Bowling centers know that if their customers enjoy the game, they will come back for more. To inspire their customers to become better bowlers, many centers have added a pro-shop. Run as independent entities, the pro shop offers bowlers advice not only on what equipment to use, but also advice and sometimes coaching on how to improve their games.
Tony Reyes is a recognized Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) athlete. A national title winner, Reyes once bowled a 300 game on national television. Reyes’ professional credentials and fame make him a sought-after figure at his Off the Sheet Pro-Shop, which is located at 4th Street Bowl in San Jose, Calif.
“I have always been good with people and I enjoy the game so much, so I started this store with my longtime friend, Lindsey Wong, and we have a great time,” Reyes said.
The 800-square-foot store offers bowling balls, shoes, bags, shirts and accessories for bowlers of all levels. Reyes also is available for lessons.
“Equipment has changed so much over the years,” Reyes said. “In the early 1990s, reactive resin hit the market and this new material completely changed the sport. The resin makes the ball a little tacky and hook more.”
Bowling balls at Off the Sheet Pro Shop range in price from $80 to $230 and in weight, from eight to 16 pounds. In the purchase price, Reyes includes drilling, grips fitting and 20 minutes of coaching.
“I love teaching the game to people. When they understand the game, it makes them appreciate it and enjoy it more,” he noted. “I see bowling growing as a recreation sport each day, and that is great. I see more high school and college teams. It is also an amazing social activity that provides exercise, and anyone can play. It’s one of the few sports where level of skill is not that big an issue. You can bowl, talk, eat and have fun. No matter what level you are, there is equipment to fit your needs.”
Also in San Jose at Cambrian Bowl is Skip Pavone’s World of Bowling Pro-Shop. The 1,500-square-foot store carries a variety of balls, bags, shoes and shirts.
“We have more space than a lot of pro-shops, so that enables us to carry four or five different lines of merchandise,” said Skip Pavone, the owner of the pro-shop. “We have all ages and levels of bowlers who come into our store. We have no set demographic. Bowling is for everyone.”
Pavone has noticed recreational bowling growing in the San Jose area, so he keeps in the store equipment for all bowlers, whether they are beginners or experts.
“I have to have a lot of merchandise. If you get serious competition bowlers, they go through a variety of balls, even during one game, depending on their situation and what kind of hook they want on their ball. So, whatever they need, I make a point of having in my store.”
James Allington, owner of Allington’s Pro-Shop, in the Alpine Valley Lanes in Sacramento, Calif., views his pro-shop as a way to reach out to all bowlers. The 565-square-foot shop is one of the largest in the area in terms of volume and earns about $150,000 per year.
“We have a lot of competition in the area. There has to be about 13 or 14 pro-shops in this town, but we set the bar higher,” Allington noted. “We put our customers’ needs above everything, and they notice that and they come back.” Unlike many pro-shops in the area that carry only one line of merchandise, Allington offers a variety of brands. “Customers have different tastes and requirements, so I make sure to have as much on hand as possible to fit their needs.”
The store carries balls, bags, shoes and accessories, plus Arrington offers lessons as well. The store has a broad customer cultural base of men, women and children.
“We get beginners and experts in here, and really it is the beginner that is the hardest to sell to,” he said. “They are not sure what they need to buy. I try and guide them and direct them and each bowler is different. I don’t like to sell them the most expensive items because they might not need it.” Allington sells about 1,000 balls per year, and all his balls are priced without drilling and range in price from $45 to $79.
“Customers come in to see what kind of merchandise we have, and they are always excited to see the variety. I love to talk and meet with the customers. I get to teach them about the game and they get to tell me what their goals are. When that connection takes place, I can help them become better bowlers and more importantly, I can help them love this sport.”
Richard Lee is the manager of the Pro’s Edge in the Almanor Bowling Center in Chester, Calif. The bowling center resides in a tourist area that lies on Lake Almanor, and attracts local residents of the resort community and tourists who seek out bowling when the weather does not cooperate for outdoor activities.
“Our community is about 2,000 people, and so we have a small facility here. There are only eight lanes, but we do get traffic, and we do get people who join the leagues and who want to learn about bowling and have the right equipment.”
Balls are the most sought after equipment in the pro-shop, but Lee also carries, bags, shoes, shirts and accessories. “We are at an advantage over some shops in that we can offer our merchandise at a lower markup. For example, our most expensive balls are about $185. People do check around and they appreciate the lower prices, especially in today’s economy.”
As owner of the Bowlers Experience Pro-Shop in the Cloverleaf Family Bowl in Freemont, Calif., Jack Byrd welcomes bowlers of all levels into his 600-square-foot shop. Prices range from $69.95 for a plastic ball to $129.95 for a reactive resin ball.
“Inexperienced bowlers do not know about the newer technology and materials, so I take the time to educate them,” he said. “I would estimate that more than 80 percent of the balls in my pro-shop are resin and the rest plastic.”
Also available in the Bowlers Experience are bags, shoes, roller bags, gloves and powders. The store carries a limited number of name-dropped shirts as well.
“I carry merchandise for both men and women, but if I had to break down my customers, I would say it was 60 percent men and 40 percent women, but I can see the number of women growing.”
Byrd had retired before starting the Bowlers Experience six years ago. Although his only competition is about 20 miles away, he still views it as a tough business. “It’s hard to get the numbers that I want all the time, but I enjoy the shop, people, and I love the game.”