” the boss asked. “Yes,” said the exec, “I’m going to be fired.” The boss looked at her. “Fired? Why would I fire you? The company just invested $15 million in your business education!”

Here’s another… In the 1990s, I was on the management team at Edison Brothers Mall Entertainment, a large arcade and FEC chain. As the name suggested we were very mall focused and as redemption became bigger, our business model was hurting. Suddenly, cost of sales was significant, games were bigger and we needed more space. That meant more rent. We could see the handwriting on the wall.

Our “elevator conversation” had always been that “we operated arcades and entertainment centers in shopping malls.” Somewhere during the weeks and months of strategizing for the future, our team realized we were wrong. What we really did was “use our expertise and systems to efficiently acquire and maintain games and attractions across the country to deliver great family entertainment experiences.” Aha! That realization freed us to leverage our true expertise in a much wider marketplace.

Check out George Smith’s Aha! moment in the sidebar to this column. George was kind enough to kickoff this new feature. For those few readers who don’t know him, George is CEO of Family Entertain­ment Group, one of the largest FEC chains in our industry. He is also one of the “Three Amigos,” founders of F2FEC, the industry’s innovative conference (the 2019 event is happens this month in Colorado Springs).

If you care to share one of your Aha! moments, my email is at georgemc@ We’d love to hear from you.

Aha! Moments – by George Smith

George Smith

Family Entertainment Group’s George Smith

It’s a little ironic, but I have found that connecting the dots that we are given in life leads to the best outcomes. In other words, connecting a lot of little things can have a big impact.

The need for the F2FEC conference came from interaction with colleagues who meshed personal and professional decisions together. Rick Iceberg, Ben Jones and I all realized that the best moments we had had in the industry revolved around revelatory moments where the conversations involved some food (and a little more drink).

We examined (and still do) our personal weaknesses and strengths and the desire to move beyond selfish decisions that have left us examining only our checkbooks. We have discovered that most people in our industry want and desire comradery and service to a higher purpose than just a better bottom line. Real success in the amusement business comes from passion, failure, risk and heart.

Our first gathering in Phoenix confirmed our vision and focused us (and myself) on a mission to seek improvement through honest, personal dialog and introspection.

George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of business large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. With his partner and son Howard, he launched The Pinnacle Insider to help a wider audience execute FEC operations at a higher level. Readers can become an Insider at

George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie, and has a passion for passing along what he’s learned in the fun business to the new generation of operators and suppliers.

Visit for more information or contact George at; phone: 314-422-7197.



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