MISSOULA - Many people set goals to finally pursue their passions or dreams at the beginning of a new year.
Last year, one Missoula man followed his passion and started a pinball machine business and Seff Propios recently celebrated one year of his company, Spin A Rip. The idea for the business came from a lifelong love of arcade games.
Propios was born in 1975, so a large chunk of his childhood was throughout the 80s when arcade games were popular. His father was in the military, so he moved all around the Western U.S. and says he spent a lot of his time playing games like Pac-Man and Galaga.
“I was constantly in arcades growing up," Propios recalled. "I was one of those kids, you know, we got, like, a five dollar allowance every two weeks. That money burned a hole in my pocket and went straight into arcade games."
As Propios entered his teenage years, he started to obsess over pinball and began to imagine owning an arcade one day. Then, in the late 1990s — while selling vinyl records online — Propios saw an eBay ad for a pinball machine. At the time, it was $1600.
“That’s always been in the back of my mind, like, man, you can buy a pinball machine?” Propios said.
The dream of owning his own machine was put on the back burner as he followed in his father's footsteps and spent eight years in the Montana Army Guard. He was deployed oversees to Bosnia, then soon after became a father.
It wasn't until 2019 that the pinball dream came back into his mind. He finished grad school and earned a Masters of Science degree in geography, with a focus in cartography, and as a graduation present to himself, he wanted to finally buy a pinball machine.
Again — this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic — his dream was pushed back. Then in 2021, Propios took his daughter to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas, where he was refueled with the idea of starting a pinball-related business.
This time, he decided to commit, “that’s when I said 'okay I’m going to do this. I’ll give it a shot.'”
Pinball machines today can cost $7,000, or even more with shipping. At first, he convinced himself, and his wife, that he could afford two machines. That quickly turned to four machines. Then instead, he decided to buy six.
Pinball has been around for almost 100 years, and spans several generations because of its commitment to its roots, while also incorporating new technology. This means pinball machines can retain their value pretty well, according to Propios.
"I figured after a year or two, if it wasn't panning out, I could just sell them and then recoup my money," Propios said.
Through dedication and advertising, Propios was able to expand his business so that by the time of St. Patrick's Day 2022, Spin A Rip was a successful passion project. Today, he owns 12 different machines and is grateful he took the leap of faith to start this business.
“I am over the moon stoked that I started this," he said. "Just meeting the people, my customers, who are as enthusiastic as I am about pinball. It’s just been awesome how supportive people have been.”
Propios typically buys machines from national distributors but has also bought games from auction houses. By buying older machines, he is able to learn more about the repair and maintenance of his games.
He rents out his machines to people around Missoula as a way to finance his own pinball hobby, "this is a way that people help me keep pinball machines at my house,"
Propios says he's surprised to see who in Missoula is looking to rent pinball machines. A lot of his customers are families with young children.
“I thought just like hardcore pinball fanatics would be my customers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth," he said.
At MisCon — the fantasy and science fiction convention in Missoula — Propios met Jason Benner, who was fascinated by Propios's pinball collection. Benner who is the co-owner and manager of Muse Comics now has five Spin A Rip machines in the store.
Benner says he was eager to collaborate with Propios because pinball aligns with Muse's values.
“For us, it’s all about community," he said. "Getting other people in our area that like similar things to know each other."
The pinball machines in Muse's tabletop game room are available to play Thursday through Saturday nights and during the day on Sunday, while the machine in their retail store is available during regular store hours.
Benner has recently expanded his pinball skills, rekindling a child-like appreciation similar to Propios.
“Anything that helps you stop focusing on the things in your life that are making you stressed out, giving you anxiety, it’s very healthy. And one really fun thing about pinball...they designed it this way. They’re smart. You know, bright lights, flashing lights, and that satisfaction of doing something awesome. And you get this huge blinky light explosion to really solidify that you did something cool.”
Propios and Benner both agree that pinball machines have been able to remain relevant throughout generations largely thanks to nostalgia. Generally, the machines in 2023 run fairly similar to the machines from the 50s and 60s.
“Fundamentally, it’s still the same game as it’s always been," Propios said.
Still, young generations are interested in pinball because new technology is involved. For example, the colorful lights are now due to an LED board instead of individual bulbs, there is more animation and even online components where you can track your progress or compete in tournaments with online leaderboards. Pinball also uses strong, relevant labels, like Star Wars, Adams Family and Stranger Things.
“In this day and age, there is tech devices everywhere, everyone is staring at a screen. And there is some of that here, to a certain degree. But you know, pinball is a physical medium, when you press a button, there is a physical mechanism that fires off, then not to mention there’s a steel ball careening around the playfield. You can feel that.” - Spin A Rip owner Seff Propios
Overall, Spin A Rip is an excellent example of someone following their passion and creating a lucrative business with it.
“I hope he continues to be really successful, and I’m just beyond honored that we get to share this with him," Benner said.
Propios wants people who have a long-lost dream to know it is never too late, but it is always important to do your research.
“Strongly recommend, do your research. A lot of times something that sounds like a great idea, once you’re knee deep, might be a totally different ball game than what you were expecting," he advised. "As long as you’re persistent and you have some level of problem-solving skills, I don’t think there is anything that you should shy away from if that’s your true passion.”