FT. LAUDERDALE, FL -- Diversity is the secret of success in this business, according to David Goldfarb, founder and president of PrimeTime Amusements, headquartered here. Goldfarb ought to know. Some 19 years after he entered the industry with six pieces in a single location, he now operates a business that spans three continents and is organized around four major revenue streams. PrimeTime diligently pursues sales, operations, consulting and rentals.
Operating lean and mean with fewer than 20 employees, the company maintains a street route comprising some 1,500 machines in southern and central Florida. These days, Goldfarb mainly concentrates his operation on 30 very large locations, and on expanding his consulting and sales businesses in Africa and Latin America.
Beyond diversification, Goldfarb said he has four more success secrets: operating in a thriving market; finding the right partners; speaking the customer's language; and building a great team.
A good example of finding the right partner might be working with McDonald's -- an associate that many operators would love to have. During the past three years, PrimeTime has been operating about 100 arcade games on the second floor of a McDonald's restaurant, located on famed International Drive in Orlando.
That in itself is an example of operating in a thriving market. Orlando draws more than 50 million visitors a year and "I-Drive" -- as it's known -- not only leads to six major theme parks, including Disney World and Universal Studios, but is also home to 16 additional attractions from shopping malls to branded entertainment museums.
It's not surprising, then, that the I-Drive store in which PrimeTime operates is the world's largest and most successful McDonald's, according to Goldfarb.
It is also the only McDonald's of its kind (i.e., with a full-scale arcade on the second floor). Considering the hard-to-replicate qualities of the locale, Goldfarb said he does not expect McDonald's Corp. to duplicate the restaurant-arcade concept elsewhere, nor to permit other franchisees to make the attempt.
"My understanding is that the franchise owner for this McDonald's was given unique permission for our second floor arcade based on International Drive's one-of-a-kind customer traffic pattern," Goldfarb told VT.
The opposite state of affairs holds true for the first-ever Johnny Rockets Fun & Games, a 20,000-sq.ft. food and entertainment venue in Sunrise, FL, in which PrimeTime is a partner. If the venue, which unites a restaurant and family entertainment center, proves to be successful, more could follow in the U.S. and internationally.
Johnny Rockets Fun & Games opens in September. The chain's corporate headquarters is excited about the restaurant-FEC model and the possibility of expanding it to more locations, Goldfarb reported.
Johnny Rockets' interest is easy to understand. The $3 million prototype venue includes a sports bar with a full liquor offering and 30 televisions, along with two party rooms, dedicated birthday party space, an expanded menu with pizza and adult foods, and a modern gameroom.
Johnny Rockets is another example of how PrimeTime seeks effective partnerships. The lead investor in Johnny Rockets Fun & Games is famed operator Ron Mogerman, who is best known as the cofounder of Grand Prix Race-O-Rama (Dania Beach, FL), once America's largest amusement game arcade. Mogerman eventually sold the facility to the Boomers chain, which rebranded it under its corporate name.
To launch the Johnny Rockets project, Mogerman took over the site of a former Gameworks facility, working with PrimeTime, whose role is to supply and operate games. "We realized we were not restaurateurs and looked for allies who were the food experts," Goldfarb said. He points out that the former Gameworks offered good games, but bad food. People would play games, but they would not stay to eat.
As a result, the pair recruited Johnny Rockets franchise owner Kyle Eldridge, who said the expanded restaurant and arcade will be his 12th location.
PHOTO: Photos above show fun and games at new Johnny Rockets in Sunrise, FL, in former Gameworks site in the Sawgrass Mills Mall.
Projects on this level are a logical extension for Goldfarb, who started small, but had big ideas -- along with the discipline and determination to see them through. He founded his company in 1992 when he was a college sophomore, installing three pool tables, a jukebox and two videogames in an Orlando submarine sandwich shop.
Goldfarb went on to major in marketing and accounting at the University of Central Florida. He simultaneously expanded that first, small location into a thriving street route.
In 1999, the operator landed the gameroom account at the Portofino Hotel, a Universal Studios property. Next came the Hard Rock Hotel's gameroom, followed by arcade installations in the Royal Pacific Resorts Hotel, a Loews property at Universal Studios.
