While the increasing popularity of bowling itself bodes well for bowling centers’ business, operators would still do well to look into other features to better service their guests and improve their business picture. A properly managed arcade is one such feature, owners and managers of these facilities have discovered.
At the 30,000-square-foot Fountain Bowl in Jamestown, N.Y., a 600-square-foot arcade enhances guests’ experience by giving them something to do when they are not bowling; for example, if they are waiting for food, said Manager Donna Germain. The birthplace of such notables as comedienne Lucille Ball and Natalie Merchant, lead singer of vocal group 10,000 Maniacs, Jamestown is home to several minor league sports teams, including the Jamestown Chiefs semi-pro football team and the Jamestown Jammers baseball team of the New York-Penn League. It was once known as the “Furniture Capital of the World” for its myriad furniture manufacturing plants; some multinational corporations still have operations there.
Germain noted that the presence of the arcade within the center, which is open nine months of the year and hosts approximately 3,000 visitors during that time period, also enables it to better cater to non-bowlers. She cited as an example siblings of children who are attending birthday parties at the facility and might otherwise be at “loose ends” waiting with an adult while their brother or sister enjoys the festivities.
In terms of benefiting the business, “it’s an added source of revenue,” Germain said. “We won’t retire on it, but the arcade does bring in revenue, and that’s all that counts.”
Germain attributed Fountain Bowl’s success with the arcade in large part to two strategies—positioning it near the snack bar, where it is highly visible, and ensuring that at least a portion of the games are repetitive and of short duration. “If people are waiting for food, they might play, and if they get change, they might play,” she stated. “Games that are short to play and are repetitive, like the crane and claw” varieties, are good because people get it in their heads that they want to play to win, so they keep on playing.”
The operator added that with the success of the arcade, have come mistakes. Notably, Fountain Bowl at one time was losing a significant volume of “moveable” game accessories, like hockey pucks and balls. These items are now stored at the front desk; guests must ask for them when they are about to commence playing the requisite game(s) and return them to an employee when they are finished. “Otherwise, things like that go missing; people take them after they have used them, leave them there for others to take, or even hide them around the center,” Germain explained.
Also in Jamestown, at the nearby Jamestown Bowling Company, an arcade of about 300 square feet in size paves the way for more pleasurable guest visits all around. “It gives customers another avenue of entertainment, which is” increasingly important given consumers’ recession-induced tendency to be more choosy about how and where they spend their leisure entertainment dollar, stated Mary Gayton, assistant manager.
Over the years, the center’s management has identified maintaining a cadre of the most up-to-date games, and the latest versions thereof, as the most effective means of leveraging the arcade’s potential to feed the business through increased revenue. These games are “more attractive to customers, who want to play them more than they would older games,” Gayton asserted. She regrets what she considers an error in leasing the arcade to a third party and receiving a portion of the proceeds from that entity; “if we had done it ourselves, we would have more control over the games,” she said.
George Hoffman, owner of 30,000-square-foot Sunset Recreation in Albany, N.Y., and Tom Walsh, Jr., owner of Uncle Sam Lanes and Green Island Lanes in Green Island, N.Y., agree with Gayton and Germain that the more “extras” bowling centers offer to customers, the better for guests and the bottom line. The operators conduct businesses in two very different settings: Albany is New York’s capital city; according to Wikipedia, its population comprises residents in all socioeconomic groups. Green Island is both the quintessential small town and the smallest by area in New York state at less than one square mile.
“On the service side,” Hoffman said, Sunset Recreation’s 300-square-foot arcade “enhances the fun for my junior league on Saturday mornings, and I have a father-son league on Sundays, so that’s good for the kids.” Augmenting the revenues here are those generated by guests who decide to pass the time by playing games in the arcade as they wait for a lane or for food at the snack bar.
Ten years ago, Hoffman invested $750,000 in a renovation of the facility, which at that juncture had been in operation for 60 years. One component of the project entailed relocating the arcade from a less trafficked spot to one near the front entrance, where the games would be most visible to customers upon their arrival at the center. Sunset Recreation’s restrooms had occupied the current site of the arcade since the 1950s, but few, if any visitors seem to mind that they are now found elsewhere.
The operator added that while making the arcade as visible as possible to customers was his best move and named it as a top tip for successful arcade operation in a bowling center, allowing a third-party coin-op amusement firm to install one somewhat violent game comprised his most significant mistake. “It was a crazy shooting game that was a little ‘over the top,’ and the parents didn’t like for their kids to play it,” he said. “So we had the vendor come in and take it right out, and we look at these things more carefully now.”
For his part, Walsh appreciates that with the arcade in place, he can better cater to adult bowlers who need not skip league bowling events should they be unwilling or unable to attend without their children in tow. He can also avoid complaints from league bowlers without children about being forced to contend with others’ youngsters and kick his center’s earnings up a notch by giving adult game fans an outlet for their pastime. “A lot of times during adult league bowling, kids can go in there [the arcade] and not bother the adults, and we do have adults now and then who come in and try our games,” he stated.
As is the case with Gayton, Walsh reviews his game lineup frequently to ensure its relevance, a practice whose importance he learned when he made the mistake of “not updating the games quickly enough,” and sacrificing revenues as a result. He counseled fellow operators to keep in mind, in putting together a cadre of games, that redemption games are king; they “have taken over the arcade world,” he noted.
Paul Nocek, owner of Lucky Lanes in the picturesque village of Fredonia, N.Y. (rural Chautauqua County), also places a high priority on upgrading the selection of games in his facility’s 600-square-foot arcade; once each year, he weeds out the poor performers and brings in popular options. Nocek said the arcade supports his business by allowing him to promote Lucky Lanes not as a bowling alley, but as a family entertainment facility.
“It’s just another entity within the center that helps add to the idea of a fun center, not just bowling or food,” the operator stated. “I went with redemption a few years back, and that adds to it. Kids have all kinds of video games at home, and arcade games can’t compete with those, so redemption is a great extra. One thing that has helped me was the ticket-to-prize machine. I don’t have a lot of space for a big counter, but I can still offer prizes in a small space.”
The arcade offers an additional boost by lending added appeal and value to the center’s birthday party package. “We give tokens with the package, so they get bowling, food and the arcade,” Nocek asserted. “The parents thank me at the end. It makes the center more attractive. It’s a lot easier than keeping 15 kids occupied for a birthday party at your house. Here they can come and be themselves and have fun, and there’s no clean-up for the parents.”
Nocek has installed cameras in the arcade so that should a machine be damaged or otherwise vandalized, he will be able to identify the culprit(s). “Experience showed us that if the arcade is off to the side, as ours unfortunately must be, it’s important to invest in cameras so you can see who does the damage,” he concluded. –
Before You Sign On the Dotted Line
When contracting with a coin-op amusement company, heed the following tips.
• Spell out responsibilities. Specify how often machines will be serviced, by whom, and who will be responsible for refunds when equipment malfunctions, suggested Marko Petronijewic, manager of Wallington Lanes in Wallington, N.J. “Otherwise, things can go sour fast.
• Don’t underestimate the amount of service you will require. “Make sure you have a means of servicing your machines somehow,” urged Paul Nocek, owner of Lucky Lanes in Fredonia, N.Y. “The public is not gentle on the games.”
• Include a termination clause. “If they are not doing their job, you should have the flexibility to end the agreement sooner rather than later,” said Donna Germain, manager, Fountain Bowl, Jamestown, N.Y.