At family nights at Chance Manufacturing for employees and their families, Dick and Michael Chance always take the first ride.
“We have more fun at family night than anywhere else,” said Michael Chance, the company’s president.
Chance is a quintessential family business. It was founded in 1961 by Michael Chance’s grandfather Harold Chance.
When Harold Chance returned from World War II, he went to work for Ottaway Amusement Co., which built miniature steam trains. After Lester Ottaway decided to build Joyland Amusement Park with sons Harold and Herb, he sold the train business to Harold Chance.
But the market for the trains declined in the mid-1950s, and Chance got into the carnival business, traveling around Kansas. The rides were heavy and hard to move, and he decided there must be an easier way. He would build his own, and in doing so, he pioneered trailer-mounted amusement rides.
In 1970, it bought the assets of the Allen Herschel Co., at that time the largest manufacturer of amusement rides in North America. That’s when the company started making its famous carrousels. In 1977, Chance bought Minibus to make small metro transit buses and streetcars.
Harold’s son, Dick, had been involved in the business for decades and bought all of the company’s assets in 1985 and is still the CEO. Michael and Dick Chance own the current business 50/50.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the company, under Dick Chance, grew to nearly 400 employees and made a big move into amusement park rides. By the end of the decade, it was the largest maker of amusement park rides in the country. Michael Chance joined his father in 1997.
The company sold off most of its bus-making operations in 1998, but kept the tram line. The 2001 recession hit the company hard, and it declared bankruptcy, and a new company, Chance Rides, was formed to take its place.
In 2001, Michael Chance purchased the assets of D.H. Morgan Manufacturing, a roller coaster design and manufacturing firm, and formed Chance Morgan.
All Chance products — carrousels, amusement park rides, roller coasters, trams and gondolas — are now consolidated under the Chance Rides name.
It’s been a pretty eventful history, but these days operations are down from where they were 15 years ago. The company now employs about 100 people.
These days, Michael Chance said, the company is pretty content to remain as it is.
“We’re not in a huge growth mode,” he said. “We’re at a good level right now.”
The company builds 20 to 25 projects a year, ranging from a 20-foot diameter carousel to a 250-foot-tall Giant Wheel, which is similar to a Ferris wheel.
Last year, it erected a 175-foot wheel in National Harbor, a shopping and entertainment development near Washington, D.C.
“We’re known for our quality,” Chance said. “We’re known for the breadth of our product line. That helps when one segment is up and another is down.”
After the boom in amusement parks in the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. market has matured.
The strongest growth is now in Asia and the Middle East, he said. Chance has sold into those markets — it’s maybe 15 percent of the sales — but it’s not a focus of the business. The company goes after projects in an “opportunistic” fashion when it is confident it can handle the project and turn a good profit.
“We just feel like we’ve got a nice niche,” he said.
When asked for his advice to businesses, Chance said its important to keep up with the times, particularly by continuing to invest in new technology.
But he said, the company is also pretty traditional.
“It’s family,” he said. “This is a good business. We’ve got a good group of people, and we’re very much an old-school manufacturer.”
Tier I I
Name of Business: Chance Rides
Year Founded: 1961
Principals (or owners): Dick and Michael Chance
Address: 4219 W Irving St.
Phone number: 316-945-6555