Industry Friends Weigh In on New Year with Resilience, Optimism & Better Times on Their Minds
Solid Earnings Despite Big Changes
I don’t know what words of wisdom I can impart to my fellow operators at this point.
It’s been a crazy year. Due to the pandemic, we pulled out of two-thirds of our locations. Some were marginal at best to begin with; some were pulled due to the spacing requirements of the pandemic; and some were pulled related to the flat-rate taxes now being applied to “gray games.” And yet, we almost made as much money as we did in 2019. I guess the 70/30 rule is in effect. Thirty percent of our original accounts are making 70 percent of what we did pre-pandemic.
July 1, our gray games are supposed to become illegal. However, by then, just the Pace/Queen of Virginia games will have contributed $145,000,000 to the state budget. This is a budget with an $800 million to $1 billion shortfall that will need to be filled (the Virginia Constitution requires a balanced budget).
We’re now lobbying for a one-year extension from the legislature which convenes this month. But, what seems like a common-sense decision doesn’t always happen, especially when you have other parties (like future casino companies) lobbying against you.
As someone who’s been in business over 40 years, you sometimes think back and say, “Hey, remember when your biggest problem was being able to buy enough Ms. Pac-Man games?”
Charles Rowland, Games People Play
Recovery & Resolution
Responding to Ed’s request to weigh in: I’m sitting here on New Year’s weekend, looking back to last year, and I’m struck by the old saying “you don’t know how good you have it…” Pre-pandemic we coasted along in our industry world of fun, excitement, good business and great friends. Then came the challenges. Looking ahead to this year I’m confident we’ll be in recovery and trending up. I’m also resolved to appreciate progress every step of the way.
Happy New Year!
George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
The “Sharpster” Sends Greetings & His Thanks for the Memories
Hi, Eddie, and best wishes to you and the entire RePlay family for what I hope will continue to be a healthy and safe New Year.
Here’s a little something that I don’t know will keep anyone dry from the rain – but just random thoughts on the past months and a squint at the future. For those who remember Bob Hope, his theme song might well resonate for a variety of reasons.
It was, indeed, a year that tested both personal and professional resolve. Each of us in our own way attempted to navigate the unknown while having to accept challenges and circumstances that were mainly outside our control. Personally, I can’t believe that my last time on an airline was traveling back home from New Orleans on March 12 only to learn three days later the city would become the country’s “hot spot.”
There was so much that we did not know then and, probably even now, so much yet to be discovered. But the world changed dramatically with posturing, finger-pointing and, of course, denial. However, no matter where anyone placed on this debate stage, there was one certainty – life as we knew it was going to be profoundly impacted and in ways we could not have imagined at the time, nor believed to have occurred since.
All I have been able to do is take a deep breath that 2020 is in the rearview mirror. It is not so much out of sight, truthfully, or even forgotten since the effects are lingering and will do so for the foreseeable future. But the glimmers of light reflecting off of so many faces provides hope for what the next new normal will be and when it will begin to take more realized shape.
What I will recount is that there was something remarkable within our industry that took place during all the chaos, tragedy and overwhelming loss. I found myself reading stories of location owners and machine operators creating a whole new business model. Their businesses closed, they demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit which found them offering machines for rental, lease, or even purchase to homeowners locked away and sheltering at home. For pinball in particular, this became a boomlet with demand increasing across the board for all the manufacturers, when they were able to reopen factories, and somewhat of a moderate salvation for owners and operators hoping to ride out the storm. At least there was some revenue coming in.
In addition, some companies expanded the scope of their previously normal business operations to embrace the design and development of equipment suitable for placement in the home. And I see this trend continuing as we move forward to become a much more integral part of what the industry will be providing for both out-of-home and in-home entertainment.
There is something appealing about a large amusement machine – whether a pinball machine, Pop-A-Shot, pool table, jukebox, air hockey or video game cabinet – that people can showcase in their family room, basement, or, in some cases speaking from personal experience, living rooms or children’s bedrooms. And I don’t believe this desire of private ownership will diminish no matter what transpires in the coming months. If anything, 2021 will prove to be a transitional year for all of us and I, for one, remain hopeful and optimistic that not only will we weather the storm, but we will come out better for it on the other side.
So, until then, let’s hope for everyone to be safe and keep out of harm’s way. And if you want to enjoy a little look-back courtesy of Bob Hope: www.youtube .com/watch?app=desktop&v=nKgUq5dziEk.
Happy New Year all!!!
Hoping the Nightmare Is Over
Hello, Eddie, and Happy 2021!
A nightmarish 2020 is now in the tank. Our business has gone through a lot, and at times it felt as though we were being singled out by our illustrious politicians.
Indeed, it’s a new year, but the eeriness of it all still exists. What I learned from living out this nightmare is that you truly have to take care of you… believing what your parents told you long ago, “take care of yourself because no one else will.”
During this hellish time, I lost my mother, but thankfully her great memories helped me move forward. I also learned that our business is a true bucket of good! People who care about their industry crafts also continually reach out to both friend and foe.
In the end, we’ll dig out and prevail – it’s what we do. God bless us all!
Ron Malinowski, Bob’s Space Racers, Thoughts from Tennessee
Thoughts From Tennessee
Hi fellow Coin-Op Friends,
It’s Marion Paul chiming in from Gatlinburg, Tenn., as we are saying goodbye to 2020 and a pensive hello to 2021!
