A dinner out, a claw machine in the corner, a quarter-hungry kid tableside.
It didn’t seem like an investment at the time. It’s been a jackpot since.
“I loved playing those claw machine games when I was little,” said Hunter Lawrence, who began his own business at age 13 and two years later has clients and customers across the country. “Then I said, I want to buy my own claw machine.”
Lawrence got a $250 loan from his parents. He sold claw game prizes and other items on eBay to repay it, and when he tired of his machine he decided he’d sell that, too. Hunter’s Arcade House and Sales was born.
“I sold it and I made a pretty good profit,” Lawrence said. “I said, ‘this is easy.’”
It’s become a little more involved since. Lawrence and his dad, David, pick up and deliver arcade games, ticket redemption counters and the like – most anything but pinball games, which are a complicated lot – to homes and businesses. For distant customers, Lawrence arranges moving trucks or truck drivers. He negotiates with customers. He negotiated the lease on the storage unit his company uses as home base.
David Lawrence gets the puzzled looks when new customers try to address him rather than his now 15-year-old son.
“They’ll start talking to me and I go, ‘you need to talk to him,’” David Lawrence said.
Hunter brings in items and repairs circuit boards, solders, drills. He taught himself from online videos. He built his website and designed company apparel. The Nation Ford High School freshman is only just learning to drive, but already he knows plenty when it comes to trucks and dollies.
“I know everything you’d ever want to know about renting a truck,” he said.
The hard work is making it to the bottom line. The company increased sales 390 percent from the first to second full year.
“Year two took off because he basically geographically expanded,” David Lawrence said.
Recent sales cover 15 states, from a Texas firehouse to Seattle to the Midwest. From commercial arcades to area basement setups. Eventually, Hunter would like to become a software developer, but for now he’s fine with the job that paid for his first truck in cash. A job that’ll go a long way toward that software developing degree.
For the success he’s had, Hunter may just keep a hand in the arcade game even after he finishes school and begins another career.
“This is sort of going to be a side business,” he said.
The business comes with its share of odd moments. Along with steering customer conversations to son rather than father, Hunter has a slate of business classes ahead of him in school where he’s likely to bring more “real world” experience than the average student. Working on arcade games also means he literally knows them inside and out. He hasn’t yet been kicked out of an arcade, but he does leave with trash bags full of prizes.
“It’s getting close,” he said.
David Lawrence always can tell when Hunter has his lunch break. That’s when the texts fly in asking if dad can make a 7 p.m. pickup, or help deliver a game somewhere within 100 miles or so on Tuesday night. An economic development director in Rock Hill, and his wife Kristin the owner of her own organization business, David pauses at the thought of whether more people Hunter’s age would be able to so successfully start and run businesses.
“I still think it’s pretty unusual,” David said. “You’ve got to have a certain maturity level to do this.”
Seeing someone else do it helps. Hunter’s sister Hayley, 11, is already thinking about her options for starting a business.
“She’s kind of got the bug too,” David said.
Outside support, whether a family member or friend to apprentice under or parents willing to loan some cash for a claw machine, is critical. Then, as it does so often for the father and son team delivering games at all hours and to all locales, it comes down to drive.
“I love doing this,” Hunter said, “so if I love doing it I’m going to keep doing it.”