Keeping the Coins Flowing: Strategies to Attract the Coin-op Machine Customer Base

It’s 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon at ABC Location. While the facility has a myriad of attractions, a steady stream of customers are immediately drawn to the brightly lit coin-operated games, with many spending a considerable chunk of change so they can win the “cool” prizes that had immediately caught their eye on their arrival. At the end of the day, the proprietor, who is consistently diligent about positioning and maintaining his coin-operated machines to garner heightened attention from customers, pockets a hefty profit. Meanwhile, across town, PDQ Location’s coin-operated machines, which appear to be half-empty and not particularly clean, remain relatively idle. Upon closing the facility, the owner laments his declining earnings.
Such a scenario underscores the importance of implementing deliberate strategies aimed at maximizing customers’ exposure to coin-operated machines and avoiding common pitfalls that negatively impact profitability. “This kind of thing just cannot be left to chance; you need to be deliberate about it,” said Phil Webb, owner of ASAP Vending & Games in Fox Lake, Ill.
Inducing customers to take notice of coin-operated machines starts with selecting the proper spot in which to position them. “Placement is key,” stated David Hengst, owner of Austin Amusement Co. in Austin, Texas. Hengst recommends that operators install their newest coin-operated machines as close as possible to their locations’ front entrances, where customers cannot help but notice them. Signage that herald the machines’ arrival and encourage patrons to give them a try help to reinforce the message.
Kurt Jacobson, president of Amusement Devices, Inc., Menasha, Wis., corroborated Hengst’s comments. He also advocates directing customers’ attention to particular coin-operated machines, whether because the units are new and there is a need to cultivate a “following” for them, or they do not seem to rank among patrons’ favorites and could benefit from enhanced traffic, by placing them adjacent to prize counters or change booths. Some locations served by Amusement Devices have been successful in instructing roving employees to inquire, while simultaneously distributing change or performing other routine tasks, whether customers have seen and/or tried out different coin-operated machines on their premises.
Meanwhile, certain location clients of Arcade Amusement & Billiard Supply Co. in Oak Lawn, Ill., ramp up customer focus on coin-operated games with “carrots” in the form of tournaments, according to Owner Dave Cadieux. “Often, it’s just not enough to put a game in a good location; you need a little extra push,” Cadieux asserted. “People see a tournament going, and of course they’re going to sit up and take notice.” Cadieux added that prizes based on the popular “Angry Birds” puzzle video game have been particularly effective in garnering location patrons’ interest in tournaments and, hence, specific coin-operated machines.
Maintenance, too, plays a role in ensuring that coin-operated machines not only curry the desired attention, but also generate the highest possible profits. Visitors are more inclined to gravitate towards and utilize coin-operated machines that are clean, properly lit and in working order. “One of the biggest errors operators can make, and often do make, because they are so busy or it isn’t a priority for them, is to put off replacing or repairing lights and not follow a set schedule for cleaning the machines,” Hengst said. “If a light is off or the machine is dirty, nobody is going to pay much attention to it, let alone use it. Obviously this will affect the (unit’s) earning potential.”
To reverse the tide, sources said, coin-operated machines should be cleaned nightly and monitored regularly for glitches that warrant correction. In addition to malfunctioning lights, the latter include levers, knobs, claws and joysticks that stick or are otherwise either inoperable or sporadically operable.
Similarly, pointed out Charles Batson, owner of Angleton Amusement Company in Angleton, Texas, location operators must take the time to keep coin-operated machines amply stocked with prizes or, in the case of vending machines, merchandise. While the idea of “using up” existing inventory that is already on display before adding new items can be tempting from a time standpoint, giving in to that temptation is a mistake, Batson said.
“People just aren’t going to go for” what they perceive as “slim pickings; they’ll walk right past the machine,” he explained. Conversely, the fuller the coin-operated machine, the more customers will be attracted to it, often using it repeatedly during a single visit to a location, the executive noted.
Speaking of merchandise, upping the attention ante and profitability potential of coin-operated machines is also tied into selecting the right inventory. For crane machines, the answer is still plush for kids, with those ages 10 and under preferring 6-inch plush of all kinds and older kids favoring 8-to-10-inch options. Licensed merchandise, such as T-shirts and hats, brings adults to crane machines too, Cadieux stated. If these items are licensed, he added, they must feature currently popular likenesses or logos, rather than “those that were hot a few months ago. Otherwise, most customers will move right past the machines.”
Meanwhile, stackers and other types of coin-operated merchandise redemption machines attract a more adult demographic and, as such, should feature adult-oriented prizes. Sources report good results with electronic items, like iPods, as well as costume jewelry and watches. Some operators find that gift cards redeemable for music and even food and beverages attract takers, sources said.
Finally, location operators can avail themselves of vendor assistance in giving their coin-operated machines a better shot at the spotlight. Amusement Devices, Inc., works with its location customers to determine the most optimal mix and placement of coin-operated machines in their facilities. ASAP Vending & Games is beginning to devise a social media and email marketing campaign for its games.
“Our share of the revenue split may be higher in these cases, but locations will still win because of the increased interest in the games we are promoting and better business all around,” Webb concluded. –

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