By Holden Slattery
The focus of the bowling industry’s marketing efforts is shifting away from print advertisements and mailed coupons and toward e-mail marketing, website content, and social media activity. What has not changed is the towering level of importance that bowling center owners place on providing great customer service and creating a fun atmosphere. Positive experiences at bowling alleys increase guests’ loyalty and generate free word-of-mouth advertising.
Will Mossontte grew up in the digital age, so he immediately created an internet presence for Empire Bowling Center in Redlands, Calif., when he opened it in 2007. Mossontte writes about events and specials on Facebook. For a $100 fee, Mossontte makes these posts visible to all people who have “liked” Empire Bowling Center on the site, as well as the friends of those people, enabling him to reach up to 30,000 people. “What I found on Facebook is that if you don’t pay to promote your advertisement it’s not going to get the views you need to be successful,” Mossontte said.
Bowling alleys are one of many kinds of businesses using online marketing to connect with their customers on a more frequent basis. Empire Bowling Center sends e-mails to share information with the 850 people who participate in its bowling leagues. The 24-lane, 30,000-square-foot bowling center is currently gathering e-mail addresses of the more casual bowlers who attend open sessions.
While Mossontte prefers using digital content over print media, he still believes that what customers tell their friends and family matters most. “The single best method is word of mouth. Customers who come in and have a good time will tell their friends and family, and I believe that travels far,” Mossontte said.
Facebook and Twitter also empower guests to promote a bowling alley, creating a new type of word-of-mouth buzz. Sandra Clement, owner of Tumwater Lanes in Tumwater, Wash., explained that young people sometimes write on Facebook that they are going to the bowling alley. Their friends read these posts and often decide to come, too.
Clement said their company’s website also generates business, as parents can learn about the 12-lane bowling alley online and decide to hold their children’s birthday parties there. “I think that in the electronic age that’s what people look at nowadays. People use their cell phones as their source of all information. If businesses don’t keep up with it, they can only stay in the dark ages for so long,” Clement said.
Despite the technological trends, Clement finds that building strong, permanent relationships in the local community is more important than any advertising. Girls from the local high school participate in bowling as a varsity sport and come in every week. Tumwater Lanes supports these girls, as well as the school’s other sports teams such as the football and basketball team, by donating to their fundraisers. Students and their parents make up a vital part of the bowling center’s 35,500 visitors per year.
Stardust Bowl in Addison, Ill., uses a diversified marketing approach that includes traditional and new methods. “I believe it’s a multi-tiered front between the old-fashioned kinds and the new social media. I don’t believe that the new social media way is the only way,” said James Saffold, owner of the 84-lane bowling alley.
Saffold uses content in bowling-industry-specific newspapers and magazines, local newspaper advertisements and mailed coupons, as well as the company’s own website and other digital media. People who participate in bowling leagues often read specialized bowling publications. “For tournaments and leagues you need to be specific and target those people. For open bowling and social events you need various social media,” Saffold said.
This 115,000-square-foot-bowling alley has invested in technology to keep up with new trends and innovations. It recently became equipped with a system that allows guests to use the social mobile application XBowling. Guests who download this application on their cellular phones can use it to automatically make their bowling scores visible to anyone else who has XBowling. This means that bowlers in Addison can compete against their friends and family in other cities, states and countries.
Alpine Lanes in Muskego, Wis., has also invested heavily in the modernization of equipment. “People nowadays are used to up-to-date, modern places. They’re used to a higher standard, and what we have to do is give people the cleanliness and technology that you find at other places,” said owner Lloyd McIndoe.
This 16-lane, 20,000-square-foot-bowling center transformed its sports bar into a restaurant with more food options. McIndoe said that bowling alleys used to make a greater profit from selling alcoholic drinks than from food. Increased penalties for drinking and driving have played a role in changing that. “When you tie in really good food that’s when you’re really going to hit. Nowadays food is so important,” McIndoe said.
McIndoe believes word-of-mouth advertising is still paramount, but his secondary forms of advertising have changed in recent years. Alpine Lanes has stopped using print advertisements and has begun using its Facebook page to attract guests. “We’re kind of breaking into the social media thing. I think it’s extremely valuable, especially if you’re trying to build a following,” McIndoe said.
Pick’s Bowling Center in Bigfork, Mont., draws in guests by providing them coupons through its company website, but also achieves success with traditional advertising methods. “Radio advertising is very effective in our valley. There’s just so many listeners to country western music here, and if you catch the advertising at the right time it works well,” said Louwania Pickavance, owner of the 20-lane, 20,500-square-foot-bowling alley.
But word-of-mouth advertising and the cultivation of strong local connections are Pick’s Bowling Center’s most trusted promotional strategies. “We support our schools here in their activities, because they’re the people that come in here by the busload,” Pickavance said.
East Windsor Bowling and Recreation Center in Hammonton, N.J., still advertises effectively in local and regional newspapers, in addition to using its website and social media. These various methods help to promote its senior leagues, women’s leagues, men’s leagues, $1-game Mondays, and its participation in Kids Bowl Free, a national program that allows children to bowl for free twice a day throughout the summer.
People often learn about the wide array of leagues, events and specials through advertisements or social media. But it is the overall bowling experience that keeps guests coming again and again. “If you give people the best possible customer service when you have guests here, it’s a sure thing they’ll come back,” said Karen Kleber, manager of the 24-lane bowling center. “I’ve been working in the bowling business for 30 years now. I feel that the person at the front desk is going to set your impression of the place from the moment you walk in.” –