Using skee ball smarts on Wall Street

Dolio tests out his Skeeball equipment. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Dolio tests out his Skeeball equipment. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 17, 2014

SEA ISLE CITY - Mike Dolio has a lot of backers. He's just a college kid - Villanova School of Business - but as a sophomore in high school, he took ownership of Uncle Mike's Arcade in Sea Isle, partnering with that venture capital firm known as "mom's money." This summer Dolio, 21, of Springfield, Delaware County, got a high-powered internship on Wall Street. This required - like a kid who sheepishly shows up after freshman year with his new puppy - mostly leaving the arcade for his mother to run. But Mom, Catherine Dolio, rallied.

Question: You basically left the arcade for your mother to run this summer. How's that going?

Answer: I've kind of trained my mom. So originally she helped finance the purchase. Over the past four summers, I trained her. She learned from me. Now she's the one who's actually running some of the day-to-day operations. We're talking with text messages, phone calls. I'm moving toward my professional goals. My mom is selling real estate. She has some flexibility on her end. My stepdad counts the money. I trust them; they trust me.

Q: So you outsourced it to your mom.

A: That is 100 percent correct.

Q: How does she like it?

A: It's a rewarding thing for her. It's not like she has a restaurant where she's behind a grill doing extremely strenuous labor. She's interacting with customers where they're having a great time.

Q: You've worked at the arcade since you were 13. Which is harder, Wall Street or skee ball?

A: Well, they're very different. I will say that working in my store, it's a 24-hour job. I work from 7 in the morning until 2 at night. Basically, the buck stops with me. If I can't fix the machine I have to pay somebody or go do it myself. Day in and day out, each thing I do affects myself. My internship here is obviously the complete opposite. I worked until 3 a.m. the other day. It's a new thing being at a firm much, much, much larger than myself. The tasks I'm working on are much more complex. I'm working at an investment banking firm, on a high level, that provides capital to businesses looking to finance their operations with debt or public equity. As a summer analyst, my role is to help with financial analysis, background, how they did historically, to properly advise clients.

Q: Do they value your experience in Sea Isle?

A: It's at the top of my resume. There's a lot said about it. They haven't seen it before. Even though it's the Jersey Shore, they respect the work ethic behind it. When I pitch it, I say: "You might think what is this kid doing, throwing skee balls around the last five summers, why wasn't he doing something more high level?" I wasn't working in skee ball [just] cleaning up. I was running my own business.

Q: Have you invited the suits down to Sea Isle?

A: Not yet. I would love to.

Q: Do you expect the arcade to stay in the family?

A: Right now, it's a little bit up in the air. My hope is that my mother kind of enjoys the full-time management of the store and wants to do that the next couple of years, retire into it. My hope is that the internship will lead to working in a Wall Street firm.

Q: The Jersey Shore arcade is an institution. Have you modernized for the new generation?

A: When I first took it over, it was in a very weird phase, half-modern, half older games. I've incrementally bought new machines and modernized it. I still have old-fashioned skee ball. That's classic. I still have some pinball games. Pac-Man. Adults like it. It's much more of a Dave and Buster's deal. You can win anything from a small five-inch inflatable ball to an iPad.

Q: Is an arcade even relevant in the digital age?

A: If you think back to the parents of the kids who come in, they grew up with no digital age. They'd be entertained by Pac-Man, Mortal Combat, pinball. You compare it to any of the modern games, it blows them out of the water. The industry has shifted toward redemption games. The games where you get tickets for your winning. The person throws in a dollar, they play a game of skill, then redeem tickets for prizes.

Q: What's the most difficult part of keeping the arcade hopping?

A: The real difficult part is the merchandising. I have to make sure I have the best prizes. I keep up with the competition and trends. Four years ago, it was "silly bands." I probably went through 5,000 of those silly bands, and had 200 left. I couldn't get rid of them the next summer. Last summer, "Despicable Me" and "Angry Birds" items were incredibly popular.

That's where I can differentiate from my competition, making sure when a kid walks in a store, they see a prize, a plush animal that they really want and they are willing to play my game long enough to win that prize. The parents are funding. The parent chooses how much to spend, the kid chooses where to spend it.

Q: What's the hot item this summer?

A: Definitely some of the electronics. Everyone wants the new iPod, headphones, ear buds. When I see hot trends, I try to get different price points. A $20 item. Something like a Dr. Dre brand, they'll pay a little bit more, closer to the retail. They'll spend about $100 on average to get that item.

Q: Does your Wall Street experience help you in the skee-ball sector?

A: As far as I'm concerned that's the only thing that separates me from the competition. Everyone is a beachfront store, approximately the same size store. I try to make sure I do as much analysis and understanding of trends. My sister is an elementary guidance counselor.

Q: How is Uncle Mike's doing?

A: I can make more money on Wall Street, but I can tell you: Over the past four years, I've grown revenue about 24 percent annually. From a struggling business, we are well beyond profitability. It's been able to get me through Villanova tuition.

(Interview condensed and edited.)



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