AMOA President Shares Views from Industry Travels
Q: The AMOA president sure builds up a lot of frequent-flyer miles during his term. Has that been true for you?
Tim Zahn: It has. It’s been an extremely busy summer with AMOA-related travel. I was in Las Vegas for Bowl Expo at the end of June, which was well-attended and generated a lot of buzz. Bowling is going strong and we got a few leads at the AMOA booth with proprietors looking for operators. We’re happy to provide some guidance to them as to what we do and help them find an operator in their area.
Traditionally, many state associations have their get-togethers at this time of year and I’ve had the pleasure to attend a lot of them. I went to Colorado in mid-July for CAMO’s annual meeting which had exhibits and a silent auction. President Bob Burnham does a great job and they had a strong turnout from their operator base along with solid support from manufacturers and suppliers. That group is fairly new – formed back in 2020. They’ve got some good momentum going and I think they’ll continue to grow.
Later in July, I attended the Dart Smart program the National Dart Association puts on. It had a great turnout as well. A lot of the big operators sent their league coordinators to discuss all things league and the big challenge discussed was how to attract a younger crowd to leagues and darts in general. Most of us are seeing our loyal dart players age and we need to continue to have younger people come in behind them and be excited about darts. That’s a challenge for sure, but we had a lot of good, spirited discussion on that. I think the NDA along with AMOA will help find ideas to do that.
When it comes to leagues, the younger generation tends not to want long-term commitments to things. They make their plans on short notice so some possible change needs to come down to the formats of how leagues run, including having some flexibility as to the nights that they play. Maybe it’s one night this week, but a different night the next, as well as a potentially shorter season…things like that. The technology of dart boards themselves today can help as well with remote play and using the camera. I think those are some of the things that will be looked at.
In early August, I went to Montana which was fun for me since it’s a state I’ve never visited before. The Montana association held its meeting in Great Falls. They’re very gaming-focused in the state and they are in the early stages of looking at some changes and deciding if they want to move forward on those. The Montana Coin Machine Operators Assn. still holds its annual dart tournament so they’re working on the planning for that as well. In addition to the work, I spent an afternoon floating down the Missouri River which was a lot of fun. It was a beautiful place.
The next week, I attended the Michigan operator meeting in Frankenmuth, a German-style village they say is the Christmas capital of the world. The MCMOA has some ideas regarding the current redemption law they’d like to see change. For example, when it comes to prize values, the rules need to be adjusted to compensate for inflation and how the cost of merchandise has gone up.
What’s the general feeling among operators out there?
Overall, people are very upbeat about their businesses. It seems to be pretty strong in most areas as they’ve bounced back from Covid. I would say among the big concerns are labor issues both with a shortage of people and in trying to keep pace and being competitive with wages. There are also ongoing supply chain issues and getting things in a timely manner. And of course, there’s inflation and how it’s caused prices to go way up. So, in addition to being hard to get, equipment has gotten more expensive. We’re seeing that around the country in a lot of industries not just ours.
What about players? Have inflation and other concerns caused a reduction in visits or spending?
We haven’t seen any of that and we’re watching it in our business. Even with inflation and high gas prices, people still seem to be spending and we haven’t seen any tail-off in numbers. Companies who do seasonal business over the summer are reporting strong summers reflecting that people are definitely out spending. We saw a $1 per gallon ease in gas prices in the last month which I think has helped.
Do you think some of the strong business this summer is the result of “staycation-ing”?
There’s probably some of that but it’s hard to measure. For example, when you go to the northern part of Minnesota where there are a lot of resorts, those operators are doing very well. People are still going up to their cabins and resorts. In general, I think people still have money to spend and they are spending it on recreational-type things. I’ve always thought our industry is affordable –– even with inflation –– compared to other things. You can spend the day at an amusement park, bowling center or whatnot and while costs may have gone up a little bit, it’s not too crazy.
During Covid, a number of state associations either began or ramped up their contact with lawmakers to teach them about the industry. Is that continuing?
Yes, at the state meetings this summer that was a topic of discussion and they had either a lobbyist or someone come in and talk about the need to have relationships with their local legislators. I know from my experience at the national level with AMOA and within our state, you have to have these relationships ongoing because if you’re looking for friends when you need them, it’s too late.
A number of these speakers really preached about having operators call their local lawmakers and introduce themselves, explain who they are and what they do, invite them to come by their office or shop sometime. It was clear during Covid that a lot of legislators didn’t realize what we did. When locations were closed because of the pandemic, lawmakers assumed the bars and restaurants owned the amusements. They didn’t realize operators were the heart and soul of all that equipment. It took us some time to educate them, and once they understood other businesses supported these bars, restaurants and entertainment centers, they were more receptive to helping us get the state opened up and develop rules and regulations that would let us do that safely.
That connection with lawmakers was one of the good things that came out of Covid and it needs to continue going forward. State associations seem to be well aware of that.
As you have traveled the country, has anything surprised you or been unexpected?
I wouldn’t call it a surprise but as I’ve gone to these meetings and spent more and more time with AMOA, the big thing for me is seeing how operators come together and support the good of the organization and the good of the industry. They may be competitors in their marketplace but they’re willing to take their competitor hat off and go to a meeting that benefits the overall industry. It’s refreshing to see that. I’ve always known it was there, but when you see that at meeting after meeting, state after state, it’s pretty special.
How has it been juggling the demands of the presidency and that of your job?
I’m lucky. I have a great team here at Lieberman – they keep things moving along. Technology has come a long way. I can hop on Zoom with my people, text, talk on the phone. We try to have regular meeting times and communicate when I’m out of town so things can continue to progress and move forward. Another nice thing is that the travel comes in spurts – there are times when you go from meeting to meeting to meeting. But now, I have about a month before the next time I go out. During that time, our business will be extremely busy with the Minnesota State Fair and so Luke Adams, who will become AMOA president next March, covered for me at the Georgia meeting and past president Greg Trent went to the Texas meeting. Because he was AMOA president during Covid, Greg didn’t enjoy the luxury of traveling to all these state meetings.
AMOA is made of a special group of people. I’ve been humbled and honored to be part of it and this year, be able to lead. We have a great board and we’re continuously bringing in new people to the organization. They all seem to be engaged so it’s exciting to watch people grow and move into the association. There are lots of good things to come from these people.
What’s happening with your membership?
We’re working on some good things. Membership continues to stay steady and even though there has been consolidation, our numbers remain strong. Among our main goals is continuing to find the benefits and the value of being an AMOA member. I think our membership committee is working hard on some things and we’re expanding educational opportunities across the country like with our On the Road program. (Editor’s note: The next On the Road takes place Oct. 27-28 at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, Ill. For more details, visit amoa. memberclicks.net/amoa-on-the-road-education.)
We’re finding ways to continue to add value to membership and I’m happy with the results so far, but that’s always a work in progress. We’ve got a great group working on that.
With AMOA membership dues, you get a lot of value but specifically two things. You get two free passes to Amusement Expo which is a major value just by going to the show and getting to network with your peers and see the new equipment. And number two, AMOA is advocating legislatively on a daily basis for our industry and by being a member, you’re helping support that cause. We also have bi-weekly calls with our lobbying partner in Washington, D.C., Dentons, and then there’s our fly-in for a “day on the hill” with members of Congress. [Editor’s note: the most recent was scheduled to take place towards the end of last month.] Those are all important things that we do – continuing to advocate for the industry so lawmakers know who we are. That right there is instant value in AMOA membership that I find to be priceless.