Q&A with AMOA – July 2018


Jim Marsh, Hart Novelty, Bellingham, Washington

Holding Steady

Next Gen & Newbie Trends in Membership


Q: What impact has route consolidation had on AMOA membership?

A: That’s an interesting question. No doubt, we continue to see a great deal of consolidation within the industry in every segment, and with that, one would assume this would negatively impact AMOA membership. I’m pleased to say this just hasn’t been the case as membership continues to hold steady.

While there has been somewhat of a decline in membership by longtime route operators due to consolidation, there has also been an increase in membership from two groups: one I refer to as the accidental entrepreneur and the other is the next generation operator.

“What’s an accidental entrepreneur?” In the amusement industry, this is a person who decides to put a machine into a location, such as a boxing machine, photo booth or some other type of amusement piece. When this person’s single amusement piece does well, the natural progression is to add additional pieces within the same location. When these continue to earn money, the light bulb goes on and they realize, if I’m doing well in this location what could I earn if I duplicate this in other spots? An accidental entrepreneur, aka amusement operator, is born.

What’s intriguing about these accidental entrepreneurs is they have no history holding them back. They see the amusement landscape from a different perspective than the multi-generational operator and they are hungry to learn about our industry. While they may lack the experience of running a route, they’re also open to myriad opportunities.

In addition, we are seeing an increase in the crossover of segments. For example, you see more and more operators who now own their own family entertainment center(s), possibly a retail store and some have even dabbled in creating new products or operational solutions for the industry.

We’re also seeing the accidental entrepreneur in the dart community. It’s no secret that there’s a generation of route operators looking to retire from
the business, and we are seeing a few longtime league coordinators, and even dart players themselves, stepping in to take over parts of that operator’s business.

Over the past six to nine months, AMOA has seen a strong uptick in these types of accidental entrepreneurs reaching out and joining the association so they can educate themselves and learn more about the amusement business. Many want to simply understand the different types of equipment out there beyond that one piece they’ve been so passionate about.

Another area we’re noticing an uptick in member engagement is with the next generation operator. The majority of our operator members are small family-owned businesses, and the incoming, emerging leadership appears to be either a next gen family member transitioning into the role or a longtime, key employee transitioning and buying the business.

A handful of our newer members include companies that at one point in time were members taking advantage of the jukebox license discount available to AMOA members on their CD and vinyl boxes. Over time, they’ve recognized AMOA continues to evolve, whether it be through educational opportunities or attending the annual AAMA/AMOA Amusement Expo, and they’ve decided to re-engage.

I think what’s key about the next generation operators is that they are forward thinking. They’re not afraid to implement new ideas or study new technology and trends to see what opportunities may be available sooner rather than later. This next generation most likely attended college and has been engaged with technology since a young age.
As AMOA president, what’s even more exciting is to see these groups not only engaging as members, but also reaching out and wanting to engage at the board level as well. Our board of directors is probably more diverse than it has ever been throughout our association’s 70-year history.

While I believe we have not yet fully witnessed the impact of consolidation, the shift we are seeing certainly points out that amusement entrepreneurs are masters of adapting and evolving in one form or another, and AMOA continues to be the leader in providing resources and programs for these amusement entrepreneurs, as together, we head into the next decade.

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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