How did Flippin’ Great Pinball get started?
Close to ten years ago I was looking for a place to work on my arcade and pinball collection. That idea grew to making it an open workshop for other arcade and pinball owners who wanted to learn how to restore and repair their games. They would pay a monthly fee and have access to store games and learn how to work on them. After calling around for different locations I talked with Railroad Square and let the know the type of business/studio/workshop idea I had and they loved it. I rented a small room in the Tallahassee Rock Gym building and officially opened Arcade Age – an arcade and pinball workshop. To be involved with Railroad Square activities we opened to the public twice a month during First Friday and Third Saturday. What we had working was free to play for anyone that could find our nearly hidden location.
We quickly outgrew that space as more members joined and moved to the back of the Square on Commercial Drive. There we continued to host the free First Friday and Third Saturday events every month. As you can imagine, it got to be pretty popular. At the time we had around 8-10 pinball games and about 12 or so arcade games that people could play, but we were always asked the same two questions: 1) are you ever open more than just two days a month; and 2) do you have an air conditioner?
Adam was the first member that signed up at Arcade Age. Between the two of us we had 100+ pinball and arcade games which was by far enough to build a repectable arcade that was open more than two days a month and had A/C. So in October of 2016 we opened Flippin’ Great Pinball across the street from our Arcade Age location. The idea was that we wanted an arcade that was family-friendly, offered an easy way to play (admission-based instead of paying for every game), and was a place that we’d want to come and hang out at. Based on the reception I think we accomplished our goals.
How has Flippin’ Great grown over the years?
While the footprint of our business hasn’t grown, our games and employee family definitely have.
We switch games up every few months and use any profits to keep our games running, to buy new games, and to fix up old games that normally would be trashed or taken to the dump. There’s been one big constant between Arcade Age and Flippin’ Great Pinball – we want to preserve these games, because once they’re gone, they’re gone. Pinball is as American as it gets. Almost every pinball game was made in Chicago and we consider them functional art. So we roll whatever we can into continuing to save these games and find good homes for them.
When it comes to employees we’re a very tight-knit group and they have input on the business just like the owners do. Getting to know these people is an underrated part of being a business owner. Even when some move on to continue their lives we keep in contact. It’s nice to know that Flippin’ Great Pinball will always be a part of their lives, just like they are now parts of ours.
What’s next for Flippin’ Great?
This answer is the same for all business owners right now – surviving. We had big plans this year, but like all plans in 2020 Covid burnt them to cinders. Now it’s about buckling down, offering our services with a focus on safety, and being socially responsible as to not contribute to the spread of this disease. Throughout this “new normal” we’ve been focussed on keeping our employees paid – even if we were closed to the public. We’re happy to say we did that and are still here.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened since you have opened?
We got the keys to our space the day before Hurricane Hermine hit us. That was pretty nervewracking, but even after power went out in almost all the city Railroad Square still had it. The days after Hermine we got really familiar with the space because we were here all the time to enjoy the A/C. Outside of the obvious, I’m pretty fortunate to say that nothing really crazy has happened. Usually crazy means bad and we haven’t had any really bad experiences. Lots of cool ones, like having John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats stopping by randomly or getting to talk pinball with some people that used to be heavily invovled in the industry. We made this business to be a good experience, so maybe that’s a sign that it’s working.
What brings people into Flippin’ Great?
An affordable activity, something that every member of the family can enjoy, a neat place to hang out, the love of the games… the answer is probably different for everyone. We are a unique business because of what we offer and the quality of it. There’s not many places left that offer pinball to the public and even fewer that keep their games up and running. A pinball contains a thousand moving parts, hundreds of feet of wire, and who knows how many electronic components. All it takes is one to go bad and the whole game can go down. Part of owning this business is having the knowledge to repair these games and keep on top of issues. Otherwise it’s just a slow march towards games becoming unplayable or not fun anymore due to the many issues they have. Unfortunately that’s what you see happen at a lot of modern-day arcades now.
How are you getting through these trying times?
When we reopened in May we completely changed our business model. Before we offered open hours to all walk-ins. But we’re in a different situation now and people don’t want to be in close proximity to strangers. So we had to rethink how all of this would work.
Now we offer a reservation-only model. Walk-ins are not allowed in. Those that reserve online can get their own private hour in the arcade. That ensures that they’re comfortable while being here and are next to the people they know and have invited to play with them. A great benefit of this model is that now families or quaranteams can get out of the house and enjoy a fun activity without having to worry about their safety. Between each rental we close for 30 minutes and thoroughly clean and sanitize all games, surfaces, and fixtures. That means that when you book an hour at Flippin’ Great the games are always clean. The one huge challenge we’re contantly having is keeping our cleaning supplies stocked because we go through so much!
Obviously with this new model it means a loss of revenue. Whereas we may have 75-90 customers on a normal Friday or Saturday we now only have a limited number of hourly rentals. However, one thing we didn’t want to do is raise our admission rates. We still offer the reservation at our normal $7.99/hr adult and $4.99/hr child prices. In these times it didn’t feel right to charge more when so many are out of jobs and money is extremely tight. We hope that Flippin’ Great can be a bright spot during this pandemic for many people.
What’s your Capital Pedicab Connection?
I’ve known Mike and Capital Pedicabs for many years now. I think if you’re a small business owner in this town it’s impossible not to know Mike. He’s always looking for opportunities to improve not just his business, but all of our businesses. It’s no wonder he owns a Pedicab company because his drive is unbelievable.