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Posted On: 11/16/2012

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TAGS: video games, amusement operator, jukebox, videogame arcade, video game trend, small business, vending, vending machine, coin machine, coin-op news, vending operating, Marcus Webb, Vending Times editorial, DNA Conference, Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Network Association, IAAPA Attractions Expo

Let me tell you a true story about the birth of a successful new product in another industry. This story has lessons for every thoughtful businessperson -- not about how to create new products, but about how to see things in a different light. How to apply ideas from "outside your world" to your own world. And, how to profit by it.

The story is about a company that makes athletic shoes. They hired a couple of guys from (of all things) a medical devices company. After all, what on earth have medical devices got to do with running shoes? Stick around and find out...

The medical devices guys had previously worked on inflatable IV bags and inflatable splints. So when they joined the shoe company, they did what seemed natural. They thought about combining inflatable splint technology with athletic shoes.

Soon, the revolutionary new Reebok Pump was born. A $250,000 R&D investment led to an innovative new product that now generates $1 billion a year. Pretty good ROI!

How does this story apply to the music and games industry? For the average businessperson, who may be content to just keep doing the same thing every year, maybe it doesn't apply. But for those who want to be leaders, who want to stay ahead of the crowd and one jump ahead of their market, it just might.

Question: Where can an operator, distributor or manufacturer spend some time this fall getting exposed to new ideas? There is no AMOA Expo or Fun Expo to attend any longer. However, two fall gatherings rate some consideration even though they are not dedicated to the "traditional" industry.

The first of these events was the DNA Conference, focusing on digital out-of-home entertainment, which took place in Los Angeles in late October. The second event is the IAAPA "parks show," set for Orlando this month.

Few music and games operators attend either one. Perhaps that's understandable. Why should an operator want to spend precious time or money on events that don't directly and obviously relate to the immediate, day-to-day realities of running his business?

Will you learn anything about how to provide better service to taverns at the DNA show? Almost certainly not. Will the IAAPA show debut any coin-op equipment? Yes, some -- but that's far from the main thrust of this massive confab.  So why bother?

The answer is, if you're seriously looking for new ideas and intellectual stimulation that will pay off in surprising ways, the way to get them is by going outside of your usual circle and away from your usual stomping grounds.

The way to get the most out of an event like DNA or IAAPA is not to expect it to deliver the same benefits as Amusement Expo, but to look for and listen to things to which you might not normally pay attention.

The greatest value in events like these comes from meeting people you would not ordinarily meet, seeing things you would not ordinarily see, and above all, hearing ideas you would not normally hear.

So if you attend IAAPA, definitely swing through the coin-op music and games section ... but don't spend all your time there. Check out the seminars, and not just the ones on FECs. There is simply no telling what an operator might learn that would come in handy for his route, from exchanging notes with people who run waterparks, science museums, zoos, aquariums and theme parks.

The same goes for events like the DNA Conference. Sure, it will probably be years before bars and taverns start to amplify their jukes and pool tables with 3D holograms and giant networked screens. But your customers live in the world of social networking right now, including while they visit your bars and taverns.

Accordingly there could be few places better than DNA for an operator to get his head into the world and the mindset of how social networking intersects with out-of-home entertainment.

The value of attending an event like this is to anticipate the retail environment of tomorrow so you can start "mentally living in it" today, enabling you to position your business for tomorrow, rather than waiting to play catch-up after the next hi-tech revolution happens.

I'm not saying that an operator should attend DNA or IAAPA every year. But once every five years might not be a bad idea. If you believe in being proactive rather than reactive, going to new places and exposing your mind to fresh thinking is a huge part of the strategy.

And the DNA camp is taking its program to a new level. It has recently organized under the Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Network Association, which is attracting experts and companies developing social and networked out-of-home entertainment products for public venues. There could be some great opportunities here.