Pinball arcades and pizza cones: the rise of quirky business
'Normal’ is out and ‘quirky’ is in for businesses discovering the hidden money in niche outputs.
A young, twenty-something couple recently attended, for the first time, an event at Pinball HQ at Coogee Diggers in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. A few weeks earlier they’d travelled to Las Vegas where they’d visited a pinball museum.
Something about the lights, colour, sound and excitement of pinball made them fall a little bit in love with the retro game, but of course there would be nowhere for them to play in Sydney, they assumed. A Google search proved them wrong.
Actually, pinball bar arcades are popping up throughout Melbourne, Sydney and, more recently, Brisbane (see the recently opened Nether World). This is despite the fact that many younger people, those 18 to 21 years of age in particular, have no cultural memory of pinball. They didn’t grow up surrounded by such machines and they didn’t even watch re-runs of Happy Days.
“A lot of people are actually enjoying pinball because it is rare and unique,” said Norbert Snicer, owner of Pinball HQ. “A number of people think it’s cool simply because it is different to video games, and much more social.”
Some people come to compete, some people come for the social atmosphere. Everybody loves that it’s a little bit different.
Pinball HQ boasts 15 machines and around 400 registered members. Nobody is forced to enter competitions. The idea is to remain “completely democratic”, Snicer said. “Some people come to compete, some people come for the social atmosphere. Everybody loves that it’s a little bit different.”
‘A little bit different.’ That in itself is a unique idea in a business environment that has seemingly been striving for standardisation and normalisation. Enter any Starbucks, Apple Store, McDonald’s or Holiday Inn anywhere in the world and you know exactly what to expect.
But as business offerings become more standardised, brands that offer something out of the ordinary seem to be well-placed to satisfy a need.
Australian businesses have not missed out on the unique treatment, including pizza and pinball restaurants.
There are countless outstanding, and sometimes amusing, examples of unique businesses around the world. In the USA, UK, Canada and Australia for instance, curious revellers can book a Cuddle Party, where trained facilitators open a ‘welcome circle’ then encourage ‘freestyle cuddling’, according to their website.
In the US, strange but wonderful hybrids of bars and laundromats have been appearing (see Spin Laundry Lounge in Portland, Oregon), allowing people to do their washing and enjoy a social beer, or a meal, at the same time.
Across the US and into Canada a successful chain of DryBar salons has appeared. These are places women can go to have the perfect blow-dry, but never a cut. It’s the hair stylist you visit when you’re not visiting your hair stylist.
And then, of course, there are the ‘pizza cones’ offered by Kono Pizza, an irresistibly perfect combination of the handy shape of ice cream cones and the tastiness of pizza – it’s a pizza in the palm of your hand!
Australian businesses have not missed out on the unique treatment, including pizza and pinball restaurants such as Pizza n Pinball in Newcastle.
Potato Parcel offers to send personalised messages to loved ones, written on potatoes! And Rentachook makes chicken ownership (and, therefore, freshly laid eggs) easy by allowing households to try before they buy.
“I think people are surprised and excited by our business for a number of reasons,” said Sonia Lear who, with her partner Remi Pham, manages the Happy Camper Pizza business from Melbourne. Happy Camper Pizza runs several retro caravans that produce pizza meals for events, including corporate bookings.
“It’s partly about getting high-end, restaurant quality pizza at quite a cheap price,” she said. “It’s partly about the fact that the pizza is cooked in a 17-foot long Airstream caravan, built in the 1960s. And it’s partly to do with the eye candy.”
The ‘eye candy’ that Lear speaks of is the combination of the caravan that she and Remi have turned into a mobile pizza parlour, and the landscape in which it finds itself during a specific job.
This might mean she and her team are surrounded by thousands of people at a music festival, sitting in a paddock on a privately-owned farm, or on a driveway during a bar mitzvah in central Melbourne.
“It’s a feat of engineering. We had to build a new chassis that would support the heavy pizza oven, then put the shell back on,” Sonia said. “So people are receiving an amazing product at a great price, amongst pretty aesthetics and in a feat of engineering. That’s a highly unique experience, and the reaction has been very positive.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.
Correction: A previous version of this article made reference to ‘barcades’. This is a trademarked term owned by Barcade, Inc. ICAS always seeks to operate in good faith and ensure appropriate credit is assigned in our content.