As reported by RePlay (Smart Industries has September Cover & Full Story)
“40-Year-Old Leading Crane Maker Continues to Adapt & Innovate
With chart-topping cranes like Ticket Time and The Giant, plus new self-merchandisers Magic Coin and Mega Prize, Iowa-based Smart Industries always aims to be ahead of the industry curve.
Company president Jeff Smart says new machines coming up later this year (possibly in time for IAAPA) are “innovative ideas” that are “going to change the crane industry entirely.”
“That’s always been on the agenda, Smart said. His father, Gordon Smart, who founded the business, ingrained that into him. “It’s all about changing and adapting with the times. He was always about that.”
Gordon first got into the industry with his wife, Lavonne, back in the late 1960s. The pair met when Gordon was a barber and Lavonne was a beautician. They always had an entrepreneurial spirit, Jeff said, and had early endeavors like real estate and selling coloring books at the Iowa State Fair. The latter ended up drawing his interest in handwriting analysis machines, which he would go on to start building and selling by the early 1970s.
“I’d be working with him at 7- or 8-years-old building trailers,” Jeff said. The machines would be hauled to county fairs all year round. At the peak of that business, there were about 10 agents traveling around the country doing those fairs with the Smarts. The next step that would bring the family closer to the amusement business was manufacturing foosball tables, which also began in the early ’70s.
During that period, Gordon and Jeff, who was around 16 at the time, discovered Central Distributing and met with Lou Singer, who supplied the pair a semi-truckload of machines.
“We went to the first fair we could with our arcade games,” Smart said. “That was our introduction to the coin-op industry.”
Smart recalled a change at the 1985 Iowa State Fair that would reroute the business for long-term success: “Gordon got a call from one of his friends about a coin-op game sold by Betson called Big Choice Crane, a 3-player crane. It was making all kinds of money and we hadn’t even known about it. We got one of those machines and put it in our arcade. That machine did 90 percent of our revenue that day at the Iowa State Fair.”
That was in August that year, and Jeff went on to finish out state fairs through October, he said. The success of that game prompted Gordon to manufacture his own crane, which he began to do that winter. That crane was
Bear Claw was followed up by the revolutionary Clean Sweep crane in 1987. Jim Dupree, now Smart’s vice president, said it was the first joystick to be used on a crane, an idea Gordon Smart originated that’s now the industry standard.
They continue that streak of innovation today with machines like the popular cranes Ticket Time and The Giant, and self-merchandisers Magic Coin and Mega Prize.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” Dupree said. “We’ve been in the top of the equipment polls with our products and have had great success with our ticket cranes.” He mentioned worldwide patents on Ticket Time and other concepts are “very important in today’s market,” and has helped the company thrive.
“We were able to adapt the crane mechanism and turn it into a massive success as a redemption product,” Dupree said about the 2016 release of Ticket Time. “We made it mainstream, and now it’s an industry standard.” That continued with the follow-up success had by The Giant and The Giant Taj Mahal. Ticket Ring has a similar story… “That today is the most successful ROI on any game ever,” he claimed. The newest Smart product, Mega Prize, had its public debut at Amusement Expo this spring. It can hold massive 40” toys.
The latest technical innovation was the Ticket Time RX system, which features an automatic reload. That means no more manually reloading ticket rolls for operators. (A video and more details are available at www.smartind.com/tickettime-rx.html.)
What this could mean?
I was very fortunate to have worked with Gordon Smart at the time that he started Smart Industries and helped him refine several of his early games. In fact, I randomly met Jeff when we were both taking a shuttle bus to IAAPA and have been good friends ever since.
Smart currently has some of the top-earning games in the industry including Ticket Ring Jumbo 45” the #1 Ranked Overall Game on the Planet. I will certainly be visiting the Smart Booth at IAAPA and going though all of their new games and new innovations. And of course, congratulations to Smart on 40 Years in business!!