In the more than two decades that Aaron Noland has worked for the Lancaster Bingo Company, the basic business of the Ohio-based wholesale distributor of bingo supplies hasn’t changed all that much, he said. Sales reps meet with clients every week or every other week to talk about fundraising goals, and help them decide on which types of games to run to get there. Once they settle on supplies, reps place orders for bingo daubers, cards or pull tab games, and plan for delivery on 18-foot box trucks.
But behind that modest explanation lies some of the secrets of the longevity of businesses like Lancaster Bingo, which was founded in 1983 – no small feat for a company playing in a crowded space, which could have been swept up by the dizzying competitive forces that have buffeted its industry.
Bingo isn’t the only game in town anymore. First came the Riverboat casinos in Indiana. Then the proliferation of legalized casinos in its home state of Ohio. Then, slot machines in places like Pennsylvania and Illinois. Coupled with a smoking ban in many of the places where charitable bingo games thrived that did not apply to those riverboats and casinos. Bingo was in danger of losing its appeal.
“Outside of fighting with competitors over customers, we have these outside influences affecting us as well,” says Noland, who is now the VP of Finance and Information Systems. “It’s a direct competitor to the charitable gaming industry.”
And if people stopped playing bingo, all those things that bingo funded were in jeopardy. Things like the three fire trucks purchased by the Volunteer Fire Department in Wintersville, Ohio with proceeds from its charitable games. Or the 42 defibrillators purchased for schools in Geneva. Or the community and comfort provided by a VFW hall, dangerously close to shuttering its doors due to decreased bingo attendance and subsequent lack of funding.
Lancaster Bingo could have pivoted and tried to branch out into other games. It could have pushed emphasis on flash over substance. Or it could have simply wrapped up. But in deciding how to innovate for its future, Lancaster Bingo doubled down on the things that made it historically strong.
Today’s business climate can tend to glorify nebulous concepts like speed and innovation and transformation. But stories of longevity and success are most often rooted in workers who believe in the company’s mission – and are invested to the point that the success of their customers is inseparable from satisfaction associated with personal achievement.
Enabling bingo to thrive involved investing in the people who knew it best. Lancaster Bingo’s sales reps walk their customers – some 4,000 nonprofits and charitable organizations nation-wide -- through the best options to raise money for causes. Leveraging their years of experience and deep knowledge of the communities and regulatory environments unique to each state, they help their customers craft charitable games that will meet their fundraising goals and deliver on community needs.
Focusing on ways to enrich those customer relationships was crucial for Lancaster Bingo. As such, it made investments in transactional work for their sales reps. One key improvement was to automate budgeting processes with Oracle NetSuite’s Planning and Budgeting, formerly conducted in Excel, which saved the coaches days in manual work, and enabled finance to analyze their numbers weeks earlier.
“Any time you can get information sooner than your competitor, it puts you at an advantage,” Noland said. “If we’re seeing trends, we can adjust or create a new product to fill a void they would have seen before we did.”
What’s more, to deepen customer loyalty, it’s implementing an ecommerce site.
With a clear view of budgeting and forecasting data, the company was able to see the growth potential in its staple custom-designed games. These pulled together the unique skills of an experienced sales team to create bingo games designed to fit the needs of the organization’s charitable goals. Lancaster Bingo can now gain insight into how a custom product was resonating in the field, and make the decisions around either selling more of it or dialing down faster.
In finding ways to innovate its business without losing sight of its original mission, Lancaster Bingo continues to build its legacy of building communities – doing some $50 million in revenue last year, and helping its customer raise more than $400 million for their charities.
For a wholesale distributor to lay claim to the statement that “players ask for us by name,” is evidence of its enduring success.
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