PrimeTime then secured additional Orlando gameroom and arcade accounts in Universal Studios Theme Park itself under a standard Universal contract (which automatically rotates the account to a different operator every five years). Continuing to work with topflight partners, Goldfarb deployed entertainment operations in the Universal CityWalk (Nascar Café) and Islands of Adventure at Universal.
In 2006, Goldfarb and his partners launched a $5 million, 100,000-sq.ft. family entertainment center called Xtreme Indoor Karting, offering indoor go-karts, two arcades, a sports bar and three rooms dedicated to corporate meetings and team-building activities.
Fast-forward to 2011: PrimeTime is planning to upgrade the facility by building an adjacent 32-lane, 35,000-sq.ft. bowling center. (Earlier thoughts of rolling out additional Xtreme Indoor Karting stores in Chicago and Las Vegas are on hold amid a nationwide real estate slump.)
At some point, the U.S. market simply became too small for Goldfarb's ambitions. PrimeTime Amusements began offering a full arcade consultancy service to up-and-coming overseas markets. The company has found some takers.
One of PrimeTime's international projects is an FEC being built and designed in North Africa. When finished, the 15,000-sq.ft. location in a shopping mall will offer about 200 arcade machines, all supplied by PrimeTime Amusements' warehouse in south Florida.
Goldfarb said the consultancy projects are "turnkey," meaning PrimeTime provides everything from initial concept and renderings through detailed architectural and engineering plans. A gameroom layout, business strategy, equipment and training for onsite personnel round out the consultancy package.
"Give us four walls and we will map the whole thing out, engineer it and set it up from A to Z," Goldfarb said.
The FEC in North Africa is among five similar centers that PrimeTime is working on for the African continent. In each deal, the Florida company will design the facility, import the games, set up all the machines and teach the staff how to operate the FEC.
Before Africa, PrimeTime got its feet wet overseas by marketing its services and selling games in Latin America. By this time, Goldfarb said, his team has sold equipment and consulting packages to most countries south of the border.
Asked to explain this success, Goldfarb pointed to a classic business precept: location, location, location.
"If you are from Miami, it's pretty easy to meet Latin American business executives," he said modestly. "That's because Miami is where they all come for vacation. Those of us who work in south Florida are living in a multicultural communications zone. We have lots of interaction with the international business community. The Latin American amusement market has been growing rapidly for several years, but that was just the beginning. Now it is really ready to explode."
Pressed to expand on his ability to connect with the fast-growing Latin American market, Goldfarb restated that one of his key success strategies is speaking the customer's language -- literally.
"All of my American friends speak both English and Spanish, and so do I," he said. "So does most of our office team. That is a large part of the reason for our success. Half of our business is conducted in Spanish."
Goldfarb attributes his company's successes to the PrimeTime team's professionalism and contributions. Vice-president Rick Dee runs operations from Orlando. Chief financial officer Lainie Solomon supervises the company's financial transactions and expansion expanses. Office manager Valerie Melo keeps the phones, paperwork and people in order, while head technician Jason Wheeler and a hardworking tech crew do the same for the machines.
Goldfarb said that he spends half his time traveling, which is understandable given the geographically far-flung interests that PrimeTime now maintains. But the amusement entrepreneur asserts that he remains an old-fashioned street operator at heart.
"I started the company with my own two hands and built it from the ground up, learning all aspects of the business," he said. "And, I haven't forgotten a single detail of it. Even today if I have to fill in for a technician, move equipment or drive a forklift, I can and I do."
Goldfarb said the "unknown" component of his operation is a booming business in refurbished equipment, and this might surprise other equipment operators.
"I think most operators would be amazed by how big the overseas opportunity for refurbished equipment is," he said. "We market this equipment on the Internet, but also by word of mouth, through referrals and by earning repeat business with our clientele throughout South America. This part of our business is a sleeper ... but definitely a keeper."
PrimeTime itself may have once been a sleeper in the sense that it's a big success that few people know about. But having built a healthy and growing business in one of the world's great resort areas, and then having the vision and know to migrate that business into two more continents, PrimeTime's sleeper days might to be over.