Redemption Counters and Prizes: Creating a Compelling Reason to Play

With competition for consumers’ leisure dollar remaining fierce, family entertainment centers with mini-golf and go-kart facilities are paying as much attention to maximizing the appeal of their redemption counters as they are to making their attractions as compelling as possible.
“The game room is where we make a large portion of our money, and in order to keep it really profitable, we need to keep the prize area at its best,” said Stacie White, general manager of All Star Sports in Wichita, Kan., which hosts approximately 50,000 guests annually.
Operators’ current thinking behind what and how much merchandise to stock at a redemption counter appears to involve neither offering either a few choices of prizes that have proven popular in the past or a very diverse mix of “test items,” nor coming up with a set formula for determining the quantity of less expensive and more expensive pieces. Rather, it centers on informally configuring assortments to suit the audience.
For some establishments, among them All Star Sports, this means showcasing a wide array of staple and new inexpensive and pricier prizes alike. Wichita is Kansas’ largest city, but the facility is “the only family entertainment center in town” and, as such, serves a clientele that encompasses toddlers, mature adults and “everyone in between,” White noted. Accordingly, the facility’s array of prizes comprises an equal measure of something for everyone, from pencils, erasers and plush to bicycles, electronics and lava lamps. For the past few months, Angry Birds plush, pencils and notepads have been All Star Sports’ best-performing redemption prizes, a trend White attributed to the popularity of the video game of the same name.
An even spread of everything from small military action figures, to mid-priced and higher-end toys, to wide-screen television sets, also greets visitors to the redemption counter at Fun Central in Clearfield, Pa., where the guest count is about 75,000 to 100,000 each year, said Josh McCahan, president. Clearfield is a small borough populated largely by families; Fun Central’s target audience is families with children ages 4 to 10.
Although some guests gravitate towards plush, toys and electronics, McCahan said, candy has been Fun Central’s most popular redemption prize since it opened in 2009. A variety of toys in the $10 to $20 price range rank second on the popularity roster. “We have three huge counters full of candy, from small individual pieces to larger packs,” McCahan said. “To kids, that’s like a large windfall.”
Meanwhile, although Wheels Family Fun Park in Durham, N.C., a college town and home to Duke University as well as several other secondary institutions, caters mostly to younger children, owner Becky Olbrych prefers to eschew most “cheap trinkets” in favor of somewhat higher-priced toys and plush. Toys with a flashing light or laser component have long shared top billing on the family entertainment center’s redemption prize hit parade, most likely, Olbrych believes, because children love the “coolness factor.”
As a marketing tactic and to minimize the need to carry too many trinkets, Wheels Family Fun Park has instituted a policy wherein children who do not have enough tickets to redeem for certain moderately priced prizes, for example larger plush, can purchase the item they want for a required lower number of tickets plus a small surcharge. “By the time it comes around to lining up at the counter, most parents are ready to leave, and they are more than happy to pay the $1.50 to speed thing up and get home,” Olbrych observed.
On the flip side of the coin, Fort Fun in Fort Collins, Colo., The People’s Choice Family Fun Center in Waukegan, Ill., and Wahooz Family Fun Zone in Meridian, Idaho, all feature some mid- to higher-end redemption prizes, but the selection skews heavily toward less pricey options that may be had for fewer tickets. “Most kids, at least, most of the kids who come here, aren’t big savers and want the instant gratification of a prize,” said Fort Fun Manager Rick Wells, remarking that the facility’s annual visitor count stands at 250,000 to 300,000 people. Vampire teeth have been Fort Fun’s number-one redemption prize for as long as Wells can remember.
At The People’s Choice Family Fun Center, which welcomes approximately 1.5 million customers per year, such a designation goes to a cap gun. John Sarantakis, president and owner, believes this is so because many facilities in and near Waukegan do not carry the product. “When we bring them in, we’re talking a few pallets versus a split case,” Sarantakis said. Plush animals and candy, especially Tootsie rolls and miniature candy bars, are popular too.
He added that despite the availability of “a few electronics and higher-end items for adults,” the less expensive prizes in general garner far more attention, and therefore comprise the bulk of the facility’s 1,000-SKU redemption merchandise inventory, because youngsters prefer to “leave with a bag of little gadgets and doodads rather than spend all their tickets on one big thing.”
Peter Rebentisch, shift and redemption manager at Wahooz Family Fun Zone, named candy the second most popular redemption prize among its guests. About 350,000 customers walked through the facility’s door in 2010; at press time, Rebentisch projected similar figures for 2011. A majority of families who visit Wahooz are price-conscious and seek value; like customers of The People’s Choice Family Fun Center, they favor the opportunity to take home multiple smaller prizes instead of a single larger one.
“We do offer and move maybe five large items, like electronics, in a year, but it’s the lower-ticket things, from novelty sunglasses, to Magic 8 balls, to miniature Slinky toys,” that generate the most momentum, Rebentisch said.
In addition to carefully tailoring prize assortments, operators are, increasingly, going the extra mile to ensure that employees who man the redemption counter possess the proper personality attributes, skillset and values for the job. Olbrych of Wheels Family Fun Park favors individuals who are not only outgoing, but very willing to draw guests’ attention to the prizes and make the selection process a fun experience.
“We want people who don’t mind putting on a show with the glowing fingers, wearing a goofy hat, and” the like, Olbrych said. For maximum scheduling flexibility, employees alternate between working in the redemption area and in other parts of the facility. However, the operator has a handful of staff members whom she prefers to assign to the prize counter whenever feasible because they are better at handling it than some of their counterparts.
Much the same is true of All Star Sports, according to White. “Everyone here is trained to work the prize counter, because at any minute, we could have a birthday party or an especially big crowd and need to draw people in at the last minute,” she explained. “But mostly we like to assign people who can demonstrate excitement about, and emphasize what is great about, even a small prize like a pencil. This makes the kids excited, which is what we want so they keep pushing their parents to come back.”
At Wahooz, Rebentisch seeks redemption center staff who “know how to size up people and help them figure out what they want so as to move things along,” while at Fort Fun and The People’s Choice Family Fun Center, patience tops the list.
“For some kids, this is the most important decision they’re making,” Wells said.   –

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