One of the most revealing questions you can ask any operator is,"What's the most important thing that you have done lately to improve your business?" Over the years, this question has yielded some fascinating answers. Here are just a few of the better ones we've heard.
"I started a league." This is one of the most effective things that a street operator can do to improve business. The late great Glenn Remick, president of the American Darters Association, described an infallible technique for launching leagues."You get a clipboard and a sign-up sheet and you go to the target location one evening," he said."You walk up to a guy and say, ‘There are some girls in this bar who want to play darts with you. Do you want to play?' Every guy will say, ‘Yes, who are the girls?' Your answer is, ‘I don't know but I'm going to find them.' You write the guy's name down, then get a couple of more fellows' names the same way. Next, walk up to a group of girls and say: ‘A whole bunch of guys in this bar who want to play darts with you girls. Are you interested?' Before you know it, you've started a brand new league."
By the way, leagues should also be of interest to many FECs. Even fun centers that don't serve adult beverages could boost repeat attendance by setting up leagues specifically geared for teens and children. Even more, this could be done in partnership with a local street operator. This idea would work for darts, air hockey and even pool. When the kids finish their league competition, they can play the other games in the room. And when they turn 18, they can transition smoothly into the same street operator's tavern-based leagues.
"I got a new route management software program and really started to track key data more closely." The best operators have a very definite dollar figure in mind that each machine must earn (per week, month and year), based on the cost of initial investment and other factors. They track this number against overhead and depreciation. That's how they know when it's time to rotate or sell, or increase or decrease the number of machines in the location.
"I began upgrading all my pool tables to electronic models." The operator who said this emphasized that the key word in that sentence was"began." He upgraded a few tables each quarter, based on a two-year plan to gradually convert his entire route. The use of electronic pool brings many benefits, but two of the advantages mentioned by most operators are that it allows flexible pricing and it keeps the keys out of the location's hands. That's because the unit can be programmed to allow free play when needed, automatically … and it can be relied upon to convert back to paid play instantly, the moment that the agreed-upon free play period is over.
"I got more active in my state association." This statement is almost invariably followed by:"And it was amazing how much I learned about my own business from other operators in my state." Or:"And it was surprising what good guys some of my competitors are." Or:"And it was shocking how much I enjoyed getting to know my state representative and helping to make a difference in the way our industry gets treated by lawmakers." There simply is no better investment of an operator's time than joining a state association – unless it's joining a national association.
"I took a course in small business management." Or more accurately,"I enrolled in AMOA's Notre Dame Management Program." The graduates of this program, which involves a series of weekend visits to the University of Notre Dame's campus (South Bend, IN), swear by it. They say it gives them ideas and inspirations that improve their businesses for years, even decades. It also introduces them to other people in the industry who, as often as not, remain good friends for life.
Obviously, this list could be much longer. We could quote operators on getting location contracts, launching websites, improving commission splits, retraining employees, renegotiating insurance rates, and so on. The point is that this is a tough industry. Survivors know that a successful business is like a shark: it must either constantly move forward, or die. This is sometimes referred to, more elegantly, as"the philosophy of continuous improvement." But by whatever name, it should be a deliberate part of every operator's business strategy.