RETAIL ENTERTAINMENT: SKILL CRANES MAKE A COMEBACK

LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- A new generation of an old form of retail entertainment is gaining ground in supermarkets.The number of skill cranes -- the box-like machines where players manipulate a claw or other device to try and grab prizes -- is expected to increase between 15% and 19% in supermarket lobbies this year, according to Craig Held, executive vice president, sales and marketing, ACMI Sugarloaf/Folz

LOUISVILLE, Colo. -- A new generation of an old form of retail entertainment is gaining ground in supermarkets.

The number of skill cranes -- the box-like machines where players manipulate a claw or other device to try and grab prizes -- is expected to increase between 15% and 19% in supermarket lobbies this year, according to Craig Held, executive vice president, sales and marketing, ACMI Sugarloaf/Folz here.

Among the retailers with the latest technology machines are Wal-Mart, H-E-B, Safeway, Fiesta, Price Chopper, Albertsons and Tidyman's. Many of these retailers are expanding with ACMI Sugarloaf's machines, Held said.

"The skill crane is really the sweet spot of amusement vending because it generates the most profits for the retailer," Held said. A store can make $2,500 to $3,500 a year in profit from a crane, paid by the company based on a percentage of sales. "They let us place them, and then all they do is cash checks."

Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., has been doing business with the company for about five years, before it acquired two other companies, said Mona Golub, spokeswoman. "Their presence has increased, and that's had an effect on us. It's allowed them to broaden their reach, and help us to get cranes into more of our stores," she said.

The skill cranes "offer entertainment to people of all ages in a family-friendly setting of a supermarket," she said. That's why Price Chopper is increasing its number of the devices by placing one in most new stores it opens, Golub said. The retailer opens seven to 10 new stores a year, she added.

"The reason that the number of cranes has increased over the last year, and the reason that we are adding a crane to most new stores that we open is reflective of our satisfaction with the program and what it offers our customers," she said.

"If people continue to enjoy them, we will continue to make the use of them available in our stores," Golub said.

The skill cranes offer "some of the best profit per square foot in the store," said Jerry Streeter, vice president, property and facilities, Tidyman's, Spokane, Wash.

Adults as well as children enjoy the machines, he said. "It's kind of funny to watch. There are usually a lot of adults playing the machines, which is different from my expectations." Tidyman's has units offering plush and jewelry prizes, "but plush is the gun," he said.

"I think there is always room for that type of entertainment in the store. It has ended up being another nice revenue source, and we've got some people who really enjoy it. It's a nice way to capture a little bit of income for that small square footage," Streeter said.