Last year, RePlay’s Key Snodgress reached out to all of us asking us for our opinions on how our businesses were doing. I decided not to be included in that survey because I was one of the very fortunate ones whose business was doing very well in Gatlinburg in Sevier County and I didn’t want to appear to be gloating while too many of my friends across the country were and are truly hurting.
It was (and still is) a fluke that jillions of people are traveling from all across our country to the Smoky Mountains to ski, golf, fish, hike, and walk outside and feel free while the majority of our industry was hurting big time since their states were in lockdowns, etc. and lost most of their income.
All during these past nine months, I have prayed that all of us could experience some relief like those of us in Sevier County, Tenn., have. We started off on March 17 closing during a very strong spring break and suddenly there was no income and no idea when we might be permitted to reopen. Well, finally in the beginning of May, around the 6th, we were given the green light to reopen and it was wonderful. The tourists immediately started to return here and felt alive again being free to be in the outdoors after being shut-in for months and months.
Yes, many of us applied to the SBA for a PPP loan and although we managed to be granted some assistance, I still felt rather odd asking the government for help. I’ve never been one to ask for anything unless I worked and earned it myself. But we all were operating under uncharted territory and I was truly concerned about my 19 employees and their families.
So, I did apply and managed to secure a loan that helped a lot so I could make payroll for about 8-10 weeks. Of course, none of us knew what might occur down the road, but we rolled up our sleeves, lead with our chins, prayed a lot and trusted that all might be ok. I kept telling my employees how lucky we were and are that we live in the Smoky Mountains where people want to come.
Now the next phase begins and we will see if our PPP loans are forgiven, if business in 2021 will continue to be very good here and if each state will allow local business owners to make their own decisions and use common sense on how to run safe establishments. Each of us are entrepreneurs and I believe can survive if permitted to keep our doors open and operate smart!
I will close by wishing each of you a very healthy and safe 2021, and since I don’t have a crystal ball, I’ll say Happy New Year!
Marion Paul, Fannie Farkle’s
Pinball Is Strong
I’ve been reading RePlay since 1975 and have seen a lot of highs and lows in the industry. While the coin-op economy has shrunk overall, the pinball segment benefits from the player takeover of the last 15 to 20 years. Pinball factories are flooded with orders for new games. Pinball machine owners are fixing up their classic games and their home game rooms, and a few are maintaining their pinball-centric locations for the (masked) public.
We at Pintastic New England expect brisk business when we can have another show, especially in our marketplace for used games and restoration parts. We also celebrate game developers working in their home shops, making prototypes that they will exhibit at our next show.
David Marston, Golden Music Co.
Be Prepared for Better Days Ahead, Says Balaban
On my mind is to be as ready as possible when things start to get rolling again. We have not stopped getting new games ready and we’ve been investing heavily into stock as well.
When our industry starts to recover, we are going to be part of it. We realize the landscape is going to change –– some of our old friends will have businesses that look different and we will also be welcoming new people into the industry at that point, too. We also realize that people in our industry are going to be cautious about spending. Because of that, we are positioning our company to provide value-priced games that will allow operators to show their customers something new without breaking the bank.
Gary Balaban, Pipeline Games
Optimistic for 2021
Hi Eddie! Thanks for your thoughtful request!
All of us at Raw Thrills are looking forward to the market fully reopening in 2021. We’ve heard a term “retaliatory consumption” that describes the euphoric spending behavior of consumers in markets where businesses have safely reopened. Raw Thrills has been planning for this all year and we’re looking forward to celebrating with everyone again soon!
Andy Eloff, VP / COO, Raw Thrills, Inc.
Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021 Says Minnesota Operator
Okay, so 2020 was a little challenging as gross revenue was down about 45%. Is it the end of the world? I think not. The sun keeps shining although rather limited in northern Minnesota. As of this writing, my family is in good health, my friends are in good health and my employees were in good health when we sent them home.
My bride and grandkids enjoy the extra time I’ve been able to spend with them. Most importantly, I have more time to fish. Yes, even in winter –– ice fishing is great fun. Do not despair. There will be new problems in 2021.
To all in the industry, keep the chin up, and have a happy 2021. Stay healthy and enjoy the sunshine.
Bob Thomas, Minnesota Pastime, Liberty Coin & Nortech
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Your original email starts with the question “are we having fun, yet?” Well, are we? I have made it a point to begin my reply with the word “Wonderful” because it is what you make it.
If you don’t start there, how do you add sugar to the lemons and make lemonade? When times are tough like they are now, I can’t imagine starting the day with less than Wonderful!
I could say l’ve been living the dream, but someone woke me up – and it’s no dream….it’s been a nightmare. But being a glass half full guy, I’ll stick with Wonderf
ul. Thanks and take care.
Brent McKennon, Moss Distributing
It’s What Makes Us. . .US!
At some point, the events of this terrible pandemic will end, as all travesties and tragedies must. We can find strength, knowing that we have all experienced and faced other tragedies before, mine a house fire at age twelve, where I lost both my mother and two siblings. This current business climate obviously pales in comparison.
But from those events, I guess we learn how to prevail and how to keep moving forward but at the same time, never forgetting and knowing that how we do go forward serves as example of our respect for all those we love and cherish both now and the ones that have come before.
Growing up, I was often told by my father that no matter what obstacles life deals you, and there are many, always “throw your out shoulders back (huh?) and do what you’ve got to do.” Which I hope I have followed as an example for my children, as did my father for me.
