Hiring great employees and training them can always present challenges. In the amusement industry, where vending and game machines may need service and customers require attention, amusement company owners look for the kinds of characteristics that make employees trustworthy and personable, even more so than technical acumen.
At Bullseye Amusement in Spokane, Wash., Co-Owner Shawn McKay said he seeks energy over experience. “The main characteristics I look for in any employee is being energetic and wanting to learn. That’s what I am really looking for. I want someone who is looking for something new, for a unique business that isn’t like what everyone else done.” He added that along with enthusiasm, a close second is some experience with technology. “I do believe that technical skills are also important, and today more and more people have experience with at least some technology. Certainly at schools they are getting more information about that kind of thing than we ever got. And some will have experience with taking apart cars and things like that.” He noted, “So for me, finding a good employee means finding that personality first and then tech skills, at least enough to be able to want to work on arcade games and use their hands. We’re not in a business that is trained already, however, you have to teach it.”
When it comes to teaching employees the ropes, McKay explained his technique. “I take them out with me on my route wherever I go. They see what I am doing, and I walk them through all aspects of the business, whether it’s juke boxes, pool tables, or dart boards. I can teach them how to fix and maintain anything. I show them what to do, I can walk them through the processes. Then, I send them out with my other more experienced guys, they know where the locations are and about each individual machine. After that point,” he said, “we finally give them the keys, and tell them this key fits this lock, and that key fits that lock, and explain the importance of keeping the keys safe and all that. Then we let them go out on service calls themselves.”
However, the training process doesn’t end there, McKay said. “Their first calls are easy stuff, like a pinball is stuck in a pinball machine, go take care of that, nothing complex. You have to help them raise up slowly into the more complex technology. That’s the same way I got into it when someone trained me years ago. That’s what works.”
At the Game Exchange which operates primarily in New Mexico, Owner Chi Babich has two separate businesses, in operating and distribution. “In operations, it’s just my wife and I, so I would have to say we picked each other through a rigorous process,” he laughed, explaining how he finds the best employees for his business. “In the other area, we’ve had the same employees in distribution for a long time, maybe 20-30 years, but when they want to get off the road, let’s say, it’s like a big family for us, so we will keep people working even if they do not want to do the route anymore. That’s when we pick up new staff for our routes.” When he hires, he said, “We look for people that are tech savvy, that’s very nice to have, but even more than that we look for people who are willing to learn and have a passion for what they do. It’s a fun business, so if you don’t like it, if you don’t want to have fun, you shouldn’t be in it.” Overall, he stressed, “skills can be taught but personality cannot be taught. That’s really the most important thing.”
Babich added, “The thing is, even if you are a technician, you are also a customer service agent, so you have to have that kind of personability and not scare people away. You are going to be bugged when you’re out and about in public, so be nice about it.” To train staff members, Babich related that the process all starts with taking them out on the road. “Even if you are doing back- office accounting, we will put you out on the street for a couple of weeks. We want you to experience what it’s like out in the field. We find that if they spend those couple of weeks out there physically seeing what the technician needs and does, it’s very valuable when they return to the office.” Connecting the staff in that way makes Babich’s business run as smoothly as possible, he added.
Jim Hall, owner of Action Vending & Amusements in Tucson, Ariz., hasn’t been hiring recently due to the pandemic slow-downs and shutdowns. But when he does hire, he relies on recommendations to find staff, primarily for security reasons. “But even then,” he asserted, “you have to be careful. You have to know you can trust your staff members. My first choice for hiring in a business like this is to look for honesty. That comes above anything else since our income is all in cash. You need to find someone with a real moral compass.” Hall once had a bad experience with a recommended new hire who took a key and stole from one location. “You have to be extra cautious; I changed all the locks when I let him go. Those are just the unusual aspects of this business. It affects people differently than in any other business. You are making an hourly wage, you come in and open a machine and see $200-$300 dollars in there, you have to have that moral compass operating.”
Like other amusement company owners, Hall relies on tried and true on-the-job training techniques. “We usually send new hires out with someone more experienced. Collecting the money doesn’t take a lot of education, but the technical repairs do, and there are some repairs like working on a TV in the older games, some have as many as 2,000 bolts on them, you can’t let inexperienced people get near them.” He said that “Some people will go farther than others with learning technical skills. You just let them go as far as they can. None of this is something you learn in a trade school; you really have to be taught on the job.”
Steve Lyons, co-owner of Jefferson County Amusement in Madison, Ind., agreed. “It’s mostly about teaching with one-on-one instruction. We’re small to begin with, and we’ve pared things down even more now due the pandemic, but we have had six employees in the past, and that’s how you train.” To find staff initially, he relies on word of mouth, and usually starts new staff members part time. “If it works out, then we move them into the business full time.” Like Babich and Hall, personality and honesty are his top two requirements when it comes to finding and hiring a great employee. “It’s just the nature of our business that you have to trust a lot and you have to put a lot of responsibility onto the employees. We can teach the rest. Finding employees that are personable and honest, that is always the most important thing in this business.”
So, when it comes to the best employees for the job, when it comes to the amusement business, it starts with an interview but by necessity also includes personal training, and a strong look at personality as well as technical aptitude.