Keeping customers satisfied and staff members well-trained are both crucial for coin-op operators. For this article, a group of owners offered their tips for doing both.
At Alpha Vending in Oklahoma City, Okla., Owner Ryan Brooks manages a large route. “We have 70 or 80 locations; it’s just my brother and me,” he explained. He said that keeping customers satisfied is all about expert trouble shooting. “No matter what the problem is, if they need a repair, if they need new equipment, they know they can call us, and they will be talking to the owners. They won’t need to wait while information is relayed to someone or a second phone call is made to reach us. Honestly, that’s the greatest thing we have going for us. We provide one-on-one interaction between the customer and the owner.” As the company is comprised of just Brooks and his brother, there’s no need to provide customer service training for staff members. “We’ve learned quickly, and we’ve done things this way for a long time. We are very tech savvy, so rarely do we ever need to send something in for repair. If we did, it would be a warranty-covered repair. We have the expertise to handle just about anything that comes up,” he attested. The company offers Touch Tone Juke Boxes and a wide array of amusements.
“The bottom line is about service. Service is everything in this business. Even if you’re poor and you can’t afford new equipment, if you give good service, you can still do well. You’re selling yourself, and that’s what everyone here knows. If something breaks, you go right down there and fix it. You can have the best machines in the world, and act like a jerk, and they’ll throw you out. Act like you care.” – Mike Thorpe, Double M Amusement, Grand Junction, Colo.
In Evansville, Ind., at Americoin Amusement, Owner Scott Winzinger said to keep route customers satisfied, “keeping the games fresh is key. Providing rotation of games, making sure the machines are clean, and changing out products on prize redemption frequently are all important services. We stock our machines with higher-end toys or items like iPads and AirPods, so that people will want to play the games and try to win them.” Because the machines he operates are all unmanned, to prevent thefts and machine damage, he puts a coupon in the prize boxes with a number to call for redemption, rather than the actual item. “Because of that, another important aspect of customer satisfaction is to return calls to prize winners asking how to get their prize very quickly. When they do win, they can call right away, and they will get a response right away. It’s reassuring that they will get their prize, and important to respond to the actual phone call to make sure they get their prize.” Like Brooks, he does not need to provide staff training. “I’m a one-man shop. I have a couple hundred games, juke boxes, crane games. I handle all of them,” he attested. “Another thing that keeps customers satisfied is talking to them, communicating. I always talk to our customers when I’m servicing the machines. I ask what they’d like to see as a prize in crane games, and things like that. With any type of game, I’m always asking questions and seeing what I can do to improve the experience for people.”
Mike Thorpe, owner of Double M Amusement in Grand Junction, Colo., related that the best way to keep customers on his route satisfied is to “Do preventive stuff. Most of our work is Internet juke boxes and pool tables. So, we have special times and keep parameters in place to maintain them both. We recover pool tables when we can see wear, which is a six-week process; we also put new balls and pool cues on them,” he explained. “We replace springs to make sure there are no ball release problems; boot bumpers and rails are replaced every year to 18 months. We don’t charge our customers, we do a 60/40 split with them. We get 60%, but 20% of that comes off the top to do exactly the kind of things I’m describing, to keep the route in top shape.” As for staff training, he noted, “This is a specialized industry. Not everyone can do it, it’s more specialized than being an airline pilot,” he laughed. “There are 150 to 200 airline pilots in Colorado, but only 7 or 8 people who do what we do. If we can’t fix something, we send the machines into highly specialized shops in Denver, Salt Lake, or Los Angeles.” In short, skill through experience is everything. According to Thorpe “The bottom line is about service. Service is everything in this business. Even if you’re poor and you can’t afford new equipment, if you give good service, you can still do well,” he stressed. “You’re selling yourself, and that’s what everyone here knows. If something breaks, you go right down there and fix it. You can have the best machines in the world, and act like a jerk, and they’ll throw you out. Act like you care.”
At Family Amusement Corporation in Los Angeles, Calif., Co-Owner Robert Peck, who has been involved in the business since 2005 and is the son of the family-run business’s founder, says the company has been around for 47 years, and he is one of the second-generation family members deeply engaged in operations. Along with the company’s route, they also operate an arcade that draws loyal customers from widely around the region.
To keep customers on their route satisfied, Peck said, “We pride ourselves on integrity and honesty. We do what we say and we say what we do,” he states without any hesitation. “We have service 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to basically 10 p.m. every day, even on holidays.” Peck’s company involves a wide variety of staff members. “We are compartmentalized, in that we have collectors who collect the money from our route; we have warehousemen who deliver the machines for us and work in the warehouse on the machines; and we have technicians at the ready if there are any problems to deal with.”
Training Family Amusement Corporation’s staff members is handled personally, one-on-one, by another employee. “For example, an experienced technician shows a newly hired technician the ropes. The new employee shadows them to learn everything they need to learn. That said, we’ve had many of the same employees with us for over 30 years.”
In short, keeping customers satisfied in the game and vending business is all about service and more service, as well as keeping machines clean and well-stocked. With operations both large and small, those are the key facets of a successful route.