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The Case for Tokens in Louisville Based Arcade/Bar

October 12, 2016
Rec Bar Custom Brass Tokens

Insert Token for Games, Grains and Grub—Louisville’s Recbar runs on nostalgia, bourbon, and tokens


Whether you’re catching the game, playing games, or it’s game night with friends, Recbar in Louisville, KY has you covered: grab a local craft brew or bourbon, snack on some classic childhood delights with adult twists, and game the night away with pinball, board games, and table games galore. Video games are not just for kids anymore—they’re also for adults who never grew up. Recbar is capitalizing on the nostalgia of adults who can now visit the arcade and enjoy a beer and basket of totchos while they’re beating their old high scores.


The games are still pixilated, and the tokens that run them are as classic as they come, but—not unlike the menu of new twists on old favs—the iconic token has received a face lift from the arcades of old, and allow Recbar a unique form of promotion and publicity.


Recbar’s owners, Corey Sims and Tony Thomas, have long since graduated from the days of inserting a bill into a token machine and running off to challenge each other in “Galaga.” Likewise, the token has graduated from being just a way of getting those games to light up, whirl and wizz. From serving as miniature billboards to providing an internal system to cross-promote the various attractions at Recbar, tokens work as hard as Pac Man.


Pay to Play

When starting the arcade, Sims and Thomas had a crucial decision: make everything free play, or pay to play. Having been to more than a few arcades themselves, the pair found that free-play places were often very busy, as gamers keep playing, with no incentive to stop. New people couldn’t play games they wanted to, causing lines to form, and keeping everyone in sour moods. Free-play arcades are popular, given the initial enticement, and often make money based on drink sales. Sims and Thomas also wanted to sell food, so the decision was easy: pay to play.


Like any good RPG, the action didn’t stop there. On to level two: quarters or tokens? Sims and Thomas vividly remember using tokens to play arcade games as kids, and figured potential customers would too.


“Having that gold token in your hand is a lot different than holding a quarter,” Sims said, “we didn’t see the value in quarters that we saw in tokens.”


Nostalgia was one reason, but tokens also provided opportunities as a promotional tool. Gaming tournaments with prizes of tokens, happy hour token deals. It’s much less exciting to hand a customer $20 in quarters.


Leveling up: Token Time

With the decision to use tokens firmly made, Sims and Thomas began researching where to buy them. They scoured the Internet looking for a reputable mint with a decent price and a good catalog to show off similar products. They kept coming back to TokensDirect, based in nearby Cincinnati, OH. With the best looking product as the best price point, they ordered their first batch of 5,000 tokens, costing around 13 cents per token. Now they’re 25,000 in and still going.


Sims and Thomas knew they wanted a classic look, and hoped to incorporate their logo into the token—after all, the tokens serve as mini billboards for Recbar. TokensDirect worked closely with the team to get the custom token designed just the way they wanted it to look.


“They was awesome,” Sims said. “We created the design and they made our logo pop on the token. They were quick to respond to any questions and had open line of communication. Shipping was swift and reordering was quicker and easier than any other product I have purchased.”


The gold look and heft of the coin make it feel valuable to customers holding them, and the custom logo make them unique to Recbar.


Recbar opened on April 15, 2016, and only six weeks in, has already seen a return on investment sufficient to justify the initial cost of the tokens. The tokens are valued at a quarter—12 cents of profit already— and sold both from a Rowe BC-35 token dispenser Sims and Thomas purchased at an auction as well as at the bar.


Walking billboards

Sims and Thomas expected customers to be excited about the tokens, and they certainly were. Few things send you right back to childhood than your hand filling with gold tokens while pinball machines ping in the background. They didn’t expect the tokens to leave the building.


“Walkaways” often happen when tokens are used in arcades or car washes, as customers don’t use all their tokens, and end up pocketing them and taking them home. Tokens end up in coin jars, purses, cars, you name it—and because they bear the Recbar logo, the customer will immediately remember what a good time they had, and hopefully plan a return visit.


“We’ll see social media posts after people walk away with 4 or 5 Recbar tokens—the next day they’ll post ‘Look what I found this morning, I’ll definitely be back’,” Sims said.


Recbar depends on social media for marketing as opposed to more traditional paid media venues, making those posts from customers all the more important. Having an active social media presence also allows them to be flexible with day-to-day promotions and giveaways.


Sims and Thomas intend to use the tokens as giveaways for tournaments, and incentives to come during happy hour. They’ve already enacted a family friendly promotion, since the bar is family friendly during the day, every kids meal includes $1 worth of tokens. Plans are in the works for a less family-friendly “Pint Night,” where drinkers of a featured beer may be treated to tokens.


Tokens in: game on

With over 5,000 square feet of gaming space, 45 different gaming cabinets, 8 pinball machines and a variety of foosball, skeeball and other games, Recbar is quickly becoming Louisville’s go-to arcade. A killer menu of new twists on old favorites and a rotating menu of craft draft beers doesn’t hurt, nor does an active social media presence. But what makes it all possible is the humble token: the tiny gold token acts as a miniature billboard—promoting Recbar even when it walks away from the building. Because they are minted to look like gold, they have a perceived value much higher than they actually cost—providing a return on investment, even when they are given away for free. 

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