Interview by Jonathan Joosten
Translation by Mila Groot

On July 24th, 2011 the Jersey Jack Pinball (JJP) newsletter contained some very interesting news for the Dutch: Bertjan Postma, member of the Dutch Pinball Association (NFV) and owner of Ministry of Pinball had been named as the exclusive authorized JJP dealer for the Benelux countries and France. More recently, Germany has been added to the list as well.

Jonathan Joosten visited Bertjan to find out more about him.

One thing immediately catches your attention as you walk into the Ministry of Pinball showroom: the neatly aligned row of Stern pinball machines. All Limited Edition models, and all in mint condition. Although there are game rooms where you might also find these machines, what makes them special is that Bertjan imported them all himself.

The Ministry of Pinball showroom
The Ministry of Pinball showroom -
The toppers shown on the machines above will soon be available to purchase

Bertjan: It all started with a limited edition Lord of the Rings. It sold out very quickly and I couldn't get any more from the regular Stern dealers. Fortunately, over the past years I've got to know several people in the United States through and they were able to help me locate some LOTR LEs. I figured out how to get them into The Netherlands and then it turned out more people were also looking for one. So I ended up importing a whole batch of them.

Then when Stern started to make more limited editions which kept selling out in no time, I knew how to get my hands on these machines and how to get them over here. And people also started to ask me when they wanted something special.

Fair enough, but going from parallel import to authorized dealer is quite a step.

Bertjan: Sure, but a deliberate choice as well, both for me and Jack. I heard about JJP's plans and then got in touch with Jack. I told him about myself and explained my ideas concerning JJP, and my enthusiasm got to him. I like things that are made with passion – that is my passion. When I told Jack I wanted to distribute his pinballs over here, he did a sort of background check on me through r.g.p. and the people there were all positive about me.

To Jack it is very important that his dealer is also a pinball fan, so when he saw my passion for the game, he knew enough. I think we are very lucky with Jack. We should be very happy that a true pinball lover has risen and has started making the games that we all love so much. Together we will try to bring pinball back into the picture.

That's quite a challenge, especially since you will be supplying not just Holland, but also Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and France. That's a really large area.

Bertjan: True, it's a challenge, but one I'm willing to take up. I've found someone with many connections in France and I've also got the best mechanic in France under contract, so we're making progress. Right now we're working out our strategy. We've designed a special French website for France with its own logo. We know that the French almost worship the Bally/Williams name so we'll emphasise the fact that The Wizard of Oz (WoZ) is being built using B/W parts and that the pinball feeling from before will return.

Recently you also became distributor for Germany. Originally, Highclass Pinballs was supposed to be the distributor for that area as well as supplier of the playfields for WoZ. What happened for that territory to became available, and how did you get it?

Bertjan: After Mirco [the owner of Highclass Pinballs – JJ] thought about what was really behind running those large quantities of playfields, he decided it would be better to just focus on reproducing playfields. I don't want to get into full details here, but with the ending of the partnership with Mirco, the German market became available again. Jack and I talked about it, and at the beginning of the year it was decided that Ministry of Pinball was going to take on Germany.

Christophe Lienard is looking after the French part of the sales. What can you tell us about him and how he will operate?

Bertjan: Christophe is a collector and has been a pinball junkie for more than 12 years. He is a guy who is very passionate about pinball and we're both committed to making JJP the new reference in the pinball world!

There will be no division between the areas where Christophe will work and where I will work. It's only where there is a language barrier to overcome that Christophe will step in, because he is simply better with the French language than I am. So, when a customer is more comfortable speaking French, it's best to call Christophe!

For the Dutch market, operators can only operate games that have been tested and approved by the authorities. Have you already researched how to obtain such approval so you can offer JJP machines to the Dutch operators?

Bertjan: Yes, but we need the pinball machine to be here first. Without a physical product there is nothing to request. We are now looking into a way for operators to pay by installments, and to buy back machines for a pre-determined price after a certain period of time.

You have bought your Stern machines by parallel import. Aren't you afraid others will do the same with JJP machines?

Bertjan: That is not so easy in this case, because they would have to go directly to JJP, and JJP will send anyone wanting to buy a pinball in Benelux, France or Germany to me. Besides, we are in contact with other JJP dealers and we have made clear agreements not to interfere in each other's markets.

How enforceable and legal is that?

