Rolling with the Technological Changes
September 1, 2013
Innovations in New Bowling Centers
It used to be that we had to keep track of our bowling scores with a short, stubby, yellow pencil and some quick math. Then, it became even easier, with automated scoring via computer system. Now, with the latest advancements in technology, bowling centers are equipped with state-of-the-art systems, making the bowling experience more efficient and exciting than ever before.
For years, West Long and Todd Scott were aware of the lack of entertainment in their town of Olean, N.Y. After many discussions about what they could do to help fill the void in this rural, western New York town, they decided to embark on creating a family entertainment center (FEC). Good Times Olean, featuring three restaurants, an arcade, ping pong, shuffleboard and the latest innovations in bowling opened in July 2013. “Aside from our restaurants, the bowling lanes are our most popular attraction,” said Activities Supervisor Jeff Stahlman of the 40,000-square-foot facility.
The experience in this 16-lane bowling alley takes entertainment to a whole new, interactive level. “QubicaAMF has provided some real cutting-edge technology to the bowling industry. Through them, we have equipped all of our lanes with touchpads, which look much like iPads, to keep track of scoring. Bowlers also have the ability to take pictures with these touchpads and they can upload them onto the monitors. This is just another entertaining piece, because, for instance, if someone gets a gutter ball, they can see a cartoon of themselves doing a little, funny dance on the monitor,” said Shannon Barie, events and promotions manager. “There is also the ability to upload scores to Facebook and to have ‘lane chats,’ which is a way to instant message someone over in another lane. All of this just adds another dimension of fun to the experience.”
Another perk is the ability to have lane bumpers come and go, as needed. Barie described, “If Mom and Dad want to bowl with their kids, they no longer need their own lane. They just program in which players need bumpers, and they will automatically rise up when it is that bowler’s turn.” Just to add to the fun, there are a multitude of TV screens and projectors, so guests can watch any number of shows or sports games while waiting for their turn to bowl. “Our black light system is another fun perk, as guests of any age really seem to enjoy our light shows and the light-up balls,” Barie said.
It has been nearly 10 years since there has been a bowling presence in Olean and residents of the area have been excited with the new center. “We’ve had waiting lists for lanes and a large number of people have signed up for our bowling leagues,” said Stahlman. While the lanes will be for the leagues during the evenings on weeknights, the owners remained adamant that Fridays and Saturdays stay reserved for open bowling.
Open bowling is the main element behind the bowling center at the brand new Big Thrill Factory, in Minnetonka, Minn., which opened in March 2013. “We found that people in our area, particularly those with young kids, would want to go bowling one evening, on a whim, only to find out that they were hindered by leagues. Families with children can’t wait until the leagues end at 9 or 10 o’clock at night. So we decided that our facility would be 100 percent open bowling,” said General Manager Darrel Blomberg. “We are not strictly for families, however,” said owner, Barry Zelickson. “We have created an FEC that appeals not just to families, but also to young and older adults, as well as to business people. Our large meeting room, which is located just off of our lanes, is great for corporate events,” Zelickson said.
To keep up with the demand for innovation within the bowling industry, this FEC had four large projection screens and provides content specific to the ever-changing demographics. “When we have more adults, on Saturday nights, we will put sports on the screens and for the younger crowd, we have music videos and a great playlist for them,” Blomberg said.
Big Thrill Factory also uses string pin bowling, which is a popular trend in the industry. “These pinsetters are often used in Europe and are slowly making their way here to the United States. It is cheaper to set up than traditional pin bowling and string pins do not require a specialized maintenance person. It is quite easy to operate and has been going really well,” Blomberg remarked. Aside from bowling, Big Thrill Factory entertains guests with laser tag, mini-golf, trampolines and several other fun attractions.
Another contemporary, new center is The V, in Omaha, Neb., which opened in July 2013 and features 16 bowling lanes and four VIP lanes, in addition to an arcade, laser tag and more. “The V features an innovative lane set, in which our lanes are literally set up in the shape of a ‘V’,” said owner, Mike Zabawa. “The idea behind this set up is to create more space in the seating area, in turn making the game more social and conversational.” The sofas in the seating area areas comfortably fit eight people per lane in this relaxed, social, comfortable environment.
“When I traveled the country, from South Beach to Seattle, I noticed that most bowling centers were lacking optimized seating, so I knew I wanted this to be a priority. Aside from that, I knew from my own experience with my own family, that leagues make it difficult for families to bowl from 5-9 p.m., seven days a week, nine months out of the year. That became the other priority, creating a bowling environment where families know they can come in anytime and there will be space to bowl,” Zabawa said.
The V attracts a wide array of consumer groups, from families and adults to business people. Those looking for a place to host a corporate have the benefit of the private, VIP bowling suite and corporate meeting center, which features four lanes and a billiard bar. “Our facility is very unique and appeals to so many who are seeking something better from an entertainment perspective,” Zabawa said. To ensure that The V delivers on this promise of delivering “something better,” Zabawa has hired a staff of hospitality professionals, rather than selecting employees with only a bowling industry background. “These business professionals provide a high level of service, which really differentiates us from anyone else. A facility can be state-of-the-art and beautiful, but if the service is not up to par, your guests are not going to come back.” Plans are in the works to add a wave pool to the facility’s waterpark. -