How to Start an Arcade Business: Lessons from the Ghost Quarter in Greenfield, Iowa [Part 1]
Editors note: This is the first entry in what will hopefully be a recurring series of updates from Ryan Albright in Greenfield, Iowa, as he works to open up his first arcade, called the Ghost Quarter. Hoping these updates will be useful to others looking to do similar things in their own communities. Cheers!
My name is Ryan Albright I am the owner of the Ghost Quarter. I am a small business located in Greenfield Iowa. I reached out to Kineticist to write a few articles for them explaining my journey of starting an arcade. The trials and lessons I’ve learned and went through to get open. Starting out wasn’t easy. I really got started in September of 2020 in the literal worst possible time in recent human history. Looked at that and said, “Yeah, now’s a good time to start a business.” Thing is most people would say that jokingly. I wasn’t joking.
While I don’t recommend doing what I did, there are some lessons to be learned from my thought process. I started at the worst time, with $400, of which $200 immediately went to rent. It was a complete disaster from the start. Everyone expected me to be out of business in a month and just give up going back to my part-time job.
The hardest part wasn’t getting started, it was tuning out the naysayers who wanted nothing more than to say I was wrong and convince me they were right and quit. The thing that I had and they didn’t wasn’t money because $200 isn’t much to work with. The thing also wasn’t tenacity to stay the course and do what I knew needed to be done.
What I had was a vision and a clear goal of how to achieve it. The catch is your vision is worth nothing if you can’t help others see what you're trying to build.
The Vision for Ghost Quarter
Fun fact about your vision, it's just revision without the RE. Your vision will change whether you want it to or not. My vision has changed over time but I always keep the core of what it is, never wavering on that. Any good vision should start with a solid foundation of what your end goal looks like and how you're going to do it.
My vision started with getting a storefront to put the machines in. Even before I could afford to buy them, I still focused on what would allow me to put them out when I could buy them. See if I bought the machines first, I had nowhere to put them. If I built up the resources of where they’d go first, then later, I could more easily justify the purchase and allocate the resources to it.
As I mentioned, visions do change over time. My plans have taken longer, and the vision has gotten bigger over time. The vision went from “casual hang-out place for me and my friends with a couple of arcade games” to “outright owning a building with over 500 machines”.
The Cruel Reality
Thing is, visions are nice, but you have to have one eye in the future and one in the present. I’m very good at looking at a situation and saying, “This is wrong and needs to be fixed.” That’s why you have to know where you want to go but pay attention to the road you're on while you travel to the destination. It’s ok, you can stop and get something to drink on the way.
However, at the end of the day, you need to keep an eye on the exit signs and make sure you’re still traveling to your destination.
As previously stated, I started 3 years ago with $400 minus $200 for rent immediately and no income. I put my head down and started making phone calls to places I never would have imagined talking to previous to my experiences. I made deals with places like Pepsico and The Atlantic Bottling Company.
Where Ghost Quarter Stands Now
Well, it wasn’t easy over the last 3 years, and I know you're eager for a payoff on this article that I have a building and 500+ machines.
That’s why I made a point of the road.
As I’m still on the road to that. What I did so far is I’ve got the first machine paid off as of the other day. A Ghosts and Goblins arcade machine. Followed quickly by either a pinball machine or a VS Mario Brothers.
What happened was I was so stubborn about my plans that over time I built up the connections and resources to make my idea happen in a dying town with little to no help from local resources.
If I could swing it right now, I would be buying a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! pinball machine because I do in fact believe it, and I want it. The problem is that machines get exponentially more expensive the more you want and the less you're willing to sell them once you have them. So in my next article, which will be some time from now, I intend to give some general tips from what I've learned so far. Also, some ideas on how a person could start saving up for those machines they want and can’t afford. One other thing is there are some things that beginners may not be aware of about owning arcade and pinball machines.
All of that and more in the next few articles. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to open discussion of these topics in the future.
Ryan, Owner of the Ghost Quarter