There are going to be many changes, challenges and tough times ahead. But as always, we will prevail. Our industry will emerge, perhaps leaner but stronger. And for those who may not make it, which who knows might include myself, other opportunities will emerge.
After all, what makes us entrepreneurs in the first place? We are the chance takers, the ones with the drive and the vision. We will always see the opportunities of more “mountains to climb and rivers to cross” and that friends, is what makes us, US.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
That observation comes from Teddy Roosevelt in his The Strenuous Life (10 April 1899). Or more recently: “Standing outside the fire, life is not tried. . . it is merely survived.” Garth Brooks.
Wishing everyone good health, good luck and good fortunes.
Dan Brown, D.A.N. Enterprises
Thoughts on a Gradual Return to “Normalcy”
As a long-time veteran of the industry, I have observed and experienced many ups and downs in my wonderful career! However, and obvious to all, there has been nothing to compare with the Covid-19 pandemic that’s had a devastating impact on our country, numerous businesses and all aspects of our beloved industry!
I am cautiously optimistic that a gradual return to “normalcy” will happen, sometime at least in – hopefully – mid-2021. Most of us are quite aware that the historically well-managed, financially viable manufacturers, distributors, FECs and street operators will survive and move on! My best to all at RePlay and thank you for your many contributions and years of support!
Bill Kraft, Shaffer Distributing
AAMA Chief Weighs In, Focusing on the Industry’s Collective Strength
The CDC issued its first public alert about the coronavirus on January 8, 2020, exactly one year ago as I write this. Well, the team at AAMA didn’t plan to be doing what we’re doing right now back on that day, but I’ll bet that’s a sentiment most of you share.
A year ago, we were enthusiastically putting the final touches on what was expected to be a spectacular Amusement Expo in New Orleans in March. Over the ensuing weeks and months, reports about the coronavirus became a steady and growing part of the daily news cycle. What started out as a localized outbreak in a land far away began building exponentially around the world leading us to where we find ourselves today, beaten and bent, but not defeated. I credit the tenacious resiliency of our industry to the people in it.
There’s a fierce entrepreneurial mindset present in our industry’s leaders, that is perhaps serving them best right now. It manifests as a stoic willingness to accept circumstances – whatever they may be – and quickly, (and of late, often radically) alter what needs to be done next. The very fact you’re still here demonstrates this characteristic is present within you for without it, I seriously doubt you’d have made it this far.
The pandemic has taught us all new ways of being, many of which will help us post Covid-19 – that’s certainly the case here at AAMA. From these lessons learned, some good will have come out of this year of upheaval and uncertainty.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” –– Hellen Keller
And while much of what happened was indeed scary and uncertain, the one thing I was able to count on was the members of this great industry coming together in ways big and small, to lend a helping hand, share lessons learned, and support one another throughout this entire ordeal. The strength we forged together is what will take us over the finish line of this global pandemic.
The coming together that’s carried us up until now will serve us well post-Covid. I look forward to the day when we can use our collective strength to focus on growing and expanding our industry once again.
There’s still a way to go before we get to the end of this global nightmare, and the emergence of an effective vaccine validates “it will” eventually end. That should be a day we celebrate the way the world did at the end of WWII. Here’s to hoping we can do exactly that in late June during the Amusement Expo International in Las Vegas, a pretty good city to hold a celebration.
Pete Gustafson, AAMA Executive VP
Words of Encouragement
We (A&A) have not gone anywhere. Our team is working feverishly to do all we can to help our customers during this unprecedented time. “How can I help?” is the first thing we say to customers.
We know it will take some time for our industry to rebound, and the landscape may look different with businesses having to put protocols in place to keep guests safe. But families will still be families and will need a wholesome place for entertainment with the redemption center being an important part of that dynamic. Locations will open, and customers will come.
A&A is resilient and has over eight decades of success as proof. People, products and service is what drives A&A. When it comes to our customers, they’re winners every time. We are PRIZE-tively certain we will get through this together.
Gerry Clothier, VP of Sales, A&A Global Industries
Using this Opportunity to Streamline & Improve
2020 has taught us all the importance of in-person, meaningful connections and how valuable shared experiences are. At Player One Amusement Group (P1AG), we believe that once businesses are allowed to reopen, and customers know they can return to their favorite establishments in a safe manner, there will be a resurgence in the popularity of FECs and other gaming locations.
Although entertainment venues are experiencing tough times right now, it is important to look at this as an opportunity to streamline operations and identify where improvements can be made. Do you have games or attractions that are rarely played by customers? Low performing games take up valuable real estate that can be better utilized by games that cater to your customer demographic. Even a couple of new games and a refreshed layout and game placement gives the impression of a new space that keeps customers interested.
Don’t forget to re-evaluate your merchandise mix. The right prizes drive customer plays and revenues. Make sure you have a mix of redemption prize values at your prize counter and a variety of items that appeal to all of your guests. Most importantly, don’t leave any empty space at your redemption counter. An empty space is a lost opportunity.
P1AG is here to assist and support the amusement community as businesses prepare for their customers’ return. “Going into 2021, our goal is to provide even more support to our customers and partners to make them as successful as possible in the post-Covid 19 world,” says John Kolliniatis. “Whether this means helping our customers obtain financing to help them upgrade their facilities or completely new projects, or consulting and working with operators to maximize their revenue through game mix and layout, we are here to help in all aspects of running a successful and profitable amusement gaming business. We truly live by our motto to ‘Win as One.’”
