September 1, 2013
The Coin-op Capsule Toy Question
There are some things in life that are just taken for granted. Coin-operated machines filled with colorful capsule toys could be one of them. The amusement industry is slowly moving away from the nostalgic mechanisms. Adults of a certain age remember the joy of popping a coin or two into a glass, bubble-like, coin-operated machine to retrieve a tiny treat. Back in the day the balls held predictable toys; a little girls ring, a small car for boys or a tiny puzzle game with an even tinier silver ball that kids manipulated to land in teeny holes. The filled machines are a whimsical part of childhood and kids of all ages still love them.
Today, operators follow trends that are less predictable and are prodded by what is popular in the media or by toy manufacturers. For instance, a very few years ago, kids clamored around capsule ball machines to capture cheery rubber bands when Silly bandz were all the rage. Kids traded the bands everywhere they went. Parents shelled out more than a few coins adding to their child’s collection. Today, the once popular item has been dethroned. In the words of one operator, “they can’t be given away.”
Coin-operated capsule toys are still somewhat popular, however operators across the country are weighing in with differing opinions on the profitability of the machines. While some tout the value of carrying the devices, others are not as complimentary and carry them only as add-ons to other amusements. Many operators have eliminated capsule toy machines altogether, moving toward what they believe are more lucrative games.
Amusement Games Inc. is owned and operated by Greg Deller. According to Deller, capsule toys represent a very small percentage of what the company offers. However, the company is nudging its way slowly toward investing in more capsule toy vending and believes it will be a profitable move. Presently, it serves 130 locations, but of those locations, Amusement Games Inc. only operates five or six of the eight-head version of the machines and 10 to 15 self-redemption-style machines. Self-redemptive machines allow patrons to flip a coin into the vending machine, play a game and win a reward. The company offers in its machines everything from Chiclets and Skittles to Jawbreakers and other candies.
Hitting on the right trend, for Deller, is trial and error. Amusement Games Inc. runs machines in pizzerias, bowling alleys and other family entertainment centers.
Though Woodard Amusement in Clarksville, Ark., does very little capsule business, comparatively speaking, owner Steve Woodard does operate capsule machines in five locations. After 15 years in the business, Woodard is adept at picking the next best toy and like other operators, views trends as ever-changing. Right now, Woodard predicts that “Duck Dynasty” toys are going to be red hot, not unlike the cable television show, for which the toys are named. New on the market, Duck Dynasty capsules are filled with the Duck Dynasty logo, emblazoned on miniature flashlights and pictures of the stars of the show. Other hot items are pon-pon balls. These are placed in two-inch capsules. Yet, even with such hot items Woodard explained why companies like his are distancing themselves from the capsule toy market. “We really are in the amusement business and do very little of the vending because you have to fill it. It is time consuming.” However, Woodard is committed to carrying the product because there is “money in it,” and hopes to one day branch off from his amusement business, where he operates more than 300 locations. He said he will carry capsule toys separately from the jukeboxes, pool tables, driving games, cranes and other large ticket items. Woodard Amusement operates capsule toy machines in Breckenridge Movie Theaters
Amusement Devices runs pool tables, dartboards and jukeboxes, primarily serving the tavern industry. While the company has always maintained a certain amount of coin-operated capsule toy machines, the machines are not representative of a large portion of the company’s industry focus. Amusement Devices added the machines on as a sideline, placing them in some of its bowling centers, skating rinks and other entertainment centers in Menasha, Wis. Owner Kurt Jacobson remembers super balls as moving well, but that changed when vendors began purchasing the balls on their own. Sponge Bob has replaced the super balls in popularity; tattoos are also big right now. Jacobsen does admit that capsule toys still do well in some places, but it is dependent on the type of location. Amusement Devices is experiencing some success with approximately 40 capsule machines located in bowling centers and campgrounds. Jacobson often looks to the distributor for advice on what will sell in machines, since it is in the best interest of the distributor to point him in the right direction. Jacobson trusts the distributor to know the trends and to sell Amusement Devices what sells.
Red Robin Restaurant is a recognizable location where Amusement Devices has placed capsule machines.
Trends come and go, but coin operated machine capsule toys, though not as popular as they once were, have stood the test of time. The amusement industry has grown up around the machines, and in some respects has surpassed their simplicity, but not their magic. From all appearances, the trend, it seems, is that coin operators are reluctant to drop them completely. -