Prizes are a large part of the appeal in playing arcade games of all kinds. For this article, amusement owners and staff described their most popular prizes, and their tips to selecting them and staying on top of current trends.
Chi Babich, owner of Game Exchange of Colorado, located in the Denver area, said his most popular prizes are plush items and Spidey balls. “We use prizes that can be won in great quantities,” he explained. “We have always used the terms ‘winners make players,’ if you see someone pulling something out of the crane, you’ll be more likely to put money in yourself. If you put in prizes that are too expensive and you have few winners, those games don’t do as well. What we do is put in nice items, because parents will evaluate the item, but an item that is not too expensive. And then we make it easy to win, as well. You do those things, and then a crane will do well.”
Among his top tips to select popular prizes is attending close-out shows. “We buy a lot of close-out plush. We look for nice quality at a good price. And we talk to people and ask what has buzz around the country. This is a small industry, but it’s pretty close-knit. As long as we’re not in the same territory, we share with each other, and we spread the word as to what is hot.” Babich keeps on top of current trends by going to the store to see what items are being stocked. “I go to Target, and look for similar types of licensed stuff, and see what they are stocking up on. I also stay ahead of the holidays, and put holiday items in four to six weeks before a holiday. Then I pull it right after the holiday week. The worst thing you can do is have Christmas items in a crane on January 5th.”
His overall advice: “Keep it fresh, keep it full, and keep the eye balls staring out – the toy looks much more desirable if the eyes of the plush animal are looking at you.”
At Knox Amusements, located in Rochester, N.Y., Owner Brian Brotsch said, “My most popular items are gift cards. iTunes, Amazon, and any local places to eat – those types of cards do really well.” He added, “What drew me to gift cards was that they give us a lot of variety. You go in different places and you can cater to the different clientele in each area. Downtown, I might put an Uber card in; out in the country I might put something that’s a little different in. It allows me to be very versatile.” Brotsch keeps on top of current trends in the same way that Babich at Game of Exchange of Colorado does – by visiting stores and seeing what cards are being stocked and what is selling. “I also have a couple of kids that I use as a gauge – my own kids that is,” he said.
At D & S Vending in Rapid City, S.D., Manager Nathan Ryks said knobby balls are his most popular prizes. Their price point and fun factor make them a hit. “We select prizes and stay on top of current trends in large part because of the trade show for our industry. At [the] AMOA [trade show] is where we get our ideas and bulk prizes. We got back a few weeks ago and have many new ideas.”
In Tucson, Ariz., at Action Vending & Amusements, Owner Jim Hall said, “We have a range of popular prizes. The consolation prize, if you lose a game, is a 40 cent item, the kind of item that we buy in bulk. The major prizes are much higher value.” According to Hall “The way we run our games is 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3. If you put a dollar into a machine, 30% goes to the price of the prize, 30% goes to the venue, and 30% to me. An additional 10% is tax. It’s very strict.” He sticks to those percentages for a large but simple reason – because they work.
“Going with those percentages, we’re not fearful of doing anything wrong. Everyone gets the same amount – I get the same amount as the customer does. The bigger prizes we get from Amazon, or we do gift cards like three $10 gift cards from Walmart that we place inside a plastic bag so the winner would get them at the same time.” We do anything that is $30 to $50 as our main prizes, things like an Alexa or Echo, in that price range. If we’re a little over that’s okay with me.”
In order to win a prize of that value, Hall prices games at two plays for $1 or a single play for $1 depending on the game. “We don’t take coins anymore,” he noted. “And to encourage play, even if they lose, as I said, they usually get at least a little toy.”
His top tip to select popular prizes is reaching out to his employees or their children. “I’ll just ask them what is the most popular. I also can go on Amazon and there I can see the statistics that are on the screen as to what is popular and what isn’t. On our side of it, it’s more about being fair than anything else.” And sometimes, Hall goes above and beyond. “When I go into a restaurant, like a pizza restaurant for example, sometimes there’s a table with a family, and when I fill the crane with plush toys, I will ask if the parents are okay with the kids picking out a toy from a plastic bag of the toys that I have with me. Today, I have adults come up to me and say, ‘do you remember you gave me a toy 20 years ago?’” Hall is pleased by that. “It makes me feel a little old, but that’s the effect, that’s how you make customers happy. Maybe I gave away $2, $3, $5 dollars worth of toys, but to have several adults come up to me and tell me that memory – it’s very rewarding. I think we are doing what the state wants us to do in a very fair manner with prizes, and it makes people happy.”
Although Hall started his business 50 years ago, today he finds what items are currently trending both by going online and speaking to employees. “It was different when I started, we didn’t even have prize machines, just pin ball machines. Now, to tell you the truth, we do things that are more profitable outside of the amusement business, but that’s another story. In amusements, we keep people happy.”