James Miller started the transition process towards his presidency taking the stage at the Bacta Convention to signal where his term will lead the trade association in the coming two years. He’s not yet installed, that will be in a couple of months times, but the focus will clearly be on bigging up the people that work so hard to make the industry ‘fun’.
“I want to highlight the most important fact about Bacta members and the amusement industry that is sometimes overlooked,” president-elect James Miller told an AGM hall heavily seasoned with prized political and regulatory figures.
“From the people in Wales who make wiring looms,” he began surveying the room almost with a searchlight for those influencers, “to the metal work company in the midlands that supplies components parts. From the spares company in Bolton, to the bingo caller in Bournemouth. From the lady who gives change in Skegness, to the delivery driver from Derby. From the software engineer in Birmingham to the service engineer in Scotland. The people serving in the prize shop in Weston, and those here today in Westminster. It’s all these people that run and work in all these businesses, some for 20,30 years or more, sometimes for generations, who make this industry what it is.”
This industry, Miller hammered home, is “all for the enjoyment of others.” People matter, especially so within the framework that Bacta and its members will have to operate in the coming years. Miller and his advisors see that.
“Many of these family businesses don’t just operate the amusement arcades, they reinvest where they can and will often run several business in the same town or area, from the piers, cafes, ice cream, fish and chips, rock and souvenir shops and many more, all employing people and contributing to the local and wider economy, often keeping their very town alive. This needs to be recognised and they need support, as without them the traditional British seaside, so popular with generations of holiday makers, will fade rapidly away.”
With so much public focus on FOBTs in recent years, Miller seems intent to return the association back to its core base – enshrined in the highly successful ‘Fun’ campaign run two years ago.
It’s one he is clearly comfortable with.
“For myself I come from a Showman’s background and was born into the family business, just as many of my colleagues here today were, and again, like many have done so for generation after generation,” he told the membership.
“This provides a unique work ethic that’s not always understood, our business is not just a job, it’s a way of life. There is a constant effort to improve and build a better future. So providing high quality value for money entertainment facilities is in our DNA, it’s what we do and has to be both successful and sustainable, as our very future depends on it.”
And that’s a future that was put in harm’s way by the toxic FOBT battle. Miller was not a fan.
“I’m sure you’ll all agree that the events of recent weeks have been a massive victory for common sense and something that will make a great difference to the lives of many. But none of this would have been possible without all the hard work, effort and passion of the people who supported it, so to all involved a very big thank you indeed. I would like to pay special tribute to Carolyn Harris and Tracy Crouch, if we had more politicians like them society would be better off.” He wasn’t so cuddly about the bookies, though. “Looking back it all seems madness. It’s been an utter PR disaster for the bookies, consumed with greed. It was simply profits over people.”
Whether this tone puts James Miller fully on the track of reconciliation between factions in the broader based industry – and the call to work together so in vogue at the moment – was probably not that important in this particular environment, on this particular day.
Needs must and there’s plenty of time to come on board. But Miller was talking to Bacta’s loyal base and a group of dignitaries where this hard line approach is a prerequisite.
But there was a bit for everyone in the Miller speech. To the antagonists who batter the industry on the social responsibility issue, such criticism cut no truck with him. For Miller, and he should know as an operator; social responsibility is about your commitment to your customer.
He was passionate about this concept. “Of all those millions of visitors that keep coming back year after year, generation after generation, they are not just customers, in some cases they become friends. It’s often the case the same family returns the same week year after year and you watch their children grow up and return with their own families in later years.”
To the bureaucrat, this is a message that simply won’t compute. For Miller, it seems, it’s a message he will not stop delivering.
Whilst people matter, and they do, the industry would not survive without its most important partner: the manufacturing side of the business. And Miller was keen to pay tribute and fight the fight: “And then you have the manufacturers and suppliers, and the people that work in the factories. Without the innovations of their products and the people who make them, we as operators simply wouldn’t be able to invest in the equipment that appeals to the modern consumer, who is always looking for something new.”
And something new, said Miller, is the all-important factor: “We need to develop products that keep pace with modern society, yet still provide that entertainment factor and an enjoyable experience for all.”
This was certainly an appeal to those in the audience who have a say in what the industry can do on the innovation side.
For this AGM, Miller’s role, in the main, was a supporting one – this, after all, was the farewell occasion for the president, Gabi Stergides. But it was also a forum for the new head in waiting to lay some foundations. And Miller did that with relative ease.
“Customers have a choice,” he concluded. “They also have a myriad of modern electronic alternatives competing for their leisure time, yet they come back year after year, so we must be doing something right. We are all in the Fun business. So when we speak today about all the various issues we face as an industry, let’s not forget about all the people in it make it what it is.”
This industry, everyone says, is all about people. In a far too long a period, it seemed to all be about one vilified product; Miller’s message was a signal that it’s time to press the reset button.