Growing…and Growing…and Growing Since 1929
by Matt Harding
It all started as J&J Music in 1929 by Lawrence Jansen, who was quickly joined by his younger brother Harold “Jack” Jansen. For many years, J&J was primarily a jukebox company servicing around 14 counties within a 50-mile radius, though it’s grown into the largest Illinois-based operator of amusement devices.
From jukes, they grew to include shuffle alleys, pinballs, cigarette machines and more. Today, they run some 6,000 machines in 2,700 locations in their home state of Illinois, as well as Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Also, still today, it’s a family affair as it’s always been. Jack Jansen, whose grandfather and namesake started the company, bought out the business from his father in 2002. Marty Stalling, the company’s COO, joined the team in 1978, when his father Harry Stalling was general manager (the elder Stalling was a 40-year veteran of J&J).
A Jack-of-all-trades type business, the company had expanded into food vending in the ’60s and video games and pinball machines by the ’70s. In 1974, through the diversification, they incorporated as J&J Ventures. Over the years, they’ve also added dart machines, pool tables and ATMs into the operation.
The big-money move came in 2009 when the Illinois Video Gaming Act was passed. In 2010, J&J split into its Amusements and Gaming divisions and became a licensed Illinois Terminal Operator in 2012. “To say the least, we got a lot bigger when we got into gaming,” Jansen said.
They’ve made 15-20 acquisitions since 2010 with Williams being the first. In just over a decade, they also went from 25 employees to more than 500. “The gaming side has only helped the amusement side,” he added. Today, the company services 2,150 gaming locations.
It was that growth that led to the company’s spread throughout Illinois and other states they service. J&J has 11 offices in Illinois and one in Indiana (they have their Effingham headquarters as well as locations in Marion, Springfield, Centralia, Collinsville, Princeton, Libertyville, Kankakee, Champaign, Rockford, Schaumburg, Hickory Hills and Evansville, Ind.).
On the amusements side of the business, COO Marty Stalling said jukeboxes are still the big earner, providing 60% of the total amusement revenue. They have 1,390 jukes on location throughout the Midwest.
Though music is their origin, the diversification they made over 90-plus years is still evident today. They have a strong dart board operation (1,276 machines); plenty of arcade video games and other amusements (1,204); ATMs (1,035); and pool tables (838).
“Our league program – especially the dart leagues – has experienced continued growth over the years,” added Sam Westgate, the company’s director of business development and AMOA’s new president.
He said recently it’s been greatly enhanced by the addition of the North American Dart Organization (NADO) program, which has grown to nearly 30 franchisees. That developed from J&J Player Rewards, a unique customer loyalty program the company has been running for nearly a decade. “It has evolved into NADO and the entire program helps fuel jukebox and ATM usage in addition to dart machine play,” he said. “Even through Covid, dart revenue was better.”
While the past year has been tough on all businesses, it’s no surprise that a 92-year-old company weathered the storm. Jansen said that while some employees were furloughed in the early months of the pandemic, they were 100% back by July 2020.
The J&J team has a lot of confidence that coin-op will come out of this era better than ever. Westgate reports that music and darts are coming back strong already. “The numbers indicate that those sectors will be at or above pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “While other sectors may be too soon to see positive results, I believe that they will eventually catch up.
“Generally speaking, venues have learned what types of actions to take to make their customers feel safer. I expect that many of these actions will continue after the end of the pandemic.”
Whatever changes are coming to the industry, expect J&J to be on top of them. Westgate noted that payments are sure to continue to evolve, meaning changes to collection processes.
“We developed and use SMART Software for our route service and collections,” he said. “This has certainly made us more efficient. SMART continues to evolve with many online features that allow us to get our job done while spending less time on location and on the road.”
Another thing’s for certain, too. No matter the changes in technology – people’s desire to get out and socialize is stronger than ever. “As we exit the pandemic and see people getting back out in public, it reinforces that the desire to interact face to face is not going away,” Westgate explained. “This bodes well for the coin-op industry’s ability to compete against home-based and online games in the future.”
Visit the company online at www.jjventures.com.