Maya Plots, Senior Manager, Integrated Marketing, Player One Amusement Group
Focus on Hope, Says SMART Software’s Nate McQuillen
Hope –– the one word that can make one feel better. Throughout all of the craziness this year, one thing I have found as a salesman is that people in our industry always have hope. Being in sales and following up with companies that are struggling was really tough for me. My thoughts being, “Hey, I know business is really bad…but buy SMART Software!”
However, everyone I spoke with was extremely nice, and I had lengthy conversations with so many people during the thick of everything. It was day after day of calling people, and genuinely caring about them and their situation, and finding they also cared about our situation as well. Sales took a hit, but we developed and retained so many relationships I have hope for the future. The resiliency, and the family-type dynamic the amusement industry exudes, will lead to an amazing comeback. HOPE.
Nate McQuillen, Sales & Marketing Director, SMART Software
Sebastian Says Brighter Days Coming
Fun? Of course, we sell fun on a “time for money” basis. Did Covid make 2020 an ugly year? Of course, it created the worst business experience for me. It isn’t nice to see so many different types of shops closed or almost empty if they had the luck to be open. Who wants to stay home every day at all times? And will 2021 allow us to revert to the behaviors we would normally expect? My bet is on “Yes, it will!” because the vaccine is playing a good role and people need and want to spend their time in other areas besides their homes. I think it might not happen as soon as I’d wish, but my forecast is for mid-2021. No matter when the virus is vanquished, my advice is to be happy, be positive and enjoy great family moments.
Sebastian Mochkovsy, Sacoa
Big Al Peers Into His 2021 Crystal Ball
In my opinion, the street or tavern business is going to come back strong and before the family entertainment center business does. Older players who have more disposable income than younger FEC customers are tired of being cooped up in the house and want to get back to their “country clubs” – the bars. Back to playing pool with their buddies and having a drink. Maybe even get away from the wife or girlfriend for a few hours – they won’t admit that publicly.
My guesstimate is that as soon as these relaxing places of entertainment open up, you’ll see beer and liquor sales pick up along with jukebox and game collections. Get those hats “Make the Streets Great Again” with your business name on them for giveaways for customers playing your games. Remember that “Joe Six-Pack,” who plays the machines is your real customer – the guy who drops the cash in the cashbox. Respect him or her.
My predictions are that as soon as bars reopen, the first week will be 65% of the former collections before Covid-19. The next week 75%, the following week 85% of previous collections and the following two weeks by a return to previous 100% of prior collections.
We are still in one of the greatest businesses in the world. Where else in some cases can you get your initial investment back in as short of 26 weeks?
LAI Supremo Sees Positive Turn During the New Year
I’m pleased to take this opportunity to comment on the state of the industry and the outlook for 2021.
At the start of 2020, I was looking forward to my 63rd year in this industry. January and February were record sales months for the LAI Group and the year looked very promising ahead. Then in March, an unprecedented and unpredictable event occurred that caused the complete collapse of the industry.
The Covid crisis left our industry and most other industries floundering and struggling to survive. I’ve personally seen economic downturns before, but they were all predictable by market events, indicators and trends. In this case, it was a complete shutdown, and although reopenings have occurred in some markets starting last June, the progress has been slow.
Covid caught the market completely by surprise and is clear from the stock market performances of both Dave & Busters and Ardent Leisure, the company that owns Main Event. In markets like Australia and New Zealand where the pandemic was well-managed, we have seen strong recovery. But, in other parts of the world including Asia, Europe and in the U.S., it is happening but a lot slower. Recent stock market graphs clearly showed the collapse and how the market is slowly recovering from the downturn.
Dave & Buster’s recovered from a low $8.60 to $30 while Main Event recovered from a lower $.15 to $.69. Both recoveries have occurred since March.
Although the last nine months have been an absolute disaster, vaccines have been created in record time. Three of them have already been approved and several more are in the process. More than 12 million doses have already been distributed in the U.S. even though only three million people so far have been inoculated. Having said that, it is expected, as I write this, that most willing people in the U.S. will be inoculated during the first quarter.
Furthermore, therapeutics have improved dramatically since March and the risk of mortality from Covid is significantly lower. I expect the recovery trend to continue during 2021, which should be a significantly improved year.
I have no doubt we saw the worst of it in 2020 and things will continue to improve as we advance into 2021. The rate of improvement will very much depend on how effectively the vaccines are administered. I understand that so far only about 35% of the vaccines distributed have actually been administered, which is too slow. I understand the new Biden administration plans to speed this up, which will be a good thing.
I think there is a potential for the willing U.S. population to be inoculated by the end of the first quarter and if that happens, we should start seeing things improving quite dramatically in the latter part of the year.
I think the major players like Dave & Buster’s and Main Event will come back strongly and will be followed by the smaller players. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused a lot of operators to be severely damaged financially who may not recover.
I think there is a strong pent-up demand for arcade games and once the fear of Covid infection is diminished or eliminated, the industry will revive quickly.
By the way, you will notice I did not use the word “coin-op” as the game center industry now is mostly card-op.
Malcolm Steinberg, Chairman LAI Group
Denver Operator/ Dealer Babich Strikes Positive Note for 2021
Friends, good riddance to 2020. On New Year’s Eve, I followed the Irish tradition (at least figuratively) and opened my doors at midnight to usher out 2020. This time, I also opened all my windows, blew the roof off, and cut holes in the walls. GO AWAY 2020!