Bertjan: Needless to say, I haven't spoken to all of them but it's a friendly agreement between con-specifics. I hope that I can count on their loyalty but what's more important for me is the fact that I know I'm going to stick to the agreement. Jack is also working on an intranet environment for distributors. I think this will also benefit the loyalty between distributors.

In the UK there's only one authorized dealer and two re-sellers.

Bertjan: A structure like that could work for us, too. Anyone interested should contact me.

You started out working from home, but recently moved to your new showroom.

Bertjan: Correct. I've been looking at office space in and around The Hague and I've found this perfect showroom in Rijswijk. It's so close to home I can ride over there on my Vespa in the summer.

Bert-Jan in his office
Bertjan in his office

How is this showroom working for you so far?

Bertjan: For the time being it's just the perfect 'man-cave' with a lot of square metres for my private pinball collection. When the JJP games are here it will be the perfect argument to persuade operators to invest in the JJP games, and it will be even more the perfect 'man-cave'!

Are you concerned about continuity? After WoZ it could take JJP a while before the next machine is out. Having a big showroom without much to put in it sounds expensive.

Bertjan: That is why the Ministry of Pinball is about more than just JJP pinballs and parts. MoP should be the place to go for all things passionately pinball.

Such as?

Bertjan: I went to the Chicago Pinball Expo and I met some other pinball people. Greg Freres and Dennis Nordman, for example, started their company Whizbang Pinball alongside their regular jobs at JJP. It's an amazing project! They were taken by surprise by the enthusiastic reaction to their Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons project. They built four machines and ordered one hundred extra backglasses and thirty more playfields, which all were sold in no time at all. They'll be making a second production run of the playfields, which will be marked as a second run. That way, the buyers of the first 30 playfields won't be let down, because all 60 playfields will keep their value.

I will also be distributing the Whizbang products and merchandise. Of course I have one of those wonderful Whoa Nellie! backglasses hanging on the wall, only the special limited edition wooden frame is still missing. By the way, these frames are hand-made by Dennis Nordman himself, in his garage. So I've asked him to go back into the garage to make me one, too.

Bert-Jan at Pinball Expo
Bertjan at Pinball Expo

At Pinball Expo I also talked to the guys from ColorDMD. They've transformed monochrome dot matrix animations from Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness into colour animations and are offering them in special kits including all necessary hardware. I will also be selling these kits and my expectations are high. At Expo there was an Attack from Mars with this colour display and it was being played all the time. People were very enthusiastic about it.

So, how about being a Planetary Pinball Supply stockist with JJP using their parts?

Bertjan: I spoke with Rick about this when I was at Expo in Chicago last year. He already was very enthusiastic about the idea of me being a Planetary Pinball Supply stockist. I'm not there yet; I still need to make some decisions. I'm not really sure if I want to sell their full catalogue or just focus on JJP-specific parts.

About the Pinball Expo: Jack got you onto the stage during his fireside chat and asked you, among other things, why you'd become the authorized dealer. Your answer was more about your discontent with Stern's quality control.

Bertjan: Right, I was very disappointed with Stern. I mean, how can it be that after unpacking my new Limited Edition Tron, it took my technician ninety minutes to make it work? The optos in the ball trough had been soldered on so skewed that they could never have worked. Some of the switches were broken, and it had more problems than just these. That's just not right. All that should have been noticed during testing and it should have been fixed before the machine left the factory. So I was very annoyed and I told everyone.

But it wasn't just me. During the whole fireside chat there were a few jokes about Stern. Jack put the somewhat negative reactions at the chat aside with the words “let the game speak for itself Bertjan, don't worry”. However, this chat by Jack and his team was brilliant. If you haven't heard it yet, please go and listen to it, for the widebody anecdote by Keith Johnson, if for nothing else.

Bert-Jan with the JJP team at Pinball Expo
Bertjan with the JJP team at Pinball Expo

You talked to Jack and all of the people in the WoZ design team at Expo?

Bertjan: Yes, that was great. All those guys became boys again. There's so much knowledge, passion and experience there and the spirit is so very different from Stern, Sega or Bally/Williams. Now if someone posts a wild idea they don't get shot down immediately but all of them try and figure out a way to make it work.

I'm also very happy with the quality of the work JJP is going to deliver. They will be using Bally/Williams parts. They have a reputation to uphold. I asked programmer Keith Johnson if we could be expecting a kind of rule sheet like on the Lord of the Rings, or perhaps The Simpsons Pinball Party and he said, “Bertjan, you will be flabbergasted”. Excellent! At the same time, they all realise the game must appeal to the less-experienced player as well, so they have all bases covered.

