Pinballz tilts business model; will begin selling groceries, renting its arcade games

PInballz Lake Creek
In early April, Austin arcade chain Pinballz began offering rentals of its arcade cabinets and pinball machines. (Courtesy Pinballz)

In early April, Austin arcade chain Pinballz began offering rentals of its arcade cabinets and pinball machines. (Courtesy Pinballz)

After Pinballz Arcade was forced to temporarily close the doors to its locations in Austin and Buda, the team at the local arcade chain began to float some ideas on how to keep a revenue stream coming in to keep employees on the payroll, Pinballz Marketing Manager Deb Lovett said.

Soon, Pinballz staffers thought of opening its game rentals to the general public under stay-at-home orders. Previously reserved for corporate events and conferences, Pinballz in early April began offering weeklong rentals of its arcade cabinets and pinball machines.

“It was like the perfect product hit the perfect moment in time,” Lovett said. “We introduced it a week and a half ago, and we’ve already had 500 inquiries in that time. People are just ecstatically happy.”

Pinballz has already sent out machines for rent, Lovett said, and has begun offering four-week discounts for avid gamers under Travis County’s stay-at-home order.

Rental of the machines starts at $200 per week, Lovett said, and the company makes sure every machine sent out is in top working condition so maintenance crews do not have to perform repairs in homes.

Every transaction is contactless, Lovett said, and each machine is cleaned, sanitized and handled by workers wearing protective gear.

As the company continues to shift its business model during the coronavirus pandemic, Pinballz launched a grocery pickup service April 21 aimed at helping families avoid big-box grocery stores.

The grocery pickup, which the company calls Pinballz Pantry, sells essential grocery items, such as toilet paper and paper towels, eggs, milk, tortillas, bread, pasta, fresh produce and Pinballz’s brioche buns and burger patties.

“We were anxious to keep our vendor’s supply chain going and found they had quite a bit of supply in reserves since many restaurants weren’t open,” Lovett said.

Orders for the pantry can be made 24-48 hours in advance for pickup at Pinballz’s locations in North Austin, Northwest Austin and Buda.

Pinballz Lake Creek at 13729 Research Blvd., Austin, and Pinballz Kingdom at 15201 S. I-35, Buda, have also reopened their kitchens for curbside takeout orders and delivery through third parties, the arcade chain said in an April 21 news release. Both of those locations will continue to sell alcoholic beverages to go, Lovett said.

Customers can pick up take-and-bake pizzas from the Original Pinballz Arcade at 8940 Research Blvd., Austin.

Pinballz is also selling packaged meals and meal kits, such as discounted family packs of grillable burgers and hot dogs.

And in a move meant to bring customers back to the arcade when quarantine is lifted, Pinballz said it is giving $5 arcade credit for every $20 spent right now.

Executives at Pinballz said the moves may help them keep employees on the payroll at a time when patrons cannot physically enter the company’s arcades.

“We were already hiring back some of our kitchen staff to run the curbside to-go and Ube rEats delivery food and alcohol service, so we figured that if we could also sell bulk food products, like at the grocery store, we could make a little more money to return a few more workers to their jobs,” Pinballz President and CEO Darren Spohn said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper.
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.