Family Entertainment Centers around the nation are known for offering everything from go-karts to laser tag. But many companies are turning to one of the most traditional family activities to increase revenue: bowling.
A main reason why Family Entertainment Centers believe bowling is a key to their future success is that so few new bowling centers are constructed, leaving a niche and desire by patrons for new, exciting, modern bowling centers.
“There were other bowling areas in the area, but they were all about 40 years old or older,” said Bud Murray, owner of Happy Tymes Family Fun Center in Warrington, Pa., which added 16 lanes of bowling in 2006. “As they got older, people were looking for something newer, which is what we provided.”
Nat Mundy, vice president and director of marketing and sales for Spins Bowl at Grand Prix New York in Mt. Kisco, said his company added a 19-lane, 20,000-square-foot Brunswick bowling center in November 2011 to also reach a different, broader demographic.
“We wanted to bring people here who weren’t into go-karting,” said Mundy, noting Grand Prix also features indoor go-karting as well as a conference center and restaurant. “We actually took out part of our track, reduced the size of it to accommodate bowling. And it’s been great. We brought a whole other demographic here we haven’t had before. We saw so many more families. And because of that, we also added a 35-game arcade. And we wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for the success of bowling. People are now coming to us just for the arcade. And we are actually drawing leagues because I think people hear about us and are maybe tired of an older center. Women’s leagues especially like us.”
Pinz Bowling Center at Wahooz in Meridian, Idaho, added a 24-lane center in November 2011. Wahooz, which also offers 27,000 square feet of go-karts, mini golf, laser tag, bumper boats, a flight simulator, batting cages, a Kiddie Kove and arcade with more than 100 games as well as a waterpark – Roaring Springs – on 18 acres, is a more
complete entertainment destination because of bowling, according to CEO Pat Morandi.
“Actually, what I am seeing is that bowling is a complete family event,” Morandi said. “Everyone from granddad to the 3 year old is participating and it really brings the family together. Bowling was a long time in the making for us, and it turned out to be a great complement to everything we have. So much of our business was geared to the outdoors, we wanted to bring other elements indoors, and bowling was the obvious natural fit.”
“We were the first new bowling center in the Boise area in 25 years,” said Pinz Marketing Director Tiffany Quilici. “So we really stepped up to polish the bowling experience and make it shiny and new, and people just love it.”
Pinz chose Brunswick to help develop the center. Four years in the making and temporarily put on hold to monitor the recession, Pinz management decided to go with Brunswick after talking to other companies.
“For us, it just made sense because they were extremely professional and understanding of the economy and they helped us stay focused the entire time,” Morandi said. “They just seemed to have the entire package for us when it came to designing the lanes and offering market feasibility studies and they brought all the important players to the game, from marketing to pricing to the financial side of things. They were integral to us opening the facility.”
Now Pinz is outfitted with everything from pin setters to lane beds to Brunswick bowling balls and shoes.
Spins Bowl, located in a 580,000-square-foot building, actually decided to add bowling because they were exploring ways to increase their food revenue.
“And since we opened, we quadrupled the restaurant revenue,” Mundy said. “We added more servers in the bowling center, and I think people like our food, which is classic American foods from pizza to steak. We put better food in since the bowling lanes opened, and we increased traffic. We are still not a destination restaurant because it’s primarily for people who come to enjoy the activities, but they enjoy the food a lot more now.”
Pinz saw revenue go up in several areas.
“Bowling can eventually be our main source of revenue here,” Morandi said. “And because of bowling, we are seeing other revenue increase, as well. We changed our food and menus because we wanted to match the core of the bowling center to the food we wanted to offer. So we modified our kitchen. Before, 20 percent of our revenue was generated from food. Now, it’s 35 percent. Other areas have grown, too. Our arcade went up about 25 percent in revenue. And we added a full service liquor bar that certainly was a great addition to our facility.”
FEC managers and owners said the new bowling lanes are embraced by the community because they offer so much more than long-standing bowling centers.
“We have every modern amenity you can imagine,” said Murray, who worked with Brunswick to open the center. “When it comes to bells and whistles, we got ’em all from lasers to bumpers and everything in between. Everything is brand new that we put in. We don’t buy used equipment.”
Spins also didn’t spare any expense.
