Q&A with AMOA – February 2019


Jim Marsh, Hart Novelty, Bellingham, Washington

A Year of Change and
Progress, Reports Marsh

A Review of His Term at AMOA President


Q: Looking back over the past year, what have been some of AMOA’s accomplishments under your leadership?

A:It’s been 42 years since we tuned up our logo and created a new tagline. What we’re going with now is “Building Engagement in Real Life.” It’s a freshening up of what we’re doing. We’re also using social media more and more every day, and it seems to be effective. We’re getting an increased amount of engagement from operators. That’s how we’re communicating: We’re modernizing what we’re doing.

There also seems to be an increased focus on building membership and member benefits over the past year. What’s highlighted that effort?

We’ve instituted a new cost savings program only available to AMOA members. If an operator was able to take advantage of all the savings coupons they get through belonging to the association, they would save over $10,000! These savings are on things we use all the time, such as $100 off coupons for two or three different manufacturers, promotions with distributors and with suppliers. The support we’ve gotten from the manufacturers and distributors has been terrific. We got a really good response.

What about substantive ongoing efforts on the part of member operators that they can expect to see in the coming years?

The thing that continues to be an issue for AMOA and its members are bank account closures related to their ATM vault cash. We’ve been lobbying on Capitol Hill and we’re planning another trip to Washington, D.C., coming up shortly. We’ve had more than 24 members visit Washington in the last year. By this time, we’re certainly known on the Hill among the legislators and staff, and they’ve started asking us for feedback around this issue.

Also, through our membership, we’ve compiled a database of articles and best practices and procedures that may reduce the risk of being targeted in any kind of closure.

These efforts circle back to the AMOA and the value it has to the operating community. We have a lot of things in place that operators should be taking advantage of.

After a year as AMOA President, what were some of the more surprising things you discovered in your travels around the country talking to operators?

It’s that I do think the industry is changing. And that makes perfect sense since everything changes. Certainly the coin-op business is no exception! The thing I noticed when traveling was that the people in our industry who are embracing change seemed very upbeat and positive about their businesses, while the people resisting that change are struggling a bit more.

From your observation, what forms do these changes take?

I saw operators looking at new types of venues that aren’t traditional and looking at ways to take cashless payments. Basically, operators are looking at new ways of doing everything they do. Technology is a wonderful thing as long as you embrace it and learn how to use it to your advantage.

Is it mostly young people leading the way in adopting new technology?

Those embracing change are both young and old. Younger people tend to be new people to the industry and don’t have past bias, so it’s easier for them to move on down the road. On the flip side, if you’re in the business for a long time, you usually have a key person who is younger and trying to use that technology to benefit the business.

How was it traveling around to the various state meetings and functions?

I will say that I was very warmly received and welcomed everywhere I went. The hospitality other operators showed me is remarkable. I was really humbled by that. People in our industry have big hearts and are willing to share a lot.

After all that traveling along with the meet-and-greet, what’s your assessment of the industry?

I think the industry is healthy. We’re coming up on our tradeshow, and it looks like we might not have enough space on the floor for exhibitors. Right now, we’re very close to being sold out. That’s a very positive sign the industry is doing well.

To look at a much larger picture, I’m seeing our industry represented more in popular culture. Today when you’re watching TV, you’ll see FECs or retro arcades featured. You see them in television commercials, television shows, movies…you name it. Of course, I notice it because I’m in the industry. It’s always been a staple of American life, it just changed for awhile, and now you’re seeing these places portrayed in a positive light.

What were some of your larger goals when you started the year?

My original thought was to be out there championing the small operator, telling them there is a place for them in the AMOA. The small operators can see a broader picture and look at the AMOA from a networking perspective. Being a member is a great opportunity. You get to rub shoulders with the biggest, most progressive operators in the industry, and how can that be bad for you? Some of the small operators feel they don’t have a voice, but they absolutely do! Our problems are all the same, just on a different scale. I think I was somewhat successful in getting this message across.

Jim Marsh is the second-generation leader at Hart Novelty (Bellingham, Washington), following in the footsteps of his father (and past-AMOA president) Al Marsh who passed away in 2009. Jim left college to fill in for his father during his 1986-1987 AMOA term and never left, enjoying living and working in the community he loves. Hart Novelty got its start in the 1940s as a pinball and jukebox operation founded by Joe Hart, later run by Jack Roberts until the 1960s when Al Marsh took the reins. (He started working at the company back in the ’50s. Today, Hart covers some 60 square miles across Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties with street locations that range from upscale urban to blue-collar rural. It still specializes in jukes and pins, but has added a host of other amusement devices to its portfolio, including redemption units along with ATMs.

Jim himself is every bit the kind gentleman his father was and should bring a steady hand to the helm of the national operator group. During his term, he hopes to bring more FEC owners into the membership, encourage operators to take advantage of networking opportunities and continue growing educational programs.


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