Pipeline Games “Filling a Gap”
Founder Says Great Customer Service, Value Among the Key Components
Gary Balaban is a familiar name in the amusement industry with decades of experience in manufacturing and operations. He co-founded Coast to Coast Entertainment, which was sold to the Elaut group in 2015. When they moved New Jersey operations to Florida in 2019, Balaban and his team were poised to bounce back and find a new venture.
“Once we were out of work over there, we were brainstorming about what to do next,” he said. “We came up with the idea of doing electronic bulk vending machines, starting with Toys and Prizes.”
Game card vending systems were another initial idea from the newly-formed Pipeline Games, which Balaban began running with longtime former Coast to Coast teammate Bev Ruhman.
“Our Toys and Prizes machine was an updated way that people in the bulk vending industry could vend capsules for a more realistic price,” Balaban explained, noting that the company started in the early Covid days when cashless was top-of-mind for many operators. “You could now vend capsules and charge more money and use cards.”
Keeping their customers’ needs first, Pipeline has quickly grown their offering – keeping true to their name with great new games “coming down the pipeline” all the time.
“We didn’t start off making ticket machines and crane machines – that kind of evolved during Covid,” Balaban said. “Many, many of the old customers were saying they needed machines, needed tech support and weren’t getting it anywhere else. We were filling a gap in the marketplace. We supply the value-conscious consumer and offer superior customer service and support.”
He said a lot of Pipeline customers come from outside of traditional channels – locations or operators that might not know their local distributor, for instance; older people in the industry or brand-new folks.
“We got really strong with connecting with customers in a previously underserved market,” Balaban said. “Our customers want to buy it and have it delivered tomorrow like Amazon.”
Pipeline’s customer-focused mantra led to developing their testing club, open to anybody. The first-come, first-served program allows buyers to buy and test out games at half price before a wider release.
“Once the inventory’s gone in a day or so, there’s no more available at that discounted price,” Balaban explained. “The people absolutely love the concept. In return for that, we get tweaks and feedback. If a couple people say the same thing, we know it’s something we need to change.”
Even before the testing club, games make their way into Balaban’s own two arcades in Keansburg, N.J., and those of his friends and neighbors on the Jersey Shore boardwalk.
“We tested two pieces in the past 12 months in our own game centers and those will never make the testing club because they didn’t earn,” he said. However, the majority move their way forward, including their Cut 2 Win.
Balaban said the first samples of Cut 2 Win went into his game centers during the off-season. “They were doing so well that we knew we needed to definitely do something with it,” he said. After further in-house testing, they made some slight cabinet changes and put 10-15 machines on location.
“The next rendition of the machine came the following spring and a good customer came into the arcade and he saw them there. They weren’t for sale yet, but he saw it and said, ‘I’m not leaving the building until I can take two of these.’” Balaban said OK and added: “His numbers were crazy, crazy high on the piece.”
Another big winner for Pipeline is Lil’ Winner, a mini crane that was designed in less than a week. The 20” footprint game featured the first-ever LED programmable sign on top, Balaban said, and comes with all the merchandise necessary to get it started. There are three compartments in the machine, or it can be customized to just one. It’s configured with 3” capsules, 2” capsules and some plush. The game also comes with a standard claw or another size if operators want to include different prizes.
All of the company’s machines, like another favorite Perfect 10, come equipped with Cloud Meter, a remote wifi monitoring system that allows operators to see income and prizes out on their phones.
With Prize Zone, the self-prize redemption kiosk, operators can choose to ditch having a redemption center or counter in favor of this machine. It lets customers come up with their player card or tickets to redeem prizes. Prize Zone is currently equipped with Amusement Connect and Intercard with more providers coming soon.
The newest version of Toys and Prizes is called Amazing Prizes and features an updated graphics package. Operators can place gift cards and other hanging prizes.
Pipeline Games is located in Sayreville, N.J., coincidentally in the same building where Coast to Coast Entertainment was founded. Balaban said his years of industry experience have lent quite nicely to building Pipeline – and the pipeline of games that’ve come with it.