“We checked every single box in the bells and whistles categories,” Mundy said. “We have four 30-foot projection screens, digital monitors on every lane for scoring and watching TV, the Bowling Music Network for videos, lasers, glow bowling, a light show, you name it.”
Pinz is the ultimate modern facility, offering HD projection screens and masking units every two lanes to show music videos and sporting events, as well as the other modern amenities expected. Eight of the 24 lanes are private, luxury lanes in the Z Lounge, complete with private HD screens, personal servers and plush furniture.
“It’s a concept we came up with so the lanes are geared toward private parties, Christmas parties or whatever and you can rent them out and have a dinner buffet or pizza buffet with Brunswick pool tables inside,” Morandi said. “They are perfect for corporate events and special occasions, but they can also be rented by anyone who just wants more of an upscale experience.”
Perhaps the most inviting aspect of the new Brunswick technology for Pinz was its ease of use.
“Everything is electronically based, and that means I don’t have to go out and find a seasoned mechanic to operate and maintain my lanes,” Morandi said. “I can use my arcade technician to be our bowling mechanic. He can do all of the above. And Brunswick also sent three of our technicians to Brunswick Bowling School for two weeks and brought them up to speed to maintain the state-of-the-art machines that they have. And I can always send more people to their school if I need to, and they don’t have to have 30 years of experience on older lanes.”
Pinz’s decision to go more modern may have alienated leagues, which Morandi isn’t concerned about.
“One of our conscious decisions was to not go after league bowlers with our décor and technology,” Morandi said. “With the drop-down masking units and cosmic lighting and the Z Lounge and all of the very vibrant colors and comfortable seating, we are clearly going after families and those who just want to have fun bowling. League bowlers don’t feel comfortable around all of that because the kids might not know the etiquette, or the kids are out to have fun and the music is turned up and a lot is going on atmosphere-wise. Leaguers want static white light and quiet.”
Happy Tymes, according to Murray, features miniature golf, go-karts, batting cages, a four-level play unit that is one of the largest in the state, rides, a climbing wall, an arcade and private rooms for birthday parties. But Murray, like other family entertainment centers that add bowling, wanted to lure a larger demographic to its location.
“All of our activities were definitely aimed at younger customers,” Murray said. “So the kids would come here and then eventually move on. We wanted to broaden our horizons and reach everyone, not just kids, and bowling does that.”
FEC managers said adding bowling makes sense considering so much infrastructure is already in place.
“You already have a number of people working, so the overhead is a lot lower than starting a center from scratch,” Murray said.
At Spins Bowl, staffing proved to be the biggest initial challenge.
“Originally, controlling staffing and the cost of staffing was an issue,” Mundy said. “We were functioning like the bowling center was a standalone business, and we didn’t need to do that. We had a learning curve there, but we adapted and figured it out.”
Morandi agreed: “It helped us that we had an existing facility and we had a lot of process in place such as maintaining, marketing, group sales, a kitchen and restaurant and more. So it was a natural evolution to expand into bowling. We already had management in place.”
“But even though we had all of that, it was still starting and creating a whole new business,” Quilici added. “We still had a million decisions to make. Do we offer leagues or not? Do we offer bowling by the game or offer just bowling by the hour?”
Murray said the bowling center has nearly reached his expectations, but the recession certainly has had its impact.
“We are not doing bad, but I think we can always do better,” he said. “I want to build up leagues, but we don’t have liquor, and while BYO is appealing to some, others would rather have it. We want to build volume. The first quarter of 2008 was the best quarter we ever had, and then the recession hit us, too. So I think there is more potential here ultimately.”
Bowling centers are not the end for many family entertainment centers. Spins, for example, is considering laser tag in the next year or so.
“We want to basically be a one-stop shop for the entire family,” Mundy said. “We didn’t think about laser tag until we saw how successful bowling was and then the arcade. Now, we are thinking about a high-end laser tag experience that could even draw corporate events.”
Morandi said bowling just made sense for his FEC and he expects many others should do the same.
“It was like adding the fourth leg of the stool to our operation,” Morandi said. “We were so outdoor dependent, bowling helped us stand more on our own. It complemented the restaurant and laser tag and arcade perfectly. It has really exceeded expectations because we now have an indoor element that we can market separately or together. –
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