I had to watch my friends suffer, with illness, loss of loved ones, and to watch my beloved industry suffer through closures, cutbacks, and financial hardship, not to mention a few personal challenges. Well, I believe the worst of all of that is behind us, now is for now, and tomorrow is for rebuilding.
December brought my wife Bev and I joy with our second grandchild, Remington. Healthy, happy and full of life, and I am believing he is a sign of what is to come in 2021.
I am proud to be an old-timer in our industry, a keeper of history, and a leader in our association work to guide us forward through recovery. Over the years, we have seen ugly economic downturns, worked through terrorist attacks, and political attacks on violent video games.
We have watched hurricanes devastate parts of our country and school, mall and concert shootings shake us to our core. But in each case, we have found our way and come back to help lead our communities. Together, let’s make this no different. Let us take that leadership role and get back to doing what we do so well: putting smiles on the faces of children, no matter their age…3 or 63 years old!
Rich Babich, Game Exchange of Colorado
Finding Good & Inspiration
2020 has proven to be a year of Biblical proportions. I’ve navigated through a pandemic, civil unrest, flooding, temporary homelessness and personal loss, the dangers of opposing the directional arrows and knockdown, drag-out skirmishes in the toilet paper aisle. Murder hornets and dogs and cats sleeping together aside, I firmly believe that God indeed doesn’t give us more than we can handle – and apparently, I am a badass.
I can certainly lament about the “unprecedented” misery 2020 has wrought, but I prefer to highlight the good: the support of my Elaut Group team members that helped me get through bumps in the road, unexpected acts of kindness from my friends, neighbors, and complete strangers, love for my family who I’ve been unable to see, a profound appreciation for my good health while being mindful of the health of others, and the humility to receive, but most importantly, the grace to connect with and offer encouragement to others who needed to be lifted. Above all, the realization that we are all in the same storm, perhaps in different boats, and that it is okay to agree to disagree as long as we keep rowing together and that smiles are essential.
Most of all, I was inspired by the spirit of teamwork, resilience, and hope within an industry which is my honor to represent and serve daily. It is my hope that 2021 will be a time of healing and re-establishing stability as we all continue to work together to recover together – and make the practice of hugging fashionable once again.
Stay safe and be well,
Paula Rinker, Merchandise and Programs Manager, Coast to Coast Entertainment
Greetings to All RePlay Magazine Readers Worldwide!
After 45 years in and around the amusement business, I find myself in my 70s and still reading and relying on RePlay Magazine for what is happening in the industry.
I was interested in the amusement business as a possible career opportunity. I discovered a copy of RePlay in 1976 at a public library. Roger Sharpe had just broken the ban on pinball machines in NYC. The immediate effect was present in my hometown of Portland, Ore., as it was throughout the USA.
Nolan Bushnell had introduced Pong in ’72 and the video boom was on its way. I read an article in that issue where RePlay forecast the coming of home video games played on your TV. That forecast said games would be available like a book of the month club in five years. Those five years were incredibly profitable if you were an amusement operator. And RePlay Magazine, established in ’75, was the go-to source for everyone.
By 1981, hundreds of new operators were surging into the amusement business even as the video boom was waning. With it, home video games and then VHS tapes played on VCRs were taking a big slice of the market. Pinball machines were losing out to video game popularity and the video poker machines were heading toward legalization in some states. It was a time to depend on RePlay for a bird’s eye view of the market and trends.
Through it all, RePlay Magazine has been here as our source for what is happening here and overseas. Today, I have a website: pinballartusa.com.
After morning prayers and breakfast, I start my day reading the Instant RePlay. It keeps me connected to the pinball world.
Nothing has changed. RePlay Magazine is still the go-to source and an integral part of our businesses. The Instant RePlay is one feature of my day that makes me feel like a member of an extended family. The amusement industry is the FUN part of family life. The RePlay staff is our family connection to one another.
Play it again, Eddie. Keep up the good work, RePlay staff.
Dick McNicholas, Pinball Art USA
Positivity from London
Happy New Year and all the best to come with 2021. My wish is that all of us in the industry stay safe and alive so we can continue to give millions of players the enjoyment and good value of socializing in our arcades, FECs, bowling centers, etc.
Appreciating the good times and friendships,
John Stergides, Electrocoin UK
The Personal Perspective From Live Oak Banker
Let me first say how nice to hear from the people at RePlay Magazine. I hope you are doing well and remaining healthy. It’s such a sign of the times that we ask about one another’s health and that it’s truly not just a pleasantry of conversation!
I sure do miss all of the industry events. For me, virtual communication simply isn’t a substitute for the real, F2FEC kind of interactions that accompany in-person events. If I was a young student, I’m pretty sure I’d be one of the people who suffers from the lack of being in a physical classroom.
Anyway, I hope that we can connect sometime soon at an F2FEC event. I sure hope to be at Ben Jones’ “Gathering” in early May. Hoping you will be there also. All the Best in 2021!
Kay Anderson, SVP – Emerging Markets, Live Oak Bank
Jukebox & Trade Vet’s Perspective
It has been a crazy ride, hasn’t it? While we probably have a few months to go before we begin to “come back” to a reasonable level of normalcy, I feel good about 2021.
At AMI, we can see daily income per jukebox connected to our network. We have been tracking this by state, and where there are no extreme restrictions, income is just fine. In fact, it’s better than we could have expected. This makes us confident that the basic concept of going out to socialize with friends is still an important part of people’s plans. Whether or not it is to watch the big game with fellow fans, to celebrate a birthday or just because it is Thursday night and almost the weekend, people enjoy what we have to offer.