Any scoops?

Bertjan: For JJP's pinball machines, a complete new board set has been designed. I understand from Keith that they are only using a small part of the board set's capacity, so that means there's lots more to do with it…

The Ministry of Pinball's logo is a cool dude, whereas most people's first association with pinball is ladies with an impressive rack.

Bertjan: Right, and that's exactly why I wanted something else. A voluptuous lady on a pop bumper has been done so many times before. Because of the term 'Ministry', my first idea was something like a civil servant with a bit of a hunch and a big steel ball stuffed under his suit. My designer also suggested this dude, only with a pompadour hairstyle. We lost the hairdo because it is too often associated with older pinballs. But we did like the guy, so we kept him and made a few variations.

The Ministry of Pinball logo
The Ministry of Pinball logo

We also have a bald guy, a French one and a few others. You will see the others on different pages of the website later on. I've also had a couple of T-shirts made, which were rather popular at last years Dutch Pinball Open. Nice bright colours and clearly very different.

Variations of the logo
Variations on the logo

What about the pricing of new pinball machines these days? JJP obviously sold most of their games to collectors, which is fine, but how will a new pinball machine be affordable for an operator in the future? Stern is currently stripping their Pro models but their games are more expensive than ever. Obviously that is not your concern, but a stripped down WOZ wouldn't be cheap either. With these current prices, getting the return on investment will take years of operating a game without it being out of order or malfunctioning. So many quit. That doesn't seem to be a good situation for pinball?

Bertjan: Research has shown that 39% of all operators still buy new games. Although one third of them find that the price of new games is too high, another third of all operators find the price of new games less important when their ROI is within a reasonable timeframe.

A new, innovative game like the WoZ will do very well on location and will contribute to more demand from operators. That same research also showed that most operators stopped buying games after B/W closed their doors. With the return of B/W parts, the games will become much more reliable, which was another big reason why operators stopped buying new games.

Can you give an indication of the number of games you sold so far?

Bertjan: We're close to 50 games now. With the addition of the German market we will see a rise in demand. We only have 13 LE games left.

With most games sold to collectors, what can you tell us on if, and how, you are planning to get in contact with operators?

Bertjan: We're already getting already a lot of inquiries from operators in France and Holland. Most of them respond very positively to the fact that JJP will be using Bally/Williams parts for instance. What we also see is that a lot of them wait before investing in WoZ because they want to see the actual product first.

If, for some reason, in the end operators are not willing to invest in pinball anymore, then I'm willing to look at starting my own operator service. All things are difficult before they are easy, but one thing is for sure; pinball has to come back to the streets again! I'm not going to wait for others to start this, so if necessary, I will act.

What will be the shipping/distribution/service arrangements for buyers in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg?

Bertjan: Ministry of Pinball made a deal with a shipping company, which will deliver the pins throughout the countries for which we have the distributorship. Otherwise, in the case of short distances and according to where the buyers are located, our own team will deliver and, if needed, will help the buyer to unpack and set up his game.

Will all games bought in those countries come to you first?  

Bertjan: Yes, that will be the case with WoZ. After WoZ we will take inventory of how many games went to each country and we can then decide what the most logical step to do is after that.

What about if a buyer has a problem with their game?  

Bertjan: While we might joke around a lot, pinball should be fun. We absolutely do not joke when it comes to customer service. We give a full no-nonsense service on all parts and games so we can assure our customers that we take service very seriously.

You've mentioned a service tech in France, but what about other countries.

Bertjan: I also have two other guys who will cover the Benelux countries. I'm still looking for one or more guys to cover Germany but I don't think that this will take long to arrange after this interview! 

What more can we expect from you?

Bertjan: Much. As I said before, anything that shows passion for pinball. At the moment we are focusing on our strategy. The website must become a site people return to, to check for updates.

We will also be offering products we know people want to order but wouldn't when they have to order them from the US. People don't know about shipping and customs and stuff like that. I hope to make that easier for lots of people.

Finally, as a more fun question, have you bought a WOZ yourself? :-)

Bertjan: Of course! As a real pinball fanatic myself, who doesn't get very enthusiastic with everything we have seen so far? Look at the team around Jack, all these great pinball legends! I'm fully convinced that the end result will be more than amazing!

Have you bought one already? ;) 


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