“Since a lot of the normal game channels were affected by Covid and product wasn’t coming in from overseas, we were positioned to take advantage of that,” he said. Balaban and Ruhman, and later the rest of the small team, would be in the office every day, building up the brand on social media as well. “It really set us into a good spot when the country started to open up again.”
That has translated into a brisk pace of work that continues for Pipeline Games today. “Our office is one big room and we’re constantly throwing ideas back and forth all the time,” Balaban shared. “With all the experience and the contacts I’ve established in China over the past 25 years, I can tell them directly what I need to.”
Lil’ Winner, for example, was in its physical prototype form in just two weeks after the idea. “We didn’t have to have big high-level meetings, have a vote on it and other things you do at a big company.”
Learn more about the small but mighty Pipeline Games at www.pipeline games.com. Also, read what their customers have to say on the next pages.
Meet the Pipeline Games Team
Prior to starting up Pipeline Games, Balaban was one of the founding partners of Coast to Coast Entertainment, which was sold to Elaut Group in 2015. On a daily basis, he handles everything from unloading the containers, marketing, preparing ads and artwork for the magazines as well as being the primary person in charge of new game development and working with the Asian factories to make sure the games come out correct. He enjoys going to China to visit the factories and practicing his Chinese.
Many will remember Ruhman from the early days of Coast to Coast Entertainment. Prior to that, Bev was part of Coast to Coast Memory and even way before that she worked in one of Gary Balaban’s arcades starting in 1987. Balaban said: “Bev is the glue that holds Pipeline Games together. Everything goes through Bev and she keeps tabs on everything that is going on in the company.” Over the years she has taken on many different jobs in the company. She can unload the containers when they come in, help put together the games before they ship out to customers, handle sales calls and pretty much everything else.
Paul “Chuck” Skroczky
If Skroczky’s name looks familiar, that’s because he also was with Coast to Coast from Day 1. (And also worked at Coast to Coast Memory.) Chuck rose up through the ranks to be the lead technical support manager. His day-to-day responsibilities include phone tech support to help out customers who are having a problem, assembling games for shipment once they are unloaded from the container and just about anything and everything that is needed around the company.
Another familiar face from the old company, Berger started with Pipeline after working as a salesman for Coast to Coast Entertainment for about seven years. All of the customers at Pipeline welcomed Emile with open arms.
Another Coast to Coast alum, Durea helps with assembly and testing of games before they ship, as well as helping to unload the containers and assisting with shipping parts on a daily basis. She’s also helped out at Balaban’s summer arcades on the Jersey Shore since she was in high school.
Although new to Pipeline Games, Preston is not new to the industry. He worked for a few summers at their arcades on the Jersey Shore also. Tim helps unload the containers, prepares the games for shipping to customers and does initial quality control on games. “Tim is getting to know our machines well and even has been doing some repair jobs as needed around the company,” Balaban noted. “He’s also helping in the parts department getting parts orders ready to ship to customers.”
The Customers Do the Talking
Don’t just take Gary Balaban’s word about how great Pipeline Games is… meet some of his customers and read what they had to say about the company’s products and service.
Matt Zasmeta of Hazelwood Corp. is a 45-year industry veteran who runs a street route in Minnesota and also takes care of some arcades with equipment that ranges from amusements to full-service vending and ATMs.
A longtime customer, he began working with Emile Berger and Gary Balaban at Coast to Coast and continues a relationship with them at Pipeline. “Emile and Gary have been really good to me over the years,” Zasmeta said. “They’ve always taken care of me, notified me when they’ve had new product and have come through when they told me they’d get me product. They’re excellent to deal with.”
Product-wise, he’s bought their tickets and regularly buys redemption items and plush, as well as cranes and self-merchandisers. As for his favorite Pipeline game, without hesitation, he says it’s their newest crane, the Lil’ Winner. “I recently got some of those, and I think they did a nice job with it. It’s a nice-looking crane and I’m very impressed with it.”
