Photo: Pictured here is a sampling of games UNIS is marketing in North America.
MARKHAM, ON, Canada -- Even if the name isn't familiar, chances are pretty good that most American operators possess some knowledge of UNIS amusement products. Until now, UNIS, derived from Universal Space, has been a quiet player in the coin-op field in the U.S.
Founded in 1993, UNIS has not only grown to become one of the amusement industry's premier contract manufacturers for some of the largest entities in the games business, it has also licensed a large number of its original games to American companies. As a manufacturer and developer of redemption games, kiddie rides, prize-dispensing machines and videogames, the firm now has distribution in more than 50 countries. And it operates 50 of its own family entertainment centers, called Unisland, dispersed throughout China.
The company has approximately 1,100 employees in its headquarters in Guangdong on Mainland China, and at branches in Hong Kong and Canada (Markham, Ontario). Guangdong is a province on the South China Sea coast. It's China's most populous province, and No. 1 in GDP ranking.
So it should come as no surprise that UNIS recently chose to expand its U.S. presence during last fall's IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, FL. "We brought in 17 machines to the show, ranging from kiddie rides, family redemption, redemption machines that have higher payouts, prize machines and video," said Steven Tan, UNIS's general manager based in Canada. "Right now, we are getting our feet wet. We have great interest in distribution and showing U.S. operators our products."
According to Tan, the trade show was the perfect venue since it draws coin-op professionals from all over the world. "This has become an international show, we have a lot of customers showing up," he said. "It's not just an American show anymore, and we are an international company."
He explained that while the U.S. is still an important market for the company, South America, Eastern Europe, India and Asia collectively represent a higher proportion of sales than the American market. But about 50% of the company's business is still in China.
"The U.S. is part of the equation in our global growth plan," he said. "It remains important, and we've gotten a very good reception from American operators. They can see the attention to detail we put into the machines. We follow very stringent controls -- what we call 'North American Standards.' There are maybe 20 or 25 quality or production points. This is a standard we're trying to bring to the table."
Added to this attention to physical detail is a keen awareness to the more creative aspects of the firm's games. Products for the North American market are designed in the company's Canadian office, which opened in 2000. "Working from Canada creates a North American perception, as opposed to using a designer from China who doesn't have the same perception," Tan told VT. "Even the colors you use can make a difference."
So where does the company see itself fitting into the American marketplace? At the moment, UNIS is actively seeking distribution deals in the U.S. The company is also looking for what it perceives as underserved demographics. One such demographic, Tan explained, is the younger age group. "We believe different manufacturers have different strengths," he said. "One of our strengths is our range of products. However, kids ages three to 10 are part of a group not many manufacturers are capturing. It's an important age group and we believe we could be a good alternative. We have a lot of games for that younger demographic."
PHOTO: Steven Tan, UNIS general manager, shows off Ducky Splash, a redemption game, during IAAPA show. The company arrived at the show with more than a dozen games; most of them, like Ducky Splash, are aimed at children
As with any new player in coin-op, the company's success remains to be seen. However, UNIS does enter the marketplace with a unique range of experience and expertise that includes FEC operations, manufacturing and familiarity with the American marketplace.