SEA ISLE CITY — Mike Dolio studies accounting and finance at Villanova University, but the 21-year-old gets plenty of real-world experience by running his own business.
For the past four years, Dolio co-owned Uncle Mike’s Arcade, an 87-machine arcade that is part of the Spinnaker, a massive complex that lines the city’s beachfront Promenade.
The arcade hosts rows of Skee-Ball, pinball machines and blinking-light games that slide out tickets for prizes.
Dolio spent his winter college break rebuilding the prize rack to display more merchandise.
“His father passed away when he was 4, so he grew up with a lot of responsibility. All my children did,” said his mother, Catherine Dolio, who financed the purchase. “Michael took it and ran with it.”
Dolio, who lives in Springfield, Pa., and is a part-time Sea Isle City resident, owns the store with his mother and his stepfather, Joe Dreger.
Wearing an “Uncle Mike’s” T-shirt on a recent weekday, Dolio — who is not an uncle — helped a group of children undecided on what to redeem for their tickets.
He showed them an assortment of silver plastic rings with jewels inside.
This business is not new to Dolio, who worked there for years when it was known as Uncle Al’s Arcade.
Still a teenager in late 2009, Dolio heard the business might be up for sale, so he approached his mother about it.
“I spent a lot of time in here. I was learning how to fix machines, learning day-to-day operations of the store, and I really saw promise in the place. From being in here every day, I knew what I wanted to do to bring it to the next step,” he said.
“I don’t know how I proved to her putting money out for me to run a business was a successful idea, but now I’ve actually proved it,” he said.
A Realtor in Pennsylvania, Catherine Dolio said the small business got its start amid the sour real estate market in 2010. She used her retirement account to help fund the purchase.
“The real estate market and the economy back in 2010 was really bad. I was looking for another opportunity, and when Michael came to me with the idea, it seemed to be something I was definitely interested in pursuing, because I trusted him and he had some experience in the business,” she said.
The arcade now looks different from when the family bought it in 2010.
The new price racks built over the winter holiday replaced mirrored glass cabinets.
“I’m able to fix 50 more prizes in this based on what I had in the old one,” Mike Dolio said. “I can display it in a new, cooler way and get more prizes up there.”
Dolio is heading into his junior year at Villanova and expects to graduate in 2015, when he hopes to find a career on Wall Street.
The experience of running and owning a business gives him a unique perspective in the classroom.
“One is feasibility of an idea. When someone says, ‘I have an idea to host a nighttime Skee-Ball tournament,’ at first I think, that’s a great idea. Then I think, now I have to have employees here. How many people are going to come? What’s it going to cost me? What’s it going to do? Starting to think that way has really made its way into the classroom for me,” he said.
The arcade opened on Easter weekend and ran weekends until Memorial Day. From then, it runs daily through Labor Day, and will open weekends through the fall, he said.
As a tourist-reliant business, weather can influence a day’s revenues, particularly because a rainy day can drive people from the beach and into other stores.
As such, Dolio keeps records of each day’s weather and whether it was sunny or rainy outside.
The ledgers also keep track of each game’s earnings. When the arcade decides to spend money on a new game, it should not only bring in more revenue, but those earnings should not come at the expense of other games, he said.
The arcade found success with the Big Bass Wheel, a revolving wheel that rewards tickets to cash in for prizes. Dolio tracked the game’s revenues and determined its success was not hurting other games.
“As weird as this may sound, this place is like my child. I don’t go a day without thinking about it. I don’t go a day without doing something, telling someone about it,” he said. “Because almost all of my life has been in here, and if it does well, it affects my pockets, my family.”
Contact Brian Ianieri: