Operator of the Year!

We are so excited for Club Lucky operator Mary Lavine of Bullseye Games in Madison, for receiving this prestigious award in our industry!  Way to go, Mare!!!

Read the full article from Play Meter Magazine…

Operator of the Year

by Bonnie Theard

There is an old saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

Play Meter’s Operator of the Year 2012 is one busy lady. Mary Lavine of Bullseye Games Inc. in Madison, Wis., is not only a Vice President (Class of 2014) in the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA), but she also Chaired AMOA’s Annual Council of Affiliated States Meeting in San Antonio this year and serves on the Board of Directors for the AMOA National Dart Association (NDA).

Mary is a graduate of the AMOA Notre Dame Management Program and a Past President of her state association, the Wisconsin Amusement and Music Operators Association (WAMO).

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Mary was not raised in a coin-op family business. She chose the amusement industry as her life’s career. As she says, “This is not a job; it’s my life.”

When asked about the choice to enter the coin-op arena, she replied, “How could you not like providing entertainment and fun?”

Mary is smart and creative and values relationships on every level in the industry, saying, “Relationships are what builds our business.”

Mary started 30 years ago with 13 darts boards and built her company into a local powerhouse of pool and dart leagues and tournaments. While in college, she worked for a vending company where she counted quarters and ran shuffleboard leagues.

“I wanted to do something on my own,” said Mary, “and bring darts into Madison. If you bought 12 dart boards you got the 13th one for free.”

Mary went into locations to make cold calls. “If you have something you can promote, and show the bar that you can bring people in on a Tuesday night, they are usually willing to see what you’ve got,” said Mary.

From the very start Mary understood the power of promotions. She said, “I think back over the years and all the pieces of equipment we put into bars. If you build promotions the revenue will go up. You have to work it to keep it going.”

“I don’t understand the 40-hour week,” said Mary. “This is not a nine to five job, five days a week. My success is based on my commitment. This is a people business.

“My route managers do collections; they are key people and have to get along with everyone. It takes a certain kind of person because we deal with non-traditional business people. We have to be able to wear different hats and interact with all of them.”

She added, “In today’s world our customers are so important. Good relationships build our business. Anyone can put machines in a bar. Our focus is to not only bring people into the bar, but also to develop them and show the locations how to make more money. We show them our value and build partnerships.

“When times get tough you have to educate your locations even more. Our job is to provide entertainment. We also build trust so they feel confident that we are working with them. We’re eating out of the same cash box. I can bring people in and provide the fun; the location has to do its share to keep them there as well. It’s a joint effort.”

Mary looks at her business as a triangle of operator, location, and league player. “All of us are such necessary parts of the revenue stream,” said Mary. “It’s the only business where I have not only my customer but also their customers. We have to incorporate all of them in order to be successful.”

Mary has seen changes in the dynamics of the operator/location relationship: “We need to be consultants to our bar partners. We are experts at what we do and we have to convey that to them, that we know what’s best in terms of entertainment options. I tell them that Bullseye is their one-stop shop for entertainment.”

One of her favorite TV programs is “Bar Rescue” with Jon Taffer. “I watch it to be a better bar consultant. He explains that you should never give away free pool.”

Bullseye Inc. has expanded into additional services for customers and built another revenue stream.

“We’ve added more services to make us more relevant,” said Mary. “We’ve always installed jukeboxes and sound systems but now we integrate that into other areas. As long as we are pulling lines for sound, why not do video? We are commercial Direct TV installers and we install cameras for security.

“My theory is that we are always their first call to fix almost anything in the bar. They know we respond quickly. If they want us to fix it, we might as well build it.”

She added, “We all want to do business with people we like. When you have a relationship and build rapport, the location would rather do business with you than with a stranger. With our company, you are always going to get the same people and locations have confidence in that. We always go the extra mile because we have a vested interest in the success of our locations and they know it.”

Mary is always looking for alternative sources of revenue, taking her product base into non-traditional locations; for example, providing alternative audio and video options to funeral homes.

Mary met the challenges presented by a smoking ban in Madison several years before a ban went statewide. “The smoking ban caused a change in the direction of my bar owners,” she said. “Many decided to offer more food and would ask me to take out a pool table so they could put in more four-tops (tables). If you have a good league program you can combat that by convincing them of the pool table’s value.”

The next challenge was the economy. Mary said, “When you have a tough economy the natural reaction is not to spend. But that’s when it’s more important than ever to stay in the forefront. We have to work harder, reinvent ourselves, embrace new technologies, and bring new equipment to the street. New technology creates new excitement and new dollars.

