Pride Vending NW Continues to Grow
Oregon Route Owner Jeff Whiteley Diversifies the Family Biz
by Matt Harding
The family-owned and operated Pride Vending NW had a pandemic “growth spurt,” says operator Jeff Whiteley, thanks to a boost in his ATM business. But the industry long-timer has a wealth of experience that spans the entirety of vending and amusements.
Whiteley started re-felting pool tables as a teenager in the ’80s at a pool hall his dad Tom bought in 1979. Always with the entrepreneurial spirit, Tom had a friend who had a bustling pool hall and he thought he could make one work, too.
He got into business just as the video game boom was happening and pinballs were made legal in his Springfield, Oregon, jurisdiction, so in went pins along with arcades, ping pong, air hockey and foosball, in addition to a snack bar. They also developed a pool table route.
Jeff ended up going into the Air Force fresh out of high school in 1989. “When I came back in the early ’90s, he gave me the pool business,” Whiteley said. “I kind of did that on the side, but I worked at Budweiser. I worked my way into sales there, four years in.
“I was really good with the bars and taverns because I already knew everybody through my dad. When I decided to leave Budweiser, it was going to be the pool table business with some type of operation.”
In the early 2000s, after running his own company for a while, he met Jerry Johnston, who offered him a job working at Amusement Unlimited. Whiteley remained there for about five years before meeting Lee Prantl. In 2007, Prantl offered him a chance to buy into a route where an operator passed away suddenly. “We ran the route for the family until they figured out how to settle it,” Whiteley explained.
Prantl merged it into his Pride Vending and eventually Whiteley’s Pride Vending NW portion of the route business was created (his route was 25% of the business at the time, but Whiteley bought Prantl out when he retired in 2019 and is now full owner).
“We’ve expanded from what Lee was doing,” Whiteley said, noting that the business is about two-and-a-half-times larger than it was four years ago. “We’ve had a huge growth spurt, even through the pandemic. Most of that is the ATM business. That’s really what I focused on when he and I first got together. I saw a real opportunity there.”
Today, the Salem-based route has about 420 total locations – mainly bars. It runs from Cottage Grove, Oregon all the way up to Vancouver, Wash., mostly surrounding the I-5 corridor.
Jukeboxes are the most-deployed piece of equipment, as well as ATMs now, both earning the most for the route by far. “The jukebox business has grown quite a bit and we’ve really grown the arcade side,” he said. Previously, they’d only operated a few kiddie rides in malls.
“We really expanded into pizza parlors and flea markets and restaurants,” Whiteley said, noting that he’s started placing pinballs at bars.
With jukeboxes, Pride Vending NW operates TouchTunes and AMI machines, running something like 25% of AMI’s jukes in the state of Oregon. “That makes me feel good,” he said.
Among his 1,000 or so pieces of equipment (“I don’t know how many pieces of equipment I have,” he said, before making a guess) are also photo booths in college bars and nightclubs, Golden Tee, classic games, boxers and Jet-Pong.
“I haven’t financed anything, so far,” he said of his multitude of machines. “I buy it as I need it and I budget for it. I look for opportunities on my own route. I don’t solicit other people’s locations. That’s why we’ve bought so much equipment over the past year. Our bar owners are looking to create some excitement in their places. They turn to us to put the fun in – whether it’s the boxers, or the pinballs or the golf.”
Whiteley said a common refrain is “What else do you have?” and he added, “I’m trying to carry unique pieces that will make me stand out from other places in the area.”
Additionally, he has four arcades set up – an arcade bar-style setup and a full redemption arcade among them. They’ve also been expanding an existing arcade that’s been closed for a year in Salem. There will be 22 pieces in there with the option of expanding into redemption. The company also runs the games at Punch Bowl Social, which has vintage games on a card system.
Helping him run this growing route are 10 employees, some of them family members. His wife Traci is the co-owner who quit her job to handle the HR, taxes and payroll.
Son Gage Whiteley is an 8-year Army veteran who joined the biz in 2018 in sales. “I call him the mini-me. He likes to call himself the head goon. When you need something, you send him out to take care of it.” Gage’s wife Heather was a stay-at-home mom to two boys; now she’s aboard to help with the bookkeeping.
Jeff’s nephew Zach came on two years ago as a technician, and his father Tom helps out a couple days a week, too, dealing with maintenance issues (as does Jeff’s sister Andrea).
In 2020, Pride Vending NW also picked up and moved shops, doubling up to a 4,000-sq.-ft. space. “We’re actually outgrowing that now,” Whiteley reported, adding that his biggest challenge has been “keeping up with the growth after the pandemic.”
In addition to his booming business, Whiteley’s also keeping busy as a Class of 2024 director on the AMOA board. “It’s a great organization and I have a lot of friends there and met a lot of contacts through it.”
He plans to stay focused on growth, taking tips from fellow operators and drawing on his own many years of experience to expand from within and keep the motor humming along.
“I’m pretty optimistic for the industry. During the Great Recession, the family entertainment centers were doing quite well,” Whiteley said. “The future of my business is growing exactly how we know how to grow. I think there’s plenty of opportunity right in your own area, you’ve just got to go out and find it.”