The Really Big Crane Co.
By Operators, For Operators
By Matt Harding
With many decades of experience among them, the top brass at The Really Big Crane Co. (RBCC) sure know a thing or two about the industry. Their “by operators, for operators” tagline isn’t just a company mantra, it’s something they live every day – using their insights on the route to bring the best products to market.
One of the partners, Mark Struhs – who previously worked with Dynamo, Midway Games and then with Raw Thrills as a contractor for 20 years – said he came together with Rick LaFleur (owner of IF LaFleur & Sons) more than five years ago to “try to develop and market products for the street operator mostly.”
Within a year, the operator Chip O’Hara got involved as a partner and “brings a tremendous facet and experience to the table,” Struhs said. O’Hara is the owner of Midwest Coin Concepts in Waite Park, Minn., where Really Big Crane does its distribution from.
“I knew a factory in China that we had worked with for some things at Raw Thrills, so I knew some people and had quite a bit of experience over there,” Struhs explained. That got the company started, and they were later joined by Play Mechanix, which provides design and engineering expertise.
“We were all trying to find products that would be a great investment for street operators,” he said, pointing to cranes, merchandisers and other “instant gratification” machines as the focus.
Today, that emphasis has blossomed into four products – all in stock and shipping now – that cater to operations of all shapes and sizes, from small-time route folks with just a few locations and those who operate across multiple states to small-footprint FECs and big-box mega centers.
“Our focus is still the street, but it’s morphing,” Struhs explained. “We now have products that do really well in the family entertainment centers – whether it be big box or smaller footprint.”
Find A Key, their first product, has sold well due to its size and customizability, Struhs said. “What’s great about it is you can put it anywhere. It can be put in a bar or it could go in an FEC. You can modify the prizes to fit the location.”
More than one can be put on location with different prizes in the doors, too. The sturdy metal cabinet and other design features make it an operator’s dream.
Buzz & Win is what the company said is a “workhorse crane.” “We’re coming in with the knowledge of what the market wants already,” Struhs said. “Buzz & Win is primarily a replacement product for old cranes. You can really refresh a location by updating the crane.”
O’Hara said that Find A Key and Buzz & Win are great for operators looking to add new locations. Due to their compact sizes, they fit easily in places like the entryway of small family restaurants or supermarkets, for example, in addition to bars, arcades and FECs.
“It’s nice to be able to add to the route,” O’Hara said. “We’ve done a lot of replacing. The cranes look nice and present well. When merchandised properly, it’s a huge profit center for us. It really gives route operators a chance to backfill their routes.”
Then there’s The Really Big Machine, a couple of years in the making during Covid. It’s a 65” crane that offers bigger prizes and a higher price point per play. For street operators with large enough locations, typically small-footprint FECs, Struhs said The Really Big Machine is “going to be your top-earning game there.”
It comes with a bright graphics package, a soon-to-be-patented childproof prize door and can be brought in through a 3/0 (36-inch) doorway and assembled inside your location.
Their other product is Zombie Jam, which integrates a video game screen into a traditional basketball game. Worked on throughout Covid as well, the length of development “allowed us to really drill down and perfect this game,” Struhs noted.
Crane Connect & the Operator’s Perspective
One big innovation for operators they’re excited about is Crane Connect, a management system developed by Play Mechanix that allows you to manage your route from a cell phone. “It’s changing the way we do a lot of things,” LaFleur explained. “Collections used to be on a calendar. Now they’re based on revenue we see in the field. It’s a time and labor saver.
“Crane Connect allows us to control everything we can do with the crane on-site remotely.” That means right from your smartphone, you can manage crane settings, monitor prize levels and determine a machine’s profitability from the comfort of your own office.
It’s innovations like these that are right in Really Big Crane Company’s wheelhouse – ones that have huge positive impacts on the route and with small-footprint FECs. “There are all kinds of opportunities out there,” LaFleur said. “We feel really, really blessed to have a 360-degree view of the industry. Crane Connect in particular gives everybody the tools without having to be a network specialist. It’s going to make everybody far more efficient.”
That’s the impetus behind RBCC – bringing efficient products to market that have a wide range of uses at all kinds of locations.
LaFleur said operators should work with FECs but shouldn’t drive by opportunities on the route. “From a manufacturing perspective, the street operator has been overlooked,” he said. “I think the opportunity is out there. There’s an awful lot of real estate that operators are in currently that likely eclipses anything else in the industry.
“The beauty of being an operator is you’ve got flexibility – you’ve got opportunity.”
If you’re an operator who hasn’t yet checked out Really Big Crane Co.’s games, visit www.bigcranes.com to learn more or contact your distributor. The company works in the U.S. and Canada with AVS Companies, Betson Enterprises, Moss Distributing, Player One Amusement Group and Shaffer Distributing. If you’re in the U.K., you can also reach out to Bandai Namco Amusement Europe.
Learn more at learn more at www.bigcranes.com.