A lot of folks are tired of staying home. When their local restrictions are relaxed, they seem to be going out more than they did pre-Covid. Will this frantic pace of socializing last? Probably not. But this data does tell us that the amusement industry is resilient.
Another point: from ashes new growth will develop. Many of the taverns that were marginally profitable before the pandemic have been shuttered. The liquor licenses will be recycled. The new owners seem to be a smarter, more marketing-savvy group. Better-managed locations will help our operators run more profitable routes.
In the past, the high bidders for liquor licenses were “fast-casual” restaurants. They have suffered greatly in 2020. They are not in a cash position to expand. Again, good news for us coin-op folks because the casual dining chains don’t support our industry the way that a friendly, local watering hole does. I see positive growth in the second half of 2021 and even more opportunity for operators in 2022.
On the subject of operator growth: I see strong, well-funded and well-managed routes buying weaker competitors during the 18 months mentioned above. I have mixed feelings about this. I see competition as a healthy part of the society of business. A location owner who has a few local operators will get better service than a location owner with only one amusement company in his or her market. Fewer operators mean less competition (and less choice).
However, the operators who are growing and acquiring other routes are for the most part the healthier, better-managed companies. These operators understand the value of providing quality service to their customers. When weighing the pluses and minuses, I see these consolidations as positive for our industry.
I am just about to enter year 46 in my coin-op journey. I always believed that our industry was recession-proof. We are not pandemic-proof. But we are resilient. A year from now, I expect our industry to be enjoying healthy growth. So, let’s all stay careful and healthy so that we may all enjoy the good times ahead.
“Jake” (John Margold), AMI Entertainment
Retired Rowe Sales Topper Wishes Happy New Year to All
During the pandemic year of 2020, I have seen people with melancholy moods and a general air of boredom and unhappiness. Sure, I understood the serious nature of this killer disease, and my heart ached for its victims and their families. But, I also understood that people young and old need to smile and enjoy life.
Our industry has brought lots of fun and happiness into the lives of so many people before the lockdowns and business closures. The “experts” need to recognize that unhappiness and depression kill, too. I can only hope that a balance can be found so the locations can safely reopen and add some joy and hope to the atmosphere of our nation.
I wish all my old industry friends a successful 2021 and good health and happiness to all. I am still enjoying my retirement in sunny Florida.
#PlayStrong & Keep On Flippin’
2020 was one of the hardest years for many of us both inside and outside of the industry. Much like a game of pinball, you aren’t always able to anticipate where that ball will bounce or how your game will ultimately end, a microcosm of life itself.
The ball is going to drain, that’s inevitable. It’s what you do in those moments of corralling the chaos, enjoying the moments as the machine erupts in a symphony of perfectly choreographed lights, sounds and magical experiences.
We’re living through unusual times, but we’re delighted to have the opportunity to bring fun to a world that really needs it. Much like our newest Led Zeppelin pinball machines, all of our games are made with a Whole Lotta Love! On behalf of everyone at Stern Pinball, continue to stay safe, #PlayStrong, and most importantly, keep on flippin’!!!
Zach Sharpe, Stern Pinball, Inc.
IAAPA’s Former “FEC Lady” Joins The “Real World” at ZigZag Chain
After I left the IAAPA organization, I reconnected with Dean Bradley, owner of Zig Zag Hospitality Services, at Player One’s happy hour during the 2019 IAAPA trade show. Zig Zag operates escape rooms and arcades in two Canadian resorts. Dean’s also very diversified with many balls in the air in addition to FEC attractions.
Long story short… It was magical that we happened to connect at a time when I wasn’t sure where my road was leading, though I knew I’d eventually get back to Canada. We settled on my title “Director of Opportunity” and I started January 1, 2020, with the agreement that I could work from Florida for the first five months – a very agreeable plan indeed!
Our small business was aligned with resort properties, and the future looked bright! We had plans to expand and bought a new escape room trailer off the IAAPA show floor from Legendary Escape Trailers. We also had plans to buy a new debit card system for our arcades. I was excited about both projects!
Plans were in place to operate the summer and fall in Toronto and build our network. I was set to travel to the Transworld conference in March to meet more escape room operators, and boom – the pandemic hit!
Our Prime Minister called “all Canadians home” and I heeded the call. Instead of getting on a plane to Kansas City, I hightailed it back to Canada. I moved to Huntsville, Ontario, and built a new life. All plans evaporated for expansion, and I focused on making our two resort properties as profitable as they could be. We operated within an August 15 to December 26 window – just 18 weeks! Now, we’re closed again for Wave 2. While I’m living my life with hope, I’m also not getting my hopes up.
Here are my reflections on my pandemic-oriented experiences in my favorite form, “Roses, Thorns and Buds.”
Roses: Being part of an industry that came together to share experiences and provide useful information via weekly Zoom calls with people around the world made life interesting and fun! A big shout out to Beth Standlee and Peer Talk!
The technology of Bookeo allowed us to reserve private experiences for families bubbling together, with all online bookings. It was managed easily and effectively and allowed me to schedule labor for optimum efficiency.
Working in a resort town people felt they could escape to safely, when we were open, we were “rocking it,” filled to capacity on weekends and surprisingly many weekdays too.
Another “rose” was when our government offered various incentives, such as no-interest loans and wage subsidies up to 55%.
