How Smart Stayed Smart for Over 50 Years
A Constant Eye on the Future Helps Maintain the Company’s Simple Truth: “It’s Always Worth the Cost of Producing Quality Product”
Smart Industries has come a long way since its beginning as a mobile menagerie of arcade and other amusement machines that traveled from town to town in the 1960s. The company that Jeff Smart runs, and his late father Gordon founded, is now headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, and since 1985, Smart Industries has been developing and manufacturing cranes and a wide variety of other amusement machines.
The many years of quality service and durable, designed-for-the-street games have left the company with hardy relationships up and down the industry, from the smallest of mom-and-pop street routes to FECs of all sizes and to the biggest distributors in the country. Along the way, as the arcade and FEC business has evolved, so has Smart Industries and its ever-changing product line.
“For over 30 years now we’ve been focusing on what we’re good at, honing in on our niche,” said Jeff Smart. “We’re good at working with the street operator, as well as the FEC product line. The relationships we’ve built in that time give us that base of support, that’s always been the key to the industry. With everyone from our customers to our distributors to our competitors, they know our staff personally, and we know them.”
Throughout the many dips, dives and peaks the industry has seen over the years, many things have undergone revolutionary change. Video transformed from eight-bit to HD, complex games arose to tempt players with even more complex prizes, and companies that once dominated the scene are now gone.
However, the classic claw crane has been a constant; aesthetic baubles such as LED lighting have been added, but the concept and gameplay remain, essentially, the same. Smart Industries has been a part of that constant since their first crane rolled off factory lines, and their mentality has been consistent too: Build it to last!
“One thing we recognize is the value of the service call,” Smart Industries’ Vice President Jim Dupree said. “An operator who’s looking to save $100 by buying on the cheap doesn’t realize the insignificance of that saving when you’re getting an inferior product. They’ll lose those savings over the course of a single service call. That’s important to us, because we recognize the value of the operator’s time.”
The amusement industry has also changed over the years, and the current boom in the FEC side of the business has added renewed and reinvigorated growth and profits to many. As the focus of some manufacturers transitions to providing massive, eye-catching cranes that are great for a big game room and ticket-vending skill games focused on driving players to the redemption counter, some street operators have felt left behind. However, both Jeff and Jim ensure that Smart has not lost sight of every side of the multifaceted industry.
“The street route operator, since day one of our company, has been our backbone,” Smart said. “It’s the group we’ve always related to because that’s where our background is. We were street operators and still are today. When we bring out a new product, we have locations here in Des Moines where test it and make sure we know the ins and outs of how it works.”
According to Jim, the durability of these games has been tested and proven time and time again, with multiple customers praising their longevity and reliability. When they added imported cranes in 2005, quick consultations with the company’s network of street operators yielded feedback that allowed Smart to replace the imported machines’ installed, inferior coin mechs with high-quality, costly upgrades. As stated before, the company realizes the importance of paying the higher price for the lower repair cost down the line.
“Our product over the years has always resonated with street buyers,” Dupree emphasized, “especially so with our cranes. They’ve helped us build a great rapport with street operators who know they can depend on them not to break down at the outset of a busy weekend.”
Smart Industries’ product line is currently led by cranes such as Ticket Time (Dupree calls it their “shining star”) and a new favorite, My Little Ducks.
The company has delved into creating more FEC-focused machines as well, such as the Giant Crane, and use the many relationships they maintain as a think tank for development, trouble shooting and support.
“It’s easy for me to recognize what the FEC needs. It’s all to do with that relationship,” Jeff Smart said. “Our customers are on the front lines trying new things out every day, and through that relationship we learn, then react, building a product around the successes of our network.”
The company is quick to attribute their success to the loyalty of their customers on the street and in the FEC, but also leaves some gratitude for the other cogs that keep the industry machine running: distributors.
“What’s great about American distributors is you have a lot of family-run companies,” said Smart. “We’ve got to give kudos to Betson and Moss and many other companies like them. They’re so valuable and important to our own success.”
As the industry continues in unending change, progress and development, Smart Industries plans to carry on their family name as well. Jeff’s son, Jason, works as the company’s general manager in their factory, safeguarding the quality that has led to Smart’s long-lasting impact and the loyalty of their customers.
“We look forward to the future. You think after 30 years we’d be saying enough is enough, let’s call it quits, there’s no more growth here,” Jeff said, laughing. “I had people tell me in the late ’80s and ’90s that this industry was dead. But we’re still here, and this is actually an exciting time with so much growth and new tech constantly driving us. New products are getting out there, and we hope to be a part of that with our customers.”
Visit Smart Industries online at www.smartind.com.