After a personal and professional odyssey that took him from New York City to Florida to Chattanooga, Chris Hampton found his “better mousetrap” in a trailer home.
A native of Carrollton, Georgia, he started Rolling Video Games in 2009. At his Hixson facility, his employees turn 32-foot trailers into custom video arcades, each capable of housing at least six widescreen TVs on one wall. On the opposite wall are seating areas with speakers and motors that vibrate to match the gameplay.
Hampton said its trailers sell for $50,000 apiece and that there are more than 200 in service nationwide.
“It took me a year to sell my first one,” he said during an interview at his Hixson Pike manufacturing facility. “We can do three to five a month now, but I’d like to bring that to ten if I can.”
After growing up in Carrollton, Hampton said he went to New York City to study theater. He said he got into photography on the side, and when he moved to Chattanooga in 1990 to be closer to his family, he started a photography business.
“Photos of babies at home were very popular in New York at the time,” he recalls. “Then I realized that nobody really does that here – babies at home, portraits to play with. We ran this business for about 10 years.”
Hampton said he moved to Florida around the same time the internet was gaining momentum. He said he started a website building business and met his future wife Jen. He said when they returned to Chattanooga in 2000, they built their “pride and joy.”
He called his restaurant on Market Street “Vaudeville Cafe”. “Family oriented improvisational comedy, good Italian food. A lot of good people came through. It was a lot of fun and I really miss it.”
Hampton said the Vaudeville Cafe closed in 2015, but he’s long since opened Rolling Video Games. He said his concept was a mashup of two others.
“I had heard on NPR about a guy in California who was throwing parties in an old trailer that he had decked out with (video game) consoles,” he said. “Then I heard about a guy in Arizona who had capitalized on that idea and was selling franchises.
“So between those two discoveries,” he said, “I decided I would try to build a better mousetrap.”
Hampton’s idea was to build and sell video game trailers and nurture relationships with his customers — but not what he calls the typical relationship between a franchisor and a franchisee.
“I didn’t like the idea of franchising,” he said. “You have to jump through a lot of hoops – have to buy their product, do things their way. It’s pretty restrictive.
“People would much rather be independent,” he said, adding that customers can also use centralized online booking at www.rollingvideogames.com.
Hampton said he has a guide template that his customers can use, but very few have to.
“One is that you use our logo,” he said, “although you can append your name to it – ‘Chris’ Rolling Video Games’. And don’t embarrass the brand – be on time or early (to a party), keep the trailer clean, and be professional.
“It’s pretty hard to screw up,” he said. “You own the trailer, so you can book as many or as few parties as you want. You don’t have to be a video game or business expert. Just follow these few rules and you should be fine.”
Chattanoogan Montrell Besley said he has owned an RVG trailer for almost two years. In his first month, he said, he earned enough to cover what he paid for his trailer.
“Those first 12 months have been amazing,” said Besley. “The need for services (in Chattanooga) was incredibly insane. I had to get another phone because my personal line (with bookings) blew up. During the week I quit my job, took off and did an event – birthday parties, family reunions, church events.
“It’s the easiest business to get into,” adds Besley.
Hampton said that while he’s still trying to figure out virtual reality, he’s making “gradual” changes — like speeding up production by making a smaller, lighter party trailer that’s easier to move around the neighborhood.
He said he also offers financing, allowing customers to deposit 25 percent and pay off the balance in three to five years, but acknowledges he can “only fund so many.”
“There’s a long list of people who want that,” he said. “Our pockets aren’t that deep – we rely on customers who get their own financing and we offer them a discount.
“You can’t start a $50,000 business,” Hampton said. “People are just crazy about video games and America is a big place. You can never go wrong with video games and events.”
Contact Bob Gary at [email protected].