Zasmeta said their service department is great to work with and they’re also good about keeping parts in stock. “They’re pretty good guys… They’ve always taken good care of me and done what they said they were going to do. Even during the plush shortages and things like that last summer, they were helpful in coming up with product for me.”
David Kochan of DK Vending runs a full-service bulk vending business with around 270 cranes on location in Georgia and part of Alabama. He’s also president of the NBVA (the National Bulk Vending Assn.). “I’ve known Gary for years, since his Coast to Coast days. He makes quality machines. He’ll also work out deals with you when you buy multiple machines.”
Kochan has more than 15 Pipeline products, including the Lil’ Winner crane with its scrolling LED customizable marquee. “He comes out with innovative products. That crane actually helped me secure a location.”
Eric Esterson’s Shore Fun is a stone’s throw from the beach and boardwalk of a small Delaware town (Bethany Beach) where you’ll find a lot of Pipeline products. He uses two of their player card kiosks, having made the switch from tickets (which he used to buy from Pipeline) to card swipes, and also operates two of Pipeline’s Cube World redemption games, four Cut 2 Win machines and five Perfect 10 units. Esterson estimates that he’s running about 50 of their cranes (Prize Factory, duck cranes and candy cranes among them).
He’s as much a fan of the people as he is of the product, having done business with Balaban and his team back in their Coast to Coast days, as well as now at Pipeline. “Their customer service is exceptional, prices are great, and their equipment makes money.” When he needs parts, “they’re always in stock,” he added.
Pat O’Malley runs Star Worlds Arcade in DeKalb, Ill., and has a route of 40 locations, and buys machines, tickets and a lot of prizes from Pipeline. On the game side, a current favorite is I Love Prizes. “I’ve been able to adapt that crane to so many uses in my business,” he said. “We have several of them. I also like Cut 2 Win. It’s a fantastic innovation.
“Pipeline’s machines are eye-pleasing,” he continued, “and presentation is very important to me, whether it’s the machine or the products. You’re essentially selling to a consumer and having a machine that looks fantastic and bright, quality prizes help me sell.”
He also likes how they regularly come out with new games and ideas. “They are always thinking about the industry and how they can connect with it. And once we buy the machines, they’re there for us if we have any problems. It’s the nature of the games business to have problems. Their staff helps understand what’s going on and what needs to be done to get the game working. As an operator, we really appreciate that.”
Brad Baker, who opened Pinball Garage in Hamilton, Ohio, in June 2020, unsurprisingly has a focus on pinballs. The business, located just outside of Cincinnati, has 50 pinball machines at any given time. “We wanted to get into cranes and prize games as well,” he explained.
“Cut 2 Win was really popular, and it was so ridiculous how much it was played that we bought three more.” Baker has two other arcade locations – Champion Mill Arcade (in Hamilton) and Daytona Beach Arcade. In total, he has 50 machines from Pipeline Games in his facilities.
“We knew pinball very well, but we were new at the redemption side,” he said. “Gary is so accessible and easy to talk to – even with products that aren’t his. He’s taken good care of us.”
Kirk Bachelder of Memory Lane in Salem, Ore., has many Pipeline machines in his FEC/arcade and along route stops. “I own quite a few Cut 2 Wins and it’s a good-earning game. If you have the right location where there’s traffic and you merchandise it correctly with a high-end prize, the game can really earn money,” Bachelder said. He added that the most recent version has enough space that they can install credit cards readers, dollar bill acceptors and coin slots.
He finds that Pipeline’s “top-notch” customer service is what sets the company apart from other companies. “There’s never a problem getting a hold of them if there’s anything needed, whether it’s to purchase a new game or to talk with them about settings. When there is a problem, which you run into from time to time no matter who makes the game, Pipeline is just a phone call away.”
Bachelder said another plus is that Pipeline’s game software is easy to use. “I just received their Lil’ Winner cranes and the software was easy to use. You program it all through the joystick. You even have an auto feature so it can automatically adjust for the prizes you have in the machine, taking some of the guesswork out of it. In my opinion, and especially for a new person who’s never operated a crane before, a Pipeline machine will be easier than some of the others.”
