Cranes: A Popular Favorite Continues to Snag Business for Operators and Locations

Crane machines remain a profitable addition to coin-op routes at a time when some other machines are not grabbing the interest of customers.
“They are still a big deal,” said Chip O’Hara, owner of Midwest Coin Concepts, Waite Park, Minn. “We have quite a few models that have consistently been doing very well.”
Promoted as a major player in the Minnesota coin-op market, Midwest Coin Concepts serves leisure entertainment facilities and other entities in a territory that extends beyond its home state to the Dakotas and Wisconsin. It was formed through the acquisition of several coin-op firms, among them Krueger Novelty, Ed’s Novelty, Vern Ness Games, Borth Amusement, Chuck Daniels Novelty, Ernie Olson Enterprises, Active Coin, Viking Vending, Boerger Novelty, P.J. Weber Company, A & B Amusement, Harbor Amusement and Twin Ports Amusements.
O’Hara deemed “jumbo” 42-inch crane machines “with the medium-size claw” his company’s best performers, attributing the trend to the units’ versatility. “They can comfortably handle a variety of larger items, and not everyone has room for the 60-inch” units, he observed.
On the merchandise front, plush, particularly licensed plush, reigns supreme in attracting the largest share of attention from visitors to facilities in which the operator has crane machines. In tandem with the popularity of the video game of the same name, licensed Angry Birds plush; licensed pro and college sports plush performs equally well. “Sports are huge here, which has focused attention on any kind of plush, be it costumed animals or balls, that is tied into NFL Minnesota Vikings, college teams like the Wisconsin Badgers and North Dakota Sioux, and more,” O’Hara said.
John Jordan, owner of C&B Music & Vending Inc. in Lewiston, Idaho, cited similar patterns. The company installs coin-op machines in bowling alleys, bars and taverns in and around Lewiston, which is touted as “Idaho’s only port.” Wider machines measuring “4 to 5 feet,” Jordan said, are especially favored by leisure entertainment facility operators who want the visual real estate to showcase licensed merchandise.
Like O’Hara, Jordan named sports-themed plush, NFL as well as NASCAR, balls and animals dressed in team garb or with team logos emblazoned somewhere on them, a top seller. Chalk it up, he said, at least partially to the older, sports-minded audience of the bowling centers and other establishments at which C&B Music & Vending has installed crane machines.
Meanwhile, both Boca Raton, Fla.-based BMI Gaming and Bloomington, Minn.-based American Amusement Arcade are garnering their best results with crane games that are, for one reason or another, easier to win. BMI, which serves accounts nationwide, has been scoring big with what he called “double-dip” machines. These units are configured to enable patrons who did not win a large prize on their first play to try their hand at winning a smaller prize or some candy, as well as to play until at least some of the latter drops into the chute. “In plush, it’s the licensing that sells for us, so for now, Angry Birds is big and we did nicely with Smurf merchandise, too,” asserted Adam Pratt, arcade game advisor. However, electronics, like MP3 players, are just as popular as plush, or more so, in many locations that cater to electronics-crazed teen and young adult crowds.
Crane machines with two cranes, one to grasp major prizes and one to grasp candy, rank among winners at American Amusement Arcade, which maintains the largest amusement route in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. The company services a wide swath of locations, including bowling centers, arcades, traditional bars and restaurants, as well as the Minnesota State Fair.
In another vein, Brewer Amusements of Panama City Beach in Panama City Beach, Fla., which serves bowling centers and arcades in and around its beachside hometown, appears to be having better luck with units that feature smaller cranes. “These handle the smaller plush, which people like since they are cheaper to play and easier to win,” said Brent Crum, co-owner. “They don’t fall out of the claw as fast as the heavier pieces.”
He added that Panama City Beach is a vacation destination, and its arcades draw many young children who want prizes from the crane machines to serve as souvenirs of their visit to the community. Accordingly, plush rendered to replicate sea animals and whales generates a hefty amount of interest.
While crane machines are popular in and of themselves, and therefore do a brisk business, operators advocated capitalizing on their profitability potential through best practices. Keeping merchandise fresh and interesting comprises the most important such strategy.
Accordingly, Brewer Amusements of Panama City Beach rotates into and out of its assortment of plush tied to specific holidays and seasons; for example, teddy bears that wave flags or wear patriotic clothes for Independence Day and heart themes for Valentine’s Day. “We don’t necessarily change the mix; we just add to it in consideration of the fact that freshness is the biggest factor in the success of crane machines,” Crum said.
Midwest Coin Concepts also rotates its product mix on a seasonal basis; for instance, baseball merchandise is prominently featured in the spring and summer months; hockey merchandise, during the winter. Ancillary tactics are used to attract visitors’ attention to the machines. “We’ve put full wraps covered with baseballs around the units for baseball season, and with Angry Birds, we had posters,” O’Hara said. “It definitely creates interest.”
O’Hara noted that despite the importance of preventing merchandise from appearing “stale,” it is equally essential to avoid over-buying certain licensed items for placement into cranes. “After a while, movie tie-ins lose their momentum, and we don’t want to be stuck with the merchandise,” he said. “We want to get in when the trend starts and out before it dies down. On the other hand, licensed teams never go out of style, so no worries there.”
Maintenance, too, is key. Midwest Coin Concepts employs a merchandiser whose job responsibilities entail traveling from location to location to clean the crane machines and ensure that they remain full; dirty, half-empty units, O’Hara said, can turn off guests permanently. C&B Music & Vending also has on staff an individual whom Jordan noted is charged with visiting each facility weekly to monitor the units and replenish merchandise as necessary.
Finally, sources asserted, crane machines should be configured so that facilities’ customers perceive there to be a good chance of winning a prize other than the token few pieces of candy, and so that merchandise appears relatively easy to grasp with the crane or claw. For this reason, Brewer Amusements of Panama City Beach removes jewelry items from the sealed plastic bags or sleeves in which they are enclosed prior to placing them in crane machines. “Otherwise, people would think the pieces are impossible to pick up and wouldn’t even try” their hand, Crum stated. He has discovered that setting crane machines for a “win percentage” of 32 percent to 35 percent works well on the customer end while still allowing money to be made from the units. –

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