Gameroom Guru – March 2021


The Crane Machine

The Upsell Engine in the Arcade

George McAuliffe

By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

The truck pulled up in 1985 and I was never so glad to see an 18-wheeler than on that day. The arcade chain I was a part of, Time-Out Family Amusement Centers, was getting its first crane machine. The video game bubble had burst and we needed a savior. We hoped the cranes (the 3-player Big Choice was our selection) were it. And they were. Big time! Soon, every store in the chain had one. That’s when I fell in love with cranes.

Ten years later, I started Pinnacle as a consulting company. When the phone rang with an opportunity to operate cranes in Walmart stores, we jumped at it. We soon were in 50 Walmarts and grew with other accounts to 500 cranes on location. We created our own mixes and learned how to buy (or, more accurately, who to buy from).

Smart Prize Time Crane - Gameroom Guru 0321Today, we focus full-time on consulting with others on adding arcades and FEC attractions to their businesses and to maximize the ones they have. We have specified cranes and merchandisers for each of the hundreds of arcades we have helped create, and we teach merchandise and supply to each of those clients.

Retail by Other Means

Arcades are a retail business; you might say, “retail by other means.” As in all retail, once the customer is in the door, we need to attract maximum spending, and redemption done properly drives additional spending. Cranes and merchandisers, however, are the main upsell vehicle for the arcade.

Cranes are a “different spend” than redemption. Think about your players. They tend to come in with a spending budget and most of that is earmarked for redemption.

When that budget is exhausted, they think of the crane –– unlike redemption, it is an instant-win possibility –– and they often put a few more bucks on the card for that chance. That’s an incremental sale, a highly profitable sale with more of the sales dollar going to the bottom line.

Gameroom Guru RI Novelty Striped Balls 0321The old saying that “Retail is Detail” applies here. The time and attention given to managing cranes and merchandisers well more than pays off.

Top 5 C&M Opportunities

1. Machine Selection: Most manufacturers have a crane or merchandiser machine. Selection matters. The cheapest are rarely the best choice and the most expensive aren’t necessarily best for everyone. Do your homework.

2. Crane Lineup: Think of a line of retail stores in a shopping center. The many windows show a variety of merchandise and, together, create a powerful attraction to the widest audience. Your selection of machines should be like that. I’m not suggesting that you necessarily put them next to each other in a straight line, but instead, I’m more focused on the merchandise variety. In the smallest arcades we develop, we’ll suggest a 38-45” crane with jumbo, 9-12” plush; a 30-32” crane with 5” inflatable balls, and 28-30” candy or ducky crane often set for win-every-time play. As available space expands, we expand the lineup.Gameroom Guru RI Novelty Little Critters 0321

3. Location: Placing cranes and merchandisers in the right location within the arcade affects sales. We want some of our machines in the exit path (typically front-left in a rectangular arcade) but all in highly visible locations.

4. Merchandise: We are big believers that well-themed generic plush is better than most licensed plush mixes in cranes. Just sticking tired old Mario or Superman merchandise in a crane week after week leaves big money on the table. Well-themed generic prizes attracts players and since they are often half the cost of licensed plush, your players can win more and that keeps them coming back.

5. Change: It’s a well-known fact in FEC operations that change matters. It’s challenging to deliver that necessary change economically over time. With cranes it’s easy. Set up a program –– monthly change often works –– and buy in cycles to get there.

6. Bonus Opportunity (couldn’t resist): Pay attention to the cranes and the merchandise. Make sure they’re clean, that the lightbulbs all work and that the merchandise is properly presented and facing forward. On busy days, this might mean a staff member sprucing the machine up four times a day. That level of attention will provide a return in sales and profit.

We believe we can see Covid-19’s end in sight and that we’ll be getting back to normal sometime this summer. Over the next few months, we are going to be focusing on important operational topics to help our readers as they emerge.

No one can afford to leave a single dollar on the table. As a courtesy to RePlay readers, if you’d like to discuss your crane program, clarify anything I’ve written here, or if we can help in any way, please call or email. No charge…we’re happy to help.

George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses 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. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.

Readers can learn more about Pinnacle at or contact George at [email protected]; phone: 314-422-7197.


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