American Coin Merchandising, Inc. History
Boulder, Colorado 80301
Telephone: (303) 444-2559
Fax: (303) 443-2264
Sales: $97.7 million (1998)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: AMCN
NAIC: 45421 Vending Machine Operators; 421920 Toys Wholesaling
The company's business strategy is to differentiate itself from traditional skill-crane operators and to strengthen its position as a leading owner and operator of skill-crane machines in the United States by offering a selected mix of high quality products; maintaining readily identifiable, attractive, well-maintained "Shoppes" marked with the SugarLoaf logo in locations which have a reputation for quality and a high level of foot traffic; controlling product cost; closely monitoring the vend ratio or revenue per product dispensed; providing training and support services to retail accounts, franchisees and managers.
American Coin Merchandising, Inc., which does business as SugarLoaf Creations, Inc., is the only publicly traded business of its kind. Along with its franchisees, it owns and operates more than 12,600 coin-operated skill-crane machines, called "Shoppes," throughout the United States. These machines are marked with the SugarLoaf logo, named after a mountain west of Boulder, Colorado; they dispense stuffed animals, plush toys, watches, jewelry, and other items. The company's Shoppes are placed in major supermarkets, mass mechandisers, bowling centers, bingo halls, bars, restaurants, warehouse clubs, and other high-traffic locations, including AMF Bowling Centers, Bonanza Steak Houses, Brunswick Bowling Centers, Cub Foods, Denny's, Flying J Truckstop, Fred Meyer Stores, Kmart, Kroger, Ponderosa Steak House, Safeway/Vons, 76 Truckstop, Truckstops of America, and Wal-Mart. The company sells the products vended in the machines to its franchisees, from whom it collects two to five percent of the gross machine revenue. The stores where the shops are located also get roughly 25 percent payment on the gross. American Coin Merchandising also operates bulk vending equipment and kiddie rides.
Early Growth Through Franchising
American Coin Merchandising Inc. was formed in Colorado in July 1988 by a group of four businessmen, who among them owned Southwest Coin, Omaha Coin, Colorado Coin, and T.R. Baron & Associates. Under the leadership of Richard Jones and J. Gregory Theisen, the goal of the new company was to support and add to the license, sale, and setup agreements of its predecessor businesses. Shortly thereafter, American Coin began to combine the buying power of its affiliated businesses to purchase products and skill-crane machines at lower prices. By 1990 it was creating its own territories and, in 1994, it hired Jerome M. Lapin, cofounder in 1958 of International House of Pancakes, to be its chief executive officer. It was reincorporated in Delaware in 1995. When Lapin became chairman in 1995, he brought all the companies under one roof and took the company public, raising net proceeds of $10.1 million. To expand operations, the company subsequently purchased substantially all of the inventory, property, and equipment of its original affiliated entities for a purchase price of $9 million.
Skill-crane machines have been in operation since the 1920s in the United States, but the new company sought to invent something different and better: to offer an alternative way to sell retail products, to sell toys instead of time. It incorporated what it considered to be several improvements and refinements into its Shoppes, increasing the size of its machines to enhance their visibility and to display and vend more products; creating bright and distinctive signage to attract customer attention; improving the exterior and interior lighting of machines to focus customer attention on the products in the Shoppes. In addition, the company upgraded machine operating mechanisms to achieve consistency of play and reliability of performance.
The SugarLoaf Toy Shoppe, in operation since the company's inception, featured a play price of 50 cents and dispensed stuffed animals, plush toys, and other toys. In 1993 the company introduced the SugarLoaf Fun Shoppe, which featured a play price of 25 cents and dispensed small toys, novelties, and candy. The SugarLoaf Treasure Shoppe came along in 1994 and, for a play price of 50 cents, dispensed jewelry, watches, bolo ties, and belt buckles. Between 1994 and 1996 American Coin Merchandising increased the number of machines it owned from 168 to 3,800 and controlled another 3,200 machines operated through franchises. In 1994 total profit for the company was $1.1 million. During 1995 overall revenues totaled $25.7 million on the company's net income of $2.6 million. In that year, approximately six million stuffed toys were dispensed from SugarLoaf machines. The SugarLoaf Treasure Shoppe dispensed approximately 250,000 watches and 500,000 bracelets, necklaces, and other items.
As the defining force in its market--"We are the market," Jerry Lapin liked to boast of American Coin Merchandising--the company installed 856 new crane machines and opened seven new offices during the first six months of 1996. Revenues for the first half of 1996 increased 37.8 percent over the same period a year earlier; by the end of the year that number was up to 50 percent. In the summer of [final quarter of] 1996, the company gained its first major contract and established itself as Wal-Mart's principal skill-crane supplier, a move that brought another 700 Shoppes on board by November with more installations planned for 1997. This step was only a first in the direction of developing customer accounts in new markets, such as the chain restaurant industry. In 1997 American Coin Merchandising signed a three-year agreement with Safeway that made it the supermarket chain's domestic skill-crane operator and another three-year contract with AMF Bowling, Inc. to service approximately half of the latter's locations.
Buying Back the Franchises in the Mid-1990s
At about this point, the company changed its approach, instituting a strategy of buying back the remaining franchise offices around the country so that profits would stay within the company. American Coin Merchandising realized only about three cents on the dollar in the form of franchise royalties, whereas it made about a 29 cent profit per dollar for every machine it owned. The first buyback occurred in January 1996 with the $500,000 purchase of the Indiana-based operations and territory of Hoosier Coin Company, responsible for generating about $1.4 million in revenue in 1995. In July it added its Utah territory to its operations with the $938,000 purchase of SugarLoaf of Utah, which had 1995 revenue of $1.9 million. In September, for $1.65 million, it acquired SugarLoaf, Inc., which operated 202 machines in Louisiana and Oklahoma and parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Texas. American Coin Merchandising rounded out the year with the December purchase of Creative Coin of Arizona for $1.46 million, bringing its Arizona territory back to the fold.
