We are coming out of the Covid pandemic and getting back to something of a normal life. But admittedly it will be a new normal, whatever that will be. Bowling centers have reopened as well and I’m happy to see some are already doing a strong business. I drove past a center near my home on a recent Saturday and the parking lot was packed with cars. The weekends are back to being busy which is good for the industry as they are usually filled with events such as birthday parties and versions of cosmic bowling.
Even without special events the weekends draw a lot of kids and families to enjoy the game and allow the centers to compete with some of the new bowling entertainment centers such as Pinstripes, Lucky Strike, and the Main Event. But while these special events are good for business – which I fully understand from a marketing perspective and as someone who has been connected to the game all my life – it poses a challenge for those bowlers who wish to engage in serious training to improve their game, especially if they work for a living and only have the option of practicing on the weekend.
Looking To Get Back In The Game
Over the past few years I’ve gone to my local bowling center to practice but find it difficult to get a somewhat secluded lane away from the kids and families as I have had to avoid numerous near-collisions. I certainly don’t want to injure myself or others and tend to spend more time paying attention to my surroundings than my game. It would be great if there were always a few lanes set aside for serious bowlers to reserve for practice. But can this be done in a way that does not impact a center’s profit margin by effectively turning away potential open play?
Pro Training Lanes
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and one of the more prestigious bowling centers was Paramus Bowl on Route 17 in New Jersey, owned by the late PBA Hall of Famer Frank Esposito. It was an elegant 54-lane establishment with a rich history, hosting numerous PBA tournaments over the years as well as one of the top scratch leagues on the east coast. Watching their Monday Night Classic League made you think you were watching a pro tournament as half of the bowlers were PBA members. The public figured that out too as the grandstands were always filled with fans, similar to the Seaboard Classic League at Garden City Bowl on Long Island.
What many people didn’t know was that Paramus Bowl had a private 6-lane setup on the second floor. While it was primarily used to film special segments for the weekly Pro Bowlers Tour telecasts it was also a perfect place for providing private instruction programs and for many years was the testing ground for new equipment, tournaments and TV shows. Thinking about what Paramus Bowl had gives me an idea for what bowling centers could possibly provide as we emerge out of the pandemic.
A Marketing Opportunity
What Paramus Bowl had was clearly exceptional and not feasible for many centers to replicate from either a structural or cost perspective, and certainly not what I would be envisioning on a startup level. But there could be a way to create a semi-private “Pro Training Area or PTA” (we can name it later) that could lead to marketing and other revenue-generating opportunities. While a completely closed-off section would be optimal the construction cost would be prohibitive. A quick solution to get up and running could be utilizing a folding wall that would separate the training lanes from the rest of the house. When there are no training sessions scheduled the wall could be collapsed and the lanes made available for open play.
Curtains or Mobile Whiteboards
I’ve participated in tournaments that didn’t take up the entire house and a simple separation was created using curtains on rolling poles which would also work. However, the recent pandemic has provided a more useful alternative. Many companies began using portable whiteboards on wheels to create barriers for separating employees in their offices and removing them after widespread vaccinations. These portable whiteboards can be used to separate the PTA and can be easily removed to open up the lanes for open play when not in use. An additional benefit is that the bowling center can earn revenue through advertising placements on the whiteboards. And if the PTA starts on Lanes 1&2 – which would be the optimal location – ads can be placed down the wall opposite Lane #1, either on the walls directly or on their own set of whiteboards.
Resident Pro on Staff
Even the smallest golf course as well as many driving ranges have a PGA pro on staff to provide lessons to interested customers and the bowling center could make arrangements with a local PBA or PWBA member to be on their staff. Paid lessons could be offered in the PTA and could even include video services. For those bowlers who wish to participate in tournaments offering the opportunity to practice on different lane conditions could also be a premium option, which could involve both the PBA and PWBA as active participants.
Sponsorship opportunities could also bring additional revenue streams as the bowling products companies would be excellent advertising targets and might even sponsor the PTA, similar to how most sports arenas today have corporate sponsors. Some of the bowling ball manufacturers might want to utilize the PTA to test out new products on various conditions with select bowlers from the local center. Finally, ad placements don’t have to be limited to only bowling companies; local businesses might like the opportunity to be visible in an area that has a bit of a professional aura around it and attracts a customer base that has more money to spend. Regular customers may look at this area as a premium service that they might want to take advantage of.
Looking For Feedback
This is an idea that I think could help individual bowlers, add additional business opportunities – as well as increased revenue – to bowling centers, and also expand the number of bowlers who wish to take the game more seriously and improve their skills. And that helps the entire industry.
While my whiteboard proposal is a low-cost way to start the ball rolling (no pun intended) there are some centers out there that might have the financial capability to take this idea to the next level.
So I’m asking all those marketing and bowling industry professionals out there to provide their thoughts and comments. What do you think? I wanted to start the conversation and I know there are many of you out there with years of experience who can add their insights into how this can work and become a positive reality.
Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to hearing from you. As my grandfather always used to say, “Keep ‘em Rolling!”
Andy Varipapa II