Thorns: How about having to lay off hard-working staff again over the holidays including people who earn a minimum wage? Times are tough for so many. Then there’s the thorny issue of having the border between Canada and the U.S. closed indefinitely because so many have not yet taken this seriously. I miss my U.S. friends and wish I could visit in person.
Canceling large industry gatherings like all the trade shows hurts. I’ve also missed three family funerals and wedding plans have been postponed. In addition, the fear of the industry collapsing is real as I hear about so many mom and pops closing their doors.
Buds: What can we hope for realistically? How about bouncing back and making significant revenue again, with expenses in better control? Or getting on a plane and traveling internationally to attend events and visit friends? Let’s not forget the simple joy of shaking hands and hugging again.
One thing is for certain. I will no longer take life for granted. It has twists and turns that rear their heads at every juncture, and a day can end very differently than what you expected when it began. I’ve always lived my life optimistically with the motto “you can sleep when you’re dead” – it rings so true in 2021.
If we get the chance again, I’m going to say “yes” every time I can. For now, I am hunkered down in my northern resort town, watching the deer and birds and walking in knee high powder snow with fresh air and sunshine on my face. Life isn’t all that bad when breathing is so good.
Thank you, RePlay gang, for keeping us connected and updated on our world around us. Peace be with you.
Leslie Hutcheson, Zig Zag Hospitality Services
Touchless Tech Brings Opportunity
Eddie, it’s been a while for sure!
Although 2020 did a ton of damage to our industry, I’ve been part of a growing success story. When I accepted a sales role at Tigapo last summer, I wondered who would be buying ANYTHING until businesses went back to normal, or at least semi-normal operations.
We did manage to install several locations, but all of these are still either not open at all or operating at mandated capacity limits. Tigapo hasn’t charged a single fee to any closed locations, demonstrating not only what I believe is their superior technology but also a “business heart,” which I haven’t seen too much of in my 36 years in coin-op.
Only days into 2021, I’ve seen something truly amazing: several locations are now looking for 100% touch-free payment systems, and from what I know, Tigapo is the only current option. Although I love the thrill of chasing down sales opportunities, picking up the phone when it rings isn’t too bad either!
So, Covid fears are actually making my job easier and I fully expect 2021 to bring big things not only to the folks at Tigapo, but also to locations looking to make their business as safe as possible for their staff and customers.
I hope to see you soon at a trade show that actually happens!
Chris Vecchione, Tigapo
Are We Having Fun Yet?
What can I say? What a ride 2020 was… and now 2020 has turned 21!
2020 took me and my businesses through the valleys for sure. It was not all bad and a lot of good things unexpectedly came out of this crazy year.
We were coming off of one of the best years my business ever had and then the middle of March hit, and just like a light switch, it turned off almost completely. It took some creative thinking and regrouping, a lot of mental challenges, and a group of people encouraging each other to make 2020 successful – even if not in the monetary sense. But I do believe we have accomplished the goal of a successful year.
One of the best things that came out of this year for me was being able to spend more time with my wife and kids. I was reminded that they are truly what is important to me and it was really good to be forced to slow down and be more present with my family. This year I was reminded what is most valuable to me – my faith in God, my family and my friends – and encouraged to reprioritize!
I was also reminded how important my friends in this industry are to me. It has been such an encouragement to be able to talk to others in the industry who understand and can lend experience, humor, and just a “keep your chin up” during dark moments. Whether in person, on a Zoom call, or a quick text, so many from all aspects of our industry have joined together this year in a way I have never seen before, to band together and help each other out. It has been an honor to be a part of this industry and such a strong group of people.
Special shout out to the AMOA – what a great organization that has been at the forefront, leading the way and helping all of us operators try to navigate these unchartered waters. I really do not know where I or my business would be without this awesome association and what they have helped me learn along the way. Just this year, they helped guide us in creating a new state association in Colorado, CAMO. We have over 30 owners, operators, distributors and manufacturers that have joined together to face the challenges specific to the state and it has been amazing to make some new friends along the way.
So, this year has had its challenges to say the least, but despite the pain, I feel like we still have so much to be thankful for and so many ways we are blessed. I am excited about what this new year has to offer for our industry because I feel we have gained and learned much through the low points. We will be better equipped to handle any new bumps and bruises that might come our way. We got this! Hang in there my friends!
Bob Burnham Jr., Paradise Pinball & Amusements, LLC
Take a Seat on Flight #2021
A pair of industry vets –– Paul Jacobs (No. American sales topper at exA-Arcadia) and Tony Orozco (who’s busy with sales and consulting) –– both sent in this yarn that’s been making the rounds:
Welcome to Flight 2021. We are prepared to take off into the new year. Please make sure your positive attitude and gratitude are secured and locked in the upright position. All self-destruct devices like pity, anger, selfishness and resentment should be turned off at this time.
All negativity, hurt and discouragement should be put away. Should you lose your positive attitude under pressure during this flight, reach up and pull down a prayer. Prayers will automatically be activated by faith. Once your faith is activated, you can assist other passengers who are of little faith. There will be no baggage allowed on this flight! God, our captain, has cleared us for take-off.
Tony O. added, “Wishing you a New Year filled with new hope, joy and new beginnings!
Stay blessed and welcome to Flight 2021!” Said Jacobs, “These wonderful words resonated with me, and I hope they will do so with all the people in our industry (and all other industries) who are suffering and discouraged. Faith and optimism are powerful motivators. Let’s all strive to be happy in 2021.”