“We have to give people a reason to come out to the bars. For example, teach the bar staff how to play the jukebox from their cell phone and pretty soon you have a bartender telling patrons, ‘Did you see our new jukebox? Watch this; I can play if from my phone!’”

Bullseye is located in a college town with young, savvy patrons, an age group that is prefect for new technology. “When TouchTunes gave us the ability to use the mobile app, they took to it right away,” said Mary.

She said the day is coming when mobile and credit card revenue will amount to more than cash revenue. “The coin mech was the safety net when bill acceptors were installed. Now the bill acceptor is the safety net.”

“Darts are hot now, due to new technology,” commented Mary. “Being able to do remote play against someone in another location is a great feature. When you push remote play there may be local players or those in other states waiting for a game. That creates excitement.

“We’re getting ready to gear up for remote leagues. You can get a league going nationwide without having to fill six places in your own town. The technology is about to explode.”

The WAMO State Pool Championship this spring drew 1,500 players who were willing to play almost around the clock. “Players are out there,” said Mary. “They need to be recruited. A lot of areas are totally underdeveloped on league play.

“To me, leagues are the lifeline of my business. My league players are like ambassadors for Bullseye. They wear Bullseye shirts and jackets. If they know someone is opening a bar they let me know. It’s so powerful.”

According to Mary, social media has been a boon for pool and darts. “Groups talk about upcoming events and everyone knows what’s going on. People will drive to a tournament they would never have known about before social media.”

Mary has embraced social media in a big way, using it as a promotional tool. “Cell phones are the most relevant item today,” she said. “We are all so connected.” She contacts players via email, text messages, and Facebook. “It’s important to grow your leagues and promotions by reaching out to new people,” she said.

Mary also has a retail store that serves more than one purpose. Dart and pool players always need supplies. The huge showroom is full of new and used equipment. It’s one avenue for Bullseye to sell used product from the route.

“I love the store; it’s my hobby,” said Mary, “People come in on the weekend. I love dealing with people. I ask everyone who comes in to buy an item if they play in leagues. It’s shocking how many say no. You just have to give them the opportunity.

“We personally invite them to come to a league night and springboard growth from there. No matter where you go there is someone who likes to play darts or pool and are looking for something to do. And leagues are a great way to meet people.”

Mary has been on the AMOA Board of Directors for six years and says it is like a family: “I can reach out to Jack Kelleher (Executive Vice President) and the staff at any time. They make you feel like you are part of the team. There are so many good people in the AMOA.”

She has been attending board meetings for WAMO for more than 13 years. This is the first year she is not part of the board in some capacity. Mary said that Maxine O’Brien (Executive Director of WAMO) has also become part of her family.

Maxine commented, “Mary has held every office on the WAMO Board of Directors. She has served on multiple committees and can be depended upon no matter the size of the task. WAMO members and staff congratulate Mary on this esteemed award.”

Mary speaks eloquently about the AMOA Notre Dame Management Program: “We all say our class was by far the best, unrivaled. I had so many smart, powerful, successful operators from all over the country in that room that I was in awe. My class was a who’s who of the cool people—crazy good. I got to know them and build friendships. We call each other for information and see each other every six months.”

A fact the industry is facing is that there isn’t much in terms of video games that people can’t play on their iPad or at home.

“If you want to add pizzazz, it has to be done with a big screen,” said Mary. “It takes a lot to make video work. You need the wow factor. We are putting in 60-inch screens in some locations. We’ve also added self-redemption and it’s opened up a lot of new locations.”

Mary said she takes pride in putting fun items in the machines, such as Coach brand handbags and iPad minis. “You have to keep mixing it up,” said Mary. “You have to make it look good to entice people to play.

“When cranes became popular we were told to treat them like retail stores, to carefully place merchandise. That applies to self-redemption. You have to have desirable, quality prizes.”

Mary is a firm believer in the value of state tournaments: “I view our state tournaments as a reward for my players who put quarters in my machines. I work at the event, which is my way of giving back to them.

“Operators who are not involved in their state tournament or don’t have a presence there are missing out. It builds your relationships with the players in your local taverns.”

She added, “Locations are our customers, but players are our customers too. Being at events, asking how they are shooting, it’s that personal touch that shows you care and acknowledge them. They are the ones putting quarters in our machines.”

“The personal touch is the most important thing,” said Mary. “When someone asks about a warranty on a game, I say, ‘You are buying me. It’s not just a name on the company; it’s me. If you have a problem we are going to fix it. That’s what we do.’

“If you and your staff take pride in your locations you are light years ahead of everyone else that people deal with. The personal touch can get lost because we don’t interact directly with people as much anymore.”

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