By Karen Appold
Parties are a major source of income for bowling centers. So how can center’s strike it rich by getting a surge in party bookings?
At Jupiter Lanes in Jupiter, Fla., Christine Vitolo, owner, said front desk staff greet every customer that comes in, whether they are a league or open play bowler. Staff members ask each customer when their birthday is, and mentions that the center has great party specials.
“We give them an opportunity to register for our birthday party club, where they get a free game and discounts, and give them a colored flyer with different options for parties,” Vitolo said. “Engage customers in conversation as a first line of marketing. Make sure every customer walks out with something in their hand, whether it’s a coupon or invite to join the birthday club.” The center, which primarily serves families with working parents, averages between 140,000 and 150,000 guests annually.
Use the Internet
Scott Harris, director of marketing, Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Centers, Alpharetta, Ga., which has eight locations throughout metro Atlanta, suggested using an online booking system to increase party bookings. “Guests can book their events immediately, while encouraging an impulse purchase,” he said. “While we still book the majority of our private events over the phone, online bookings increase significantly each year. Since implementing this functionality on our website in 2013, online purchases have grown to 35 percent of total bookings.”
After adding online party reservations over the past two years, Phil Jackson, sales and event manager, Sunset Lanes, Beaverton, Ore., reported that approximately 50 percent of parties are booked online. About 250,000 guests visit the center annually.
Harris is also a proponent of search engine marketing to promote birthday parties. “Specifically, advertising on Google through Google Adwords has produced fantastic results,” he said. In fiscal year 2015, a campaign generated more than seven million impressions, 120,000 click-throughs to the center’s website and thousands of birthday party bookings. “The return on investment is impressive with the campaign costing significantly less than other traditional media outreaches.”
Make it a Memorable
Excellent party execution is a great way to sell future parties. “Each party has its own party host who takes care of the party from start to finish,” Jackson said. “Parents can choose whether or not to be involved.”
At Bowlmor AMF, Vernon Hills, Ill., Mike Sledz, director of league development, said birthday parties are very structured events. “We plan ahead to have the food come out at a certain time as well as plan out the music and dancing such as leading the Cha Cha or something else that’s participatory. Associates engage with the kids – such as having a hula hoop contest – and make sure they have a good time.”
“It’s not just about throwing a ball at some pins,” Sledz continued. “We get the parents involved and make it a unique experience. We always want to keep mom and dad happy. They’ve entrusted us with their kid’s party, and they shouldn’t have to lift a finger. It’s our responsibility to make sure they can relax. We serve the food and they are a part of enjoying the party.”
Locations that execute the event 110 percent usually see an increase in bookings on the same day they are hosting parties, as the parents picking up party guests inquire about a party for their own children, Sledz said.
Like Sledz, Harris said it’s important for staff members to really relate to the kids at their birthday parties, by dressing in outrageous costumes, leading the kids in sing-alongs and games and taking time to personally speak to each and every child. “The energetic and enthusiastic atmosphere created by our staff, and subsequent word of mouth, is the top reason that our birthday party bookings are so successful,” he said.
Keep in Fresh
Consistently upgrading a center’s offerings and attractions should also increase party bookings. “The addition of new video games, redemption games, prizes and attractions keep our centers fresh and exciting for our guests,” Harris said. “Ensuring that the experience in our centers never gets stale enables us to reach out to customers who had birthday parties in the past to rebook with us every year.” Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Centers are located in highly populated but underserved suburban communities in metro Atlanta.
Offer Competitive Pricing
Another way to increase party sales is to offer them at a cheaper price than competitors, while at the same time offering a much higher perceived value. “Our birthday parties are tiered with different price points so that guests can tailor their event to fit their budget,” Harris said. “An advertising motto is ‘we do the work for you.’ While you cannot put a price on taking the workload off of a parent’s shoulder, the perceived value is immense.”
Get the Word Out
Staff at Sunset Lanes make sure that each birthday party attendee leaves with birthday package information in hand. Each party attendee receives a party bag from the redemption game room that contains birthday party information and a birthday club registration card.
“We send out a notice to our birthday club members 45 days in advance of their birthday, reminding them to book a party,” Jackson said. “Thirty days in advance we send them a $10 arcade card along with two free games of bowling.”
In addition, each person who books a party receives a thank-you e-mail and survey. “This gives an opportunity to stay in touch with each guest and gauge their experience with us,” Jackson said.
Each company that spends more than $1,000 on a party receives a cookie bouquet with a dozen cookies along with a personalized thank you.
The bottom line is that there are many ways to entice people to have a party at your bowling center. Do it right, and improve your bottom line.