There are a lot of familiar sites online from which to order your pinball parts. Pinball Life. Marco Specialties. Bay Area Amusements. These are the big players. The established names. But today we are featuring a newcomer to the pinball supply scene, Titan Pinball. This Georgia-based company, run by the husband and wife duo of Matt and Eve, has just begun providing collectors with all the parts and supplies needed to “shop out” their games. As of press time, the breadth of items in their webstore is rather limited, but it is a supply that is growing daily. They do have a hook–they offer a full line of coloured rubber rings, allowing almost endless combinations of customization for the machines in your collection. I got the chance to ask Matt from Titan Pinball a few questions about throwing himself completely at the business of pinball supply and his plans for growth in the future.
Credit Dot: The Titan Pinball story begins after the company you worked for closed up shop and you became jobless. You decided to follow the course of action pinball enthusiasts only dream of: opening your own online pinball store. Was it nerve-racking making the initial decision?
Matt from Titan: The initial decision was more whimsical than anything. It just came up in conversation over dinner one evening. I didn’t really want to pursue a living in the same industry I had worked for the past fourteen years. What else could we do? How about pinball? The actual process of starting the business was beyond nerve-racking.
CD: Who are the members of the Titan “team”?
MT: I am the owner. My wife, Eve, is my supervisor.
CD: How did your relationship with pinball begin? What are some of the earliest games you remember playing?
MT: My first pinball experience was with my father in the early 80s. The local arcade had four or five machines. He would play pinball while I defended the earth from Space Invaders. Eventually, he persuaded me to give it a whirl. Eight Ball Deluxe is the first game I ever really remember playing. I recall being very frustrated by the difficulty of pinball and didn’t give it much of a chance. In the 90s, I was reintroduced to pinball through a popular college game room. They had (although I was unaware of it at the time) a great lineup of machines that constantly rotated in and out. The Addams Family, White Water, Junk Yard, Funhouse, Scared Stiff, and so on. I loved playing them, but lacked any real skill. The only way a replay was coming my way was through a match. It wasn’t soon after that pinball machines began to disappear on location. After a year or so, other interests had my attention and it would be fifteen years before I would enjoy playing pinball again.
CD: As for your business, how difficult is it to maintain competitive pricing? Do you always have your eye on other retailers’ websites?
MT: We try to stay up to date on competitor pricing. It’s very difficult to compete due to the volume in which larger stores purchase. We buy in volume whenever possible and, at least for now, have a low overhead which lets us sell at comparable prices.
CD: I’ll bet you’ve done your fair share of counting out quantities of hex screws and lock nuts!
MT: You have no idea…
CD: Do you have a facility you work out of? Or is your basement filled with pinball supplies?
MT: We work in an area that was formerly known as the living room. There is pinball machine in the kitchen, one in my office, and another under the stairs.
CD: How have you used social media and community-oriented websites such as Pinside to promote your store and connect with your customers?
MT: It’s a must when you are a small company in a smaller hobby. Other than “supervisor”, one of my wife’s other titles is “Social Media Manager”. So far, the response has been very positive and we have met a lot of friendly individuals in the pinball community.
CD: I hear international orders can be a bit of a headache. How are you handling shipping across borders?
MT: Shipping is a nightmare in general. We are still small enough to where each order can be given individual attention. Most overseas customers contact me through email first to discuss the shipping price before hand. We don’t like making money on shipping, so we always refund any overage.
CD: Can you shed some light on how the “Tilt-o-meter” came about and the manufacturing process?
MT: Out of the blue. We were working on the Flintstones with the playfield up when I happened to look down at the tilt. I wondered how hard it would be to have all of my machines set to the same sensitivity. The first Tilt-o-Meter was a piece of paper taped to the tilt mechanism. Then came the idea for a small device. After struggling with 3D printer software for a few days, I sent the model to be fabricated. We realized 3D printing was great for a prototype, but not really conducive for volume production. This gave us a great excuse to play with silicone molds. After much trial and error, we finally made a mold that works relatively well. We cast in resin, pop them out, sand them, and apply the label. Voila, you have a Tilt-o-Meter.
