An Eye on the Prize: Seizing Crane Machine Success

Crane machines are pretty straightforward in what they require in player skill, plus they’ve been around for quite a while and offer something tangible. So what keeps them fresh and with customers headed in their direction?
Locations do their part, said David Peck, part-owner of the family run Family Amusement Corporation, which has placed crane machines everywhere from bowling alleys and restaurants to pizza parlors and bars throughout Los Angeles, California, for the past 42 years. “They place the machines in the area where they get the most visibility,” Peck said.
The merchandise itself has to hold appeal, and while Peck still provides fans of plush and various kinds of balls with what they are after, the majority of Family Amusement’s crane customers are gathering around the machines that drop MP4s in their waiting hands. Of the 100-plus machines, confirmed Peck, “Those with MP4s are simply making more money than plush.”
In Eugene, Ore., the majority of young children as well as adults that are playing at Amusement Unlimited, Inc., machines want to win plush characters or animals to take home and set on a shelf, said part owner of the company, Al Lindley. “Some are very attractive, some have sports themes and represent sports players popular for collecting.” As well, Ty Beanies are very popular, though Teddy Bears hold top player interest in all of Lindley’s 60 cranes.
In business for 30 years, Lindley stocks cranes that handle small plush, cranes with larger claws for large plush, some for blowup or knobby balls, and the shovel arm machines that scoop up a mix of candy and small toys for a win every time at 50 cents a grab.
Merchandising the merchandise makes a difference in catching the eye of customers, and Lindley has learned to deposit the plush inside the machines face out to look attractive, to theme out the animals, and to insert posters inside the cranes that entice play.
As customers excitedly peruse the game choices at Mikey’s Funland in Lakewood, Wash., licensed stuffed animals beckon to the players that recall them from popular TV shows. “Just the volume of the game machine sound itself, if it’s turned up and they hear the machine say, ‘Come play Red Zone,’ it’s the talk,  the play and prizes in it that draw customers to it,” said General Manager Valerie Martin. “Even if they don’t win, Red Zone electronics add so much enjoyment to just playing.”
The allure of the various 150 crane machines that American Amusement Arcade places throughout Bloomington, Minn., is in dressing them up in the details, said General Manager Tim Zahn, meaning posters on the inside back, and signage on the outside top. “Players are looking to win something and the most sought-out merchandise is the licensed version in whatever you stock, whether movie or sports, especially licensed sports items matched to the local professional sports teams in your area.” Zahn added puffer balls as an item with dynamic appeal.
The cranes filled with plush critters are getting the most action for Able Vending Ltd. in El Paso, Texas, according to company Owner Mark Aikman. Second in the line of popularity are the jewelry cranes, and third, candy cranes.
Aiken noted that “kids want that prize, especially licensed plush, which is a lot more expensive than regular plush.” His remedy is a 50-50 mix and the crane still holds their fascination. Of his 50 machines, he is most pleased with the performance of Rainbow cranes because they work well and are reliable.
On his last game industry trade show excursion, Aiken learned that when placing plush in the machines he is sure they are face forward so children can make eye contact, and especially those that are down at a low level for the little kids. “It’s very effective when they can lock eyes with the teddy bears.”
Rainbow cranes, in 60, 42, and 33-inch sizes are at the top of the chart for Penny Hoerth, owner with husband, Shawn, of Mt. Hood Vending, making life not so boring in Boring, Ore., for kids that  are seeking to win Ty Beanie Babies and various ball prizes. Treasure House, Benchmark and Acme also are machines that Hoerth can count on, though it’s not just the machines that sell tickets. “It has to do with putting in seasonal merchandise, sports and other licensed items,” said Hoerth. Particularly hot are the Sega UFO 100 percent licensed characters.
Hoerth banks on the higher-end product for luring players to the crane machines and she remarked, “Every time we change them out for the season at hand and for licensed product connected to movie themes, they’re noticed.” Especially effective in boosting income is a call from wholesaler HMS Monaco to inform her about the next movie coming out that will tie in to potential merchandise.
The items that are successful for crane machines placed by family run BFC Enterprises Inc in St. Louis, Mo., are knobby balls, soccer and basket balls, said Co-owner Todd Farber, who noted that merchandising balls is easier than arranging plush face forward. He added that candy cranes are consistent and jewelry performs well, depending on location and rotation in and out of merchandise for the account on a timely basis.
Farber fine-tuned the factors that add up to maximize revenues for crane machines. “It depends on the location and catering to the time of the year by changing up the merchandise. And yet, it has to be the right location within the location before focusing on drawing attention to the crane machines. Then whatever you do will better the chance of working. It’s a matter of merchandising right, making sure lights are working, and using point of sale signage, such as ‘Try to win the latest and greatest,’ in merchandise.”
Admittedly, said Farber, “It sounds easy but merchandising correctly and making sure the machine is full so that it pops out at customers, is part of asking yourself, if you didn’t own the machine would you want to play it? When you put yourself in the player’s shoes, you have a better chance of being successful.” –

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