DENVER ─ Brian Carasik, best known in the industry as a sales rep for Kiddie Rides USA, has gone where few manufacturers have dared to venture 'quot; he's become an operator. While this fact alone would be newsworthy, the manner in which he has done so makes it doubly so. Not content to operate equipment at someone else's locations, he is instead pioneering a new concept by establishing a store dedicated to bulk machines and kiddie rides.
With the opening of The Gumball Super Fun Zone in Denver's Buckingham Mall, Carasik has managed to redefine both bulk vending and family entertainment centers. The mall location, which measures approximately 1,000 sq.ft., does not feature redemption games but rather, bulk venders, kiddie rides, and only a smattering of video games. "Right now we have about 25 Tomy Yujin capsule machines with four heads each, 15 'Beaver Towers,' 15 miscellaneous capsule heads and an 18-head sticker machine," said Carasik. He believes that the distinctive look of TYC's machines help move licensed merchandise at the $1 price point because they look nothing like traditionally styled machines, which consumers still expect to sell more inexpensive, spare-change type items.
Added to this impressive display of bulk is a wide selection of kiddie rides located on a center island. Among the rides included is the three-horse carousel from Carousel International, a "Sandy Pig" from United Steel, Valley's "Twin Pony" and Jolly Roger's "Mighty Mouse" and "Pink Panther."
Rounding out the coin-op offerings are three cranes from A.G.E., two of which offer "Beanie Babies" while the third is a "Win Every Time" candy crane. There are also eight video games, all of which are "kid friendly," arranged back-to-back in the middle of the store. "I have one that I call a showpiece video game; it's a prototype that Midway made 10 years ago called 'Cruisin' USA' with a full car," Carasik proudly noted. "All the video games are family friendly and non-violent. We don't have any shooters. We really didn't design the store as an arcade environment where kids hang out." Instead, he said, "Moms and their kids will come in and play for five or 10 minutes and leave."
In this respect, the quick customer turnover resembles a large rack of bulk vending machines at a street location more than the typical arcade. "A lot of malls today are shying away from arcades," he explained. "So originally I didn't put any video games in at all until the mall got acclimated to the concept. Then I asked permission to bring in family-friendly videos, nothing that would be considered violent or offensive."
A key aspect of Carasik's strategy is the heavy use of branded items. For instance, the lollipop vender from Creative Products Co. features the well-known Tootsie Roll brand of lollipops, while the TYC venders offer a full selection of that company's line of licensed figurines. "The branded items that I've selected are respected names, with high recognition value," he noted. "We also have 'Dubble Bubble' gum in our machines, and even our sign has the 'Dubble Bubble' logo on it."
Also unique about the location is that it was designed to require no full time personnel. Change makers provide needed coinage, and Carasik himself makes service calls every other day.
The location has been a success in its first weeks of operation, Carasik reported, and is attracting mothers and children along with a healthy cross section of the mall's entire customer base. "At first I assumed the age of my typical customer was younger than in an arcade," he said. "But I'm learning that my demographic is higher than the typical arcade. The normal arcade in a mall won't have young kids and adults, but I have younger kids, adults and also some teenagers who come in and 'shop' for capsuled items."
"Naturally, traffic is all based on the mall," he continued, "but probably 60% of sales are for adults, primarily parents shopping with their children. There is such a wide variety [of product]; it caters to every age group. There are hundreds of varieties of capsules."
Carasik's goal was to re-energize the bulk vending industry with something new and family friendly, and by all accounts he is succeeding. He has already been approached by another mall that liked his concept so much, it has inquired about having him set up a Gumball Super Fun Zone in its shopping center.