CD: You have complicated the age-old argument of white rubber versus black rubber buy selling six different colours of rubber rings plus the standard black and white. Are you the only company currently offering coloured rubber?
MT: As far as we know. Although I doubt it will be too much longer before someone else manufactures them.
CD: These rubber rings are made exclusively for Titan Pinball. How involved are you in the manufacturing process?
MT: Very. It’s been a year since we sent the first e-mail to a rubber manufacturer. There are always samples being sent back and forth–tweaking the color or the hardness, and trying out new companies. While we are happy with our current lineup of rings, there is always room for improvement.
CD: Do you assure the same feel and bounce as standard white rubber?
MT: No, primarily because of the different number of manufacturers being used in the industry. Some parts suppliers have their own formulas, while others rely more on NOS rings made several years ago. We looked more toward consistency throughout our product line. We order in Shore A 45, which is a relative equivalent to red flipper rubber.
CD: This innovation was a long time coming for a community ravenous to make their machines unique. Why has it taken so long for coloured rubber to hit the market?
MT: I think it was primarily due to the logistics of creating kits, and the possibility of offering too many choices and overwhelming the customer.
CD: Super-bands and Saturn Rings, two prominent flipper “rubber” innovations made with synthetic rubber, have been met with mixed reviews. Some claim they modify ball movement in undesirable ways, thus negatively changing the way a game plays. Others like the control the rubbers give. What is your opinion on these synthetic flipper bands?
MT: I think the new rings types are a much needed innovation for pinball. Whether or not you are a fan, it’s a new feel and it can change your experience with a machine. I believe that’s a positive thing. Coincidentally, we were toying around with a new rubber type a month or two before the urethane rings were announced. We only had the funds to bring in one type, so we stuck with the regular rubber. Currently, we are working with a new manufacturer to bring in a full line of silicone rings. We’ve given prototypes to a handful of players, and so far the response has been very positive.
CD: Will you eventually sell ring kits or will you leave it to the customer to compile their own?
MT: That has been the question from day one. We struggled for months trying to figure out how to make it easy for the community to get a kit with so many permutations of colors. Hopefully, we have found the solution. We are a week or two away from introducing a public, crowd-sourced database of rubber ring and led kits. Users will be able to easily make their own kits, upload photos, and tweak other users ideas. Eventually, these kits will be tied into product SKUs of any pinball supplier that wishes to participate. It’s hard to say whether or not it will work, but we are very excited about it.
CD: Looking at your sales figures, what is the most popular rubber size thus far? And the most popular colour?
MT: 2 and 2 1/2 inch. The most common slingshot sizes. I’d say red and blue have been the most popular, with purple a close second.
CD: Are there any new colours on the horizon?
MT: We hope so. If we continue to do well we’d like bring in some silver/grey, different shades of our more popular colors and, of course, hot pink!
CD: What items are you looking at adding to your stable of products in the future?
MT: Certainly more plastics, such as lane guides and pop bumper caps. We are already negotiating standoffs and mini-posts, as well as flipper rebuild kits. It’s still a little while off, but they are high up on the list.
CD: What games are currently in the Titan Pinball collection?
MT: We currently enjoy a Flintstones (our first restore), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tee’d Off, and a Virtual Pin the wife and I built.
CD: To close, what advice you can give to others that are thinking of giving up their day job and turning their pinball passion into a business venture?
MT: The same advice I was given: Don’t! If you get into a pinball related business, you had better be doing it for the love of your hobby. It’s long hours for little/no pay. Having said that, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a passion, and we love it! It’s also mandatory to have a wonderful and understanding significant other. I am fortunate enough to have a fantastic wife, without whom none of this would be possible.
Pinside – Announcing Titan Pinball “Shop Out” Supplies & Colored Rubber Rings