By Carimé Lane

Stocking your prize machines and redemption stores with toys your customers will want to play for takes some strategizing. Read on for advice on how to get the kids at your center excited to play for a chance to win.
Dave Sexton, director of FEC Development at Betson Enterprises, is involved in the layout and designing of game rooms. His company doesn’t sell prizes, but partners with redemption companies that do.
It’s best to focus on a particular demographic with each merchandiser, said Sexton. So, in any given game room, you should have a merchandiser for each of the demographics you want to reach – for instance, if you’re trying to reach females, older adults, and smaller children, you should have one (or more!) merchandiser for each demographic.
While Sexton would defer to a redemption company for their specific expertise on prize selection, he does say it’s important for a redemption company to be getting hot items to you in a timely fashion. You want to be able to hit your market while an item is still hot and trending –which could potentially be for a short period of time, Sexton said. So, if your redemption company isn’t staying on top of the trends, you may be missing out, he explained.

At left, Jerry Scaduto, with David Goldfarb, middle, and Evan Finkelstein, at Extreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At the attraction’s redemption store, candy, particularly Ooze Tubes and Fun Dips, are most popular, and jumbo scented squishies, in the shape of smores, as pictured, milkshakes, and so on, are the fast-moving items in the store.


PrimeTime Amusement’s CEO and Founder David Goldfarb said that, prior to the pandemic, movies drove many of the prize trends. “I think everyone’s in an unknown stage right now because behavior patterns have changed completely,” Goldfarb said. At this point, other sources, such as YouTube, social media influencers or eSports may be becoming more instrumental in driving trends, Goldfarb said.
At PrimeTime’s sister company, Fort Lauderdale-based Xtreme Action Park, Evan Finkelstein, redemption manager/mayor of the park, relies on experience to choose items from prize catalogs. Squeezy mesh balls, or prizes you can eat such as cotton candy, are very popular, he said.
Finkelstein said it’s important to know when to exchange old prize selections for new. For instance, his claw machine has been filled with giant unicorns for the past couple of years. Now, he thinks it’s time to switch out the unicorns for ticket rings – rings worth different numbers of points, which can be used to purchase prizes at the redemption store – and expects that they’ll be a big hit.
David Novstrup, general manager and co-owner of Allevity Entertainment in Aberdeen, S.D., said that the newest movies, gaming system releases and TV show trends are a few factors that go into which prize items they stock. Sometimes, just flipping through department store fliers can help Novstrup scope out trends. Other times, it takes trial and error, where “by tracking your payout and looking at your game floor report, you can quickly identify if something needs to be switched out,” Novstrup said.
They also choose items that are both affordable and high profit and appeal to their guests.
“In the market where we reside, it is very important to have prizes that appeal to all ages and we try to balance that the best we can,” Novstrup said.
Popular prizes at Allevity vary. In their redemption store, ooey-gooey-type prizes such as slime and squishy items are very high-performing along with action gear items like swords, plush nun chucks and other “ninja” themed items, Novstrup said. In cranes and merchandisers, high end plush has been very successful for them, Novstrup said. And in merchandisers, a mixture of high-end items (such as air pods and gaming systems) and items of high perceived value (Bluetooth speakers, VR headsets, and so on) produce a good return, Novstrup said.
To keep the prize selection fresh, Novstrup has consulted a couple of different redemption supply vendors and used their expertise and recommendations. When they opened in February 2020, they used Redemption Plus to give them “a great start.” Redemption Plus did their initial set up and layout – along with a refresh, including prize recommendations – of their redemption store.
Novstrup also consults with those close at hand. He and his wife have young children, and a staff with many teens and young adults.
“We use them as a resource and ask for their input on what they would choose to spend their points on; this gives us a glimpse of what is currently relevant with our customer base,” Novstrup said.
Cindy Hoffman, account manager at A&A Global Industries/Koko’s Confectionary and Novelty, indicated that your prize selection will depend on the demographic in your area, and the type of clientele you are trying to attract.
“You don’t want Paw Patrol products (which are geared towards young elementary school students) in a location that has primarily teenagers and 20 somethings,” Hoffman said.
After that, you need to look at what’s hot for their demographic. In other words, if you cater to, for instance, an older demographic, would they be more interested in plush or electronics? Brand name products are always crowd pleasers, Hoffman said. As well, you should also be looking at what you see on the market, in terms of things like commercials, YouTube and Netflix. For instance, they’ve been seeing an uptick in the amount of chess sets being purchased right now, due to the popularity of the Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit.
On the other hand, Hoffman said, slimy and squishy prizes never get old. Gross gag gifts are always in style, too.
“Kids love slime 20 years ago, and they still love slime,” Hoffman said.
To find out what’s hot in this category, you can browse the aisles at Walmart or Target. Or, the media may mention a product that would likely be backordered – like they did this year with Nerf guns.
Popular prizes vary depending on the demographic you’re buying for, Hoffman said. For plush, popular sellers available at A&A include DC Comic, Marvel, Nickelodeon, Mossy Oak (a cammo hunting brand), Paw Patrol and NFL-themed toys. Popular electronics include iPads, Xbox and Nintendo gaming consoles. Many operators purchase these at big box stores, Hoffman said.
At A&A, they specialize in lower level products in attractive, retail quality packaging which may not necessarily cost retail prices, Hoffman said. For example, they sell unique items with “cool appeal” for under $20 or $30 you won’t see everywhere. These types of products include avocado phone chargers and charging stations in the shape of a duck. They also carry name brand items like Nerf walkie talkies and speakers resembling Rubik’s cubes.
“You want [your prizes] to be unique – you want it to be something they can’t just go to the local Best Buy, Target or Walmart and pick right off the shelf,” Hoffman said.
You also have to keep in mind the type of merchandiser you’re working with – that will impact the price point, the packaging and the size of the items you can use.
Theming a crane always works very well, said Hoffman – for instance, you could include one type of electronic in 10 different colors, or one type of plush. Often, it’s all about the merchandising and packaging, Hoffman said. For example, sales of A&A’s 6-inch glitter duck are on fire. As with all of their products, they supply a matching poster that operators can use as a backdrop for their display of glitter ducks.
“It does really, really well – it’s generic, but eye-catching,” Hoffman said.