Rob Gerling, a fourth-generation operator of the Muskegon, Mich.-based Coin Machine Service, has been product testing for Pipeline and now has about a dozen games – Cut 2 Win and Racing for Prizes among them.
He said he has plans to order more cranes as well, boasting about the company’s tech support and customer service in particular. “They answer the phone,” he said. “Nobody else answers the phone. That’s the biggest issue in our industry.”
Nevada arcade operator Chris Osborne of Great Products Enterprises buys mostly cranes for instant redemption and ticket dispensing machines (as well as tickets) from Pipeline.
“There are many reasons why, but first and most importantly, it’s because they’re so friendly and personable,” he said. “They have an amazing salesman, Emile, who’s been in the business a long time and is probably the best salesman I’ve ever encountered. The owner, Gary, is the same way. He’s phenomenal.
“The second thing is that their equipment is very good,” Osborne continued. “And if there’s ever a problem, they’re right on it – before we know it, it’s taken care of. Pipeline honors their warranties and their prices are great, too.”
Zach Reinert of BAZ Entertainment, another Nevada operator, runs games in FECs and on his route and also works with Chris Osborne, overseeing some maintenance and other items at his place. The two even share some locations and have split orders on things like tickets to save on shipping, something he said is “one more thing Pipeline does to make our businesses more profitable.” (He said they are still a coin and ticket operation and plan to stay that way for a while, buying 3 million tickets at a time.)
He’s got at least one of every game they make – or close to it. “Their machines and designs are great, but there are also a lot of other companies out there making great and beautiful machines,” Reinert explained. “But when I buy from Pipeline, I know we’ll get the support – especially weekend support – from Gary or a member of his team. Since we have a place that’s only open Friday through Sunday, if I have a machine that goes down on Friday and can’t get help with it, then it’s down all weekend.
“I try not to overuse it,” he continued, “but I know that if I’m really in a pinch, they’ll help me over the weekend. And if I need a part, they’ll get in Monday morning and get it right out with two-day shipping, so I’ll have it in time for the next weekend.”
From an income perspective, Reinert’s favorite Pipeline game is Toys and Prizes, a five-product bulk unit that vends 2”, 3” and 4” prize capsules. “It’s brought a new life to vending that I’ve been wanting for a long time. We need to get away from quarters and be able to vend product with dollar bills and credit cards. There are so few machines out there that do that. Toys and Prizes is an affordable solution that looks great and easy to use. We have two and might buy a third one soon.”
James Pepion of Funtastic Arcade and Amusements has a route that spans the country and focuses on roughly 200 malls across the U.S. He has about 20 Pipeline games on location. “I actually started getting some of their equipment from Captain’s Auction Warehouse,” he noted. Pepion later developed a relationship with Balaban through Facebook and toured Pipeline’s New Jersey facility not too long after.
“I think the customer service has been good and the cranes have a high quality,” he added. “I like how their games change colors and work well and are customizable. It’s a great value.”
Ed Golebiowski operates Zero Gravity Trampoline Park in the Minneapolis suburb of Mounds View, which has the distinction of being the first trampoline park in the state of Minnesota. It’s every bit an FEC, too, with a good-sized arcade, laser tag and other attractions. Inside, he uses Pipeline’s player card kiosk and several of their games – Cut 2 Win, Perfect 10, Super Ticket Chicken and the new Lil’ Winner crane.
Like others, it’s the customer service and support that stands out for Golebiowski. When you need help, “Pipeline guys will give you their cell phone number. They’re always picking up the phone or it’s never more than a few minutes before they get back to you. Gary is also very active on Facebook so you can even connect with him that way.”
Of Pipeline games, he said, “I like to call them hard-working, blue-collar products and I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean. This January, I bought a $65,000 VR game. We’re not a huge-volume place as far as bodies go but we’re easily a million-dollar facility. Our #3 game, right behind our Creative Works VR attraction, is the Ticket Chicken. It kept up in revenue at a fraction of the price.”