Pinball, Pac-Man for the home: Company makes a game of it

Todd Tuckey never imagined that after two decades of selling commercial-size arcade games for home use, his TNT Amusements would still be going strong, especially with the proliferation of home-computer games But thanks to nostalgia and the strong economy, things have rarely been better.

Plenty of people have been coming into his Southampton showroom and plunking down between $500 and
$4,000 for a standard game, or up to $10,000 for a used race-car simulator, such as Daytona U.S.A.

“Our customers might be 40 or 45,” said Tuckey “They have money and a car They want the one thing they can’t get at Kmart or Circuit City.” TNT’s revenues topped $1 million in 1997 and again in 1998, Tuckey said.

Donna DeFino of Voorhees said she and her husband, Michael, have furnished their basement with four games purchased from TNT, including two pinball machines, a basketball machine, and a football-tossing game “My husband will stay down there for hours for his amusement,” she said “When we have parties, the guests seem to gravitate there.”

Tuckey said he had sold more than 13,000 games since 1984 — everything from an $1,399 Centipede video game to a $2,799 Super Chexx bubble hockey machine Dozens of games fill TNT’s showroom, such as Bowling Shuffle Alleys, pool tables, Skeeball machines.

Ms. Pac-Man video games are still TNT’s biggest seller “A doctor told us he wanted Ms. Pac-Man because it got him through medical school,” said Tuckey “Couples may have met on the boardwalk in an arcade [The games] bring them back to simpler times.”

After the broadcast of a Seinfeld episode that featured George Costanza’s efforts to acquire a Frogger video game machine from a closing pizza parlor, TNT’s phones were ringing off the hook.

Tuckey, 44, began buying pinball and other arcade games in 1979, and ran a vending business for four years with a partner, placing machines in delicatessens, bowling alleys, skating rinks and other establishments After the arcade video boom had ended in 1984, the pair decided to sell their machines from Tuckey’s long driveway in Northeast Philadelphia Not only did they sell all the machines they had started with, they bought additional machines and sold them as well “It made us solvent again,” said Tuckey, who bought out his partner’s share in 1984 After selling almost 500 games from his driveway, the Temple University graduate was convinced there was a demand for an arcade atmosphere in people’s homes.

He left his full-time job as an administrator at Temple University, where he ran two game rooms and the movie theater, and devoted all his time to buying and selling He rented his first
showroom in Bensalem in October 1985 One month later, he purchased the Southampton building on Industrial Boulevard where TNT Amusements is based today.

The 5,000-square-foot facility contains about 120 machines on display plus a work area and storage space for thousands of circuit boards.  An additional 1,500 games are stored at a 10,000-square-foot warehouse nearby.  TNT has 10 full-time employees and six part-timers.  Newly acquired games are subjected to a vigorous overhaul.

TNT has about 15 >private birthday parties a week for up to 50 children (or adults) who can play the games in the showroom an unlimited number of times.  The company will also rent out games on a per-day basis to families throwing a party, and still serves as a vendor to a few stores.

But the majority of TNT’s business comes from home sales, accounting for 80 percent of revenues.

Tuckey said he does not sell pinball machines built before 1977 because they are neither computerized nor reliable.  “With the digital machines, a customer can call us with an error code and most of the time we can solve the problem over the phone.”

Things are not so rosy for another segment of the game business.  “Large arcade companies have been going bankrupt left and right,” said Michael Bershad, owner of Penn Vending Co. in Bensalem.  “The cost of the equipment has skyrocketed, and the cash box is reduced.”

Bershad, whose vending company operates a large number of games and jukeboxes in the Philadelphia area, said a brand-new video game used to bring in $300 or $400 per week.  Now a new game might bring in about half that, he said.

“Today, a giant deluxe game at an arcade might cost 75 cents to play,” Tuckey said.  “But people still don’t perceive the value of the games to be more than 25 or 50 cents.”

While most of his business comes from word of mouth, Tuckey said he spends thousands of dollars on advertising in Yellow Pages and cable television, and maintaining a Web site.  The Internet has been boosting the company’s sales, accounting for 30 percent of TNT’s business, he said.

A half-hour-long infomercial staring Tuckey airs nightly on Comcast cable TV systems, and weekly on WMCN-TV.  During the show, Tuckey tours around his showroom cracking jokes and performing peculiar antics.

One viewer invited Tuckey to a catered party at his Main Line mansion because his son wanted to meet Tuckey.

Tuckey’s antics have attracted the media spotlight.  The businessman proposed to his wife, Pam in 1994 in a Willow Grove Mall arcade where he supplied games.  He had rigged the machine to produce the message, “Will you marry me?” as she played, and ensured that television news crews were present to catch the moment.  A similar pinball machine was later placed outside the church where they were married.

Article by Claire Furia Smith

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