Short But Sweet
My mantra: Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life (from Monty Python’s Life of Brian movie). A little update from my end:
After retirement, I got a little crazy being at home and staring at the walls, so I decided to get a small, part-time job! I took a position with Hertz Rental Cars working as a transporter, driving and moving cars from one point to another as needed. I wound up being classified as an essential worker and worked – and am still working – through the entire pandemic.
So, I sing that Monty Python song every morning upon arriving at work. It’s caught on with the entire staff and seems to set the tone for the day. Stay safe and please say hello to all on my behalf.
Video Book Author Chimes In
Hello, Key and the gang:
I have an arcade goal for 2021. I’m not sure it’s humanly possible, but I want to fly to Chicago, visit The Galloping Ghost and make a complete fool of myself on every game Doc has out. Let me tell you, not everyone can be that bad at that many games, but I have a special talent at it.
Steven L. Kent, Video Game Author
Perspective from Retired Tradester
How ya doing buddy? I firmly believe our industry will come back blockbuster, especially the bars and restaurants. People are going to be out doing things again. I do wonder though how those bowling alleys feel now about buying their own equipment?
My brother Bill runs the route now. I gave up the aggravation of having to deal with the everyday challenges a few years ago and I don’t miss it. I kind of like the stock market now. Still, we sure had a good time, didn’t we? The friendships and good times I wouldn’t trade for anything. This industry is so unique and different. I’m glad I bought that Centipede machine 40 years ago and put in it our Dairy Queen.
I’m in Maui for a month or so, then back to South Florida, and then Connecticut for the summer. Aloha,
Technology Can Help Drive Return to Social Experiences, Says Embed Topper
In 2021, Embed’s technology and sociology predictions remain the same: Multi-experience replaces technology-literate people with people-literate technology. Businesses have to adapt to a post-pandemic world and the new mindset of visitors. No one is going to a business they deem unsafe, they need to be reassured with the measures the business owner takes to mitigate risk, which is a demonstration of their commitment to keeping their employees, consumers and community safe.
Consumers are worried about keeping their families Covid-free. Some don’t want to touch cash and coins that have been touched by hundreds of strangers (and carry living germs and living virus for days) or wait in lines to make withdrawals or top up their game card.
The pandemic has changed the world as we know it. People are expecting a different kind of experience in a post-Covid world. (For some businesses, it’s accelerated the technology shift from physical to digital experiences; for others, it’s integrating the two). Regardless of which way it goes, there’s no doubt that technology will fuel the transformation and revolutionize the business of fun and the customer journey.
The current crisis is highlighting the universal human need for social interaction and the value of shared experiences with loved ones, family, friends and colleagues. People want to spend time together on meaningful high-value experiences. It’s never been more important to deliver these experiences for customers and finding innovative ways to meet their needs (safely). This has given birth to “The Low-touch Economy.”
Every touchpoint, before, during and after a consumer’s visit either makes or breaks the brand and determines if the customer returns. Their experience determines their advocacy (will they tell others about their experience and make a recommendation?). Their personal experience (when posted on social media) turns into a personal recommendation; the images they capture of the time they spent with your business will capture the imagination of others (whether it be their dining experience, roller coaster ride, images and videos that capture the total experience), it literally screams “Here’s what I did, imagine what you could do?! And, it was totally safe.”
Embed, from its integrated, cashless systems and solutions to its Hygiene Defence line, is helping the industry keep their guests safe and happy. Doing so helps drive return visits and reoccurring revenue through solutions such as Embed’s Mobile Wallet, Bookings and self-service kiosk. Embed enables businesses to “Prosper during a Pandemic.” Here’s how:
Pre-arrival: Convenience at the finger tips, enabling guests to book anytime, anywhere, on-the-go. Bookings enables an operator’s staff to track reservations, capacity management and plan accordingly, producing greater operational efficiency with real-time, accurate data regarding space reservations and availability. And it is 100% risk-free because all bookings are paid in advance.
Upon-arrival: Embed Mobile Wallet QR Code scan at the entrance allows guests to check-in and check-out seamlessly.
Seamless Experience: significantly cutting down crowding at the entrance, enabling guests to check in quickly and have a more enjoyable experience without having to fill out cumbersome forms. No physical dashboards are required to display visitor count. This is especially important at a time like this with physical distancing measures and capacity management regulations.
Facilitates Covid Contact-Tracing: If the operator is alerted that a patron who visited their business has tested positive for Covid, the operator is easily able to identify what games the person played at what time, and who played the games afterwards, for tracking and tracing purposes. This is important to ensure the safety of both employees, guests and the community. Consumer perception is everything, they will only go to places they deem as safe and will only visit if they are reassured that the proper measures have been taken.
While playing games: Embed Mobile Wallet allows the guests to reload their virtual game card (that sits in the mobile phone’s mobile wallet) without having to stand in line at the kiosk (social distancing), cashier, or balance check machine. They can increase spend and reduce dwell time by easily topping up (via the mobile phone) without leaving the game. Once again, enabling the guests to have a more enjoyable experience with all safety measures in place. For the operators, it will also mean greater profit, less manpower and fewer hardware costs. Increasing profitability via real-time consumer data that’s accessible to the operators, who are able to offer upsell/cross-sell bundles via customer loyalty programs to drive return visits (future-proofing the operator’s business).
Renee Welsh, CEO, Embed