Finding the best staff, hiring, and motivating them can be a challenge in any industry. But when it comes to coin-operated vending, the staffing experience can be difficult or it can be comfortably handled entirely by family members or long-term employees.
At Gator Coin in Jacksonville, Fla., Owner Jonathan Fanning said hiring the best staff is “getting harder and harder. There are not as many technicians in our field anymore.” He said the reason for this may very well be driven by product obsolescence. “The electronics industry is not made to be fixed or repaired any more. It’s meant to be disposable.” That aside, when he is looking to hire, Fanning relies primarily on word of mouth and referrals from other employees already on staff. “Most new hires are somehow connected to us; plus, we have some family who works here. All of our staff members were in the coin-operated industry before in some shape, and were either pointed out to us or personally recommended.”
To motivate his staff to do their best, Fanning focuses on a good work environment. “I try to have a fun workplace. We’re not so uptight, we are laid back, and it’s easy to communicate with each other. That’s a lot of motivation for some people,” he said.
Fanning’s route is expanding throughout the nine Florida counties he services. “It’s just part of growing to expand, no particular thing behind it. We’ve been around since 1946, we are a long-term operator, and it’s just natural growth in our market.”
In Valley Center, Calif., at Palomar Amusements, Owner Zach Thicksten related that “This is a personal relationship business. Most of my family is a part of this business as staff. We’re fairly small; my dad does all the repairs. We do have a couple of contractors we bring in for wiring and things like that, but I don’t really have to go out and hunt for employees. There are only a few hundred games out there, it’s not necessary for us to have a huge staff to run them,” he reports. “As to the contractors I use, I generally rely on referrals from other people in this business.”
In terms of motivation, he joked that it’s simple to motivate the family. “We want to keep the business strong because we want to make the mortgage payment, or be able to do something fun. It’s pretty obvious motivation in a family business.”
Thicksten’s route leads from the Southern border of California and Mexico up to Riverside and San Diego. “We are expanding as fast as we can. That’s due in part because we started with a couple of clients that have been slowly expanding their chains. We got lucky in that regard. One of our clients opened a new place last year and plans another in six to nine months; both have full arcade games in them. We’re following our clients’ successes as they expand.”
William White, operations manager for New Vemco Music Company in Fayetteville, N.C., said hiring the best staff involves referrals as well as running advertisements. “We like referrals better, because we get someone that we know, or someone else knows. We have a variety of incentives for our staff, depending on the department, whether it’s a route worker, a technician, or someone working in sales. We offer bonuses and things like that.” However, he added, “I think part of the motivation for our staff is that we always train them by sending them out with a senior employee. We have no official training program, it’s on-the-job training, and working together like that helps to motivate new staff members.”
White described the company’s route as running from the lower part of Virginia and North Carolina through Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida. “We’re always looking for new opportunities, and I would say the business is always increasing and growing because of that. Our client base is also expanding due to the type of equipment we run. There is an old saying, ‘if you don’t grow, you die on the vine.’” With that in mind, he added, “We are always growing and looking for new locales to put our equipment in. We do primarily juke boxes, but we also are heavily into merchandisers with cranes, and we do well with pool tables.” He continued, “We have a lot of variety to meet the needs for bars, taverns, skating rinks, bowling centers; and we have a fairly good-sized ATM route that we incorporate with our game business as well,” he said.
At Amusement Unlimited in Eugene, Ore., President and Owner Jerry Johnston said, “To find the best staff, we rely on referrals. We are small, with only around 10 employees, and many of our techs stay with us for a long time, so I don’t have to look for them too often.” His motivation techniques include the monetary – “I’ve just finished okaying our year-end bonuses,” he explained, and education and travel. “We do take advantage of schools and classes put on by various manufacturers and distributors, and we always try to assist our employees with that. We also take some staff to trade shows and other locations.”
Like White at New Vemco, Johnston said, “We are always trying to expand our route and look for new opportunities. We run throughout Oregon, specifically the Western part of the state, up and down Interstate 5. We’re always looking to improve with new and different types of machines in the locations we already operate in. A lot of the work we do in expansion is with locations we already have.”
In Ukiah, Calif., Mike Nickel, owner of Northstate Amusement, said to hire the best staff members; he finds “people who have some mechanical ability. Once you’ve found them, then you have to train them. It’s such a technical business, that’s how you have to do it. We find staff through referrals, primarily.” Having trained and motivated hundreds of employees over the years, he said the best incentives are “financial bonuses for getting the job done right at the right time.”
Nickel said his route is currently expanding. “I run mostly in Northwest California, Sacramento through Sonoma, into Fort Bragg and Ukiah,” he reported. “I just adopted mini-golf into my operations, which is a major expansion for me.”
Summing up, most coin operators hire based on referrals when they need to staff-up; motivating employees ranges from a good work atmosphere to monetary compensation; and routes seem to be expanding overall, from either new business ventures or an expanded presence with current clients or locations.