Bowling: The Future of Family Entertainment
An Anchor Attraction That Can Increase Your Market Share

Bowling centers have been in the business of family entertainment for decades.  However, a recent shift in the amenities offered in many bowling centers has the bowling industry buzzing.  Traditional bowling centers that were comprised of some number of bowling lanes, a pro shop, snack bar, and maybe a small arcade are being transformed into one-stop entertainment venues offering bowling, miniature golf, laser tag, large redemption centers, party rooms and much more.  This shift in venues is altering the clientele and revenue potential of the bowling business.  The financial plateau reached by many small bowling centers that base their business model on adult leagues and beer sales is a simple stepping stone to the profit potential that accompanies a multiple entertainment venue center.
Regardless of a shift in entertainment venues, marketing practices, and/or operating procedures, one thing remains consistent, bowling.  Bowling is a unique activity in that it appeals to all individuals.  Regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, or income level it is the one activity that has truly ‘bowled’ the world over.  Today bowling has re-emerged in pop-culture appearing on television, in movies, on radio, and even in the white house.  It is the largest participatory sport in the world and more children attended birthday parties at bowling centers than at any other venue last year.  Entertainment venues that have built their facility around a bowling foundation are reaping the benefits of decades of families and friends getting together and having fun bowling.
So why isn’t everyone jumping on the bandwagon and building bowling family entertainment centers (FECs)?  For one, the startup costs can be extremely high.  These facilities range in size from 30,000 to 80,000-plus square feet and contain multiple entertainment venues, some of which require initial investments of well over $400,000.  A good rule of thumb when building a traditional bowling center is that the number of lane beds will dictate the total construction cost at a ratio of approximately $100,000 per lane not including real estate (i.e. initial construction costs for a 30-lane traditional bowling center would be $3 million.)  However, in the bowling FEC business, this ratio is much higher.  Many bowling FECs in the market today had initial construction costs of well over $7 million, even though they may only offer 10-20 lanes of bowling.
Another difficult obstacle when entering the bowling FEC business is marketing and developing consumer perceptions.  In all entertainment industries, creating buzz about your facility and informing the public on the products and services you offer is a difficult barrier to overcome. In the bowling industry, this is augmented by public perceptions of bowling centers.  Although ever improving, many people still have a stigma about bowling centers as being smoky, dirty, facilities, typically inhabited by adult men seeking cheap beer and deep-fried foods.  As mentioned before, bowling has once again entered main stream pop-culture and in turn opinions are rapidly changing.  Today more than 60 percent of all bowlers are under the age of 34 and half are women.  Bowling FECs that can create a niche and reach out to specific market segments are successfully overcoming negative public stereotypes.
It is not the obstacles at the start of the race, but the accolades at the finish line that have many business people interested in expanding their entertainment center operations to include bowling.  There are many advantages to the bowling business.  For one, revenue streams are fairly consistent and resistant to recessions.  Bowling centers are known for surviving through tough economic times as they are an affordable source of entertainment that allow families to get out and do something together without breaking the bank.  Even bowling facilities with higher pricing structures have been known to last through a down economy as consumers who would typically spend their entertainment dollars at a more expensive venue, view bowling as a cheaper alternative to previous forms of entertainment.  The perceived value of the game is within an acceptable range for all consumers regardless of income level.
Also, the longevity of the equipment within the facility is very good.  Although the industry is constantly offering new technology, bowling centers can operate without regular upgrades for long periods of time.  Even new centers being built today are using refurbished equipment well over 30 years old.  And equipment parts are one of only a few items inventoried in bowling centers.  It is truly a cash business that can be macro managed very easily.  In a bowling center, inventory is time and not perishable products that must be regularly rotated in and out of a storage facility.
In general, the bowling industry is naturally tailored to family entertainment.  Today more than ever, consumers are looking for value for their entertainment dollars.  A shift in the business model of the traditional bowling center has made the industry more profitable than ever and it is poised to be a leader in family entertainment world-wide.  More and more entertainment centers are adding bowling to their facilities to allow them to reach a larger audience and achieve a larger market share.  The bowling industry today is much more than just funny looking rental shoes; it’s the future of family entertainment.
(Collin Kerschner is the education coordinator, Bowling University, BPAA)

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