American Coin Merchandising was now five times larger than its largest competitor, and its vending machine empire continued to grow by the quarter . With just 14 percent of the skill-crane market under its control, the possibilities for its future growth loomed large. By September 1997 the company had added another 2,000 machines to its roster and its share price had risen to a 52-week high of almost $18. It sold off another one million shares at $15 per share, increasing its outstanding shares to 18 percent, and used the money raised to repay debt, purchase additional skill-crane machines, and fund acquisitions of other companies. Business Week named American Coin Merchandising 54th in its list of Hot Growth Companies for 1997, based on its three-year results in sales growth, earnings, and return on invested capital. Forbes ranked American Coin Merchandising 13th in 1997 in its list of the 200 best small companies--companies with sales of at least $5 million but not more than $350 million--based upon its 44.7 percent five-year average return on investment and revenues of $48 million for its latest 12 months.
The company's acquisition trend continued into 1998 with the addition of the Texas-based operations of Tejas Toy Corporation and control of American Coin Merchandising's Texas territory for $2.23 million; R&T Marketing, Inc., with its 370 skill-crane machines in ACMI's northern California territory for $2.14 million; and NW Toys Co., Oregon Coin Company, and Suncoats Toys, Inc. for an aggregate purchase price of approximately $30 million. The latter three purchases brought the Washington, Oregon, and central Florida territories of American Coin Merchandising under company control and added another 1,300 skill-crane machines to its inventory. In a move to no longer limit itself to the skill-crane business, American Coin Merchandising also acquired McCathren Vending Corporation, a Colorado-based bulk vending business that operated close to 5,000 pieces of vending equipment in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The company had earlier bought Quality Amusement Corp. and Quality Entertainment in late 1997, part of a natural expansion, since those locations that housed SugarLoaf skill-crane machines often housed bulk vending machines and kiddie rides as well. The new direction came after Wal-Mart stores suggested that American Coin Merchandising put other kinds of machines in its stores. With the number of remaining franchisees down to 16, Jerry Lapin announced in the Rocky Mountain News that his company's growth strategy would not depend upon its ability to buy out its franchisees; it would go after new markets and its competition.
The Move to Related Acquisitions in the Late 1990s
American Coin Merchandising operated more than 10,000 skill-crane machines by the middle of 1998. Its share price was in the upper teens after a setback analysts regarded as temporary when it missed its earnings projections by a few cents. As a result, its stock tumbled 23 percent from its previous high of almost $23. The company, which earlier had been laughed at by analysts, was receiving high recommendations and experiencing great potential for growth as a result of the expansion of the big national chains with which it was allied. Business Week again named it to its list of the "Top 100 Companies," although this time it ranked only 90th. Forbes placed it 60th, down from its former ranking as 13th, in its list of the 200 best small companies.
American Coin Merchandising's next purchase enabled it to branch out into the amusement video and simulator game business, an industry with late 1990s revenues in excess of a billion dollars. For a purchase price of $4 million, the company acquired the privately held Chilton Vending Co. in mid-1998, thereby gaining a significant presence in Kansas and Missouri and expertise in the amusement video business. The acquisition added approximately 1,800 simulator and traditional video game machines, as well as some skill-crane and redemption equipment. Chilton, which had installations at Family Golf Centers, Inc., AMF Bowling Centers, and Worlds of Fun Amusement Park, had 1997 revenues of $4.5 million. Randy Chilton, third-generation management of Chilton, came on board with the acquisition to become American Coin Merchandising's new vice-president of Amusement Games Development.
In October 1998, with the acquisition of Plush 4 Play, American Coin Merchandising obtained placement agreements with Shoney's, Inc. and Friendly Ice Cream Corporation. The purchase, which cost American Coin $6.8 million plus a contingent earn-out of up to $2.7 million, was part of its plan to branch further into the restaurant industry. Plush 4 Play also sold prepackaged plush toys and animals to the skill-crane industry.
As American Coin Merchandising closed out 1998, it claimed about 23 percent of the more than 50,000 skill cranes in retail outlets in the United States, of which it owned 10,671, an increase of about 73 percent from the end of 1997. Since 1995 it had averaged greater than a 50 percent increase in annual revenues. It had completed ten acquisitions since October 1997 and had expanded into complementary vending operations, adding approximately 6,800 other vending and amusement machines at retail operations. Its revenues for the year rose 65.4 percent to a record $97.7 million, although net earnings decreased 12 percent to $3.9 million. This was due in part to higher interest and administrative costs related to the 1998 acquisitions.
As it entered 1999, American Coin Merchandising expected to acquire at least four more companies and had its sights on another ten to 12 related businesses. The immediate goal of the company was to integrate its acquisitions into its national network. Its larger goal was to consolidate the industry as a whole, a goal at which management judged itself increasingly successful.
- Barrett, William P., "Brotherly Love," Forbes, July 28, 1997, p. 74.
- Eaton, John, "Little Cranes, Big Bucks," Denver Post, October 14, 1998, p. C-01.
- Narvaes, Emily, "Toying with Success," Denver Post, September 2, 1996, p. F-01.
- Romero, Christine L., "Boulder, Colorado-Based American Coin Grabs 'Hot' Listing," Daily Camera, June 19, 1998.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 28. St. James Press, 1999.