Bowling pins hopes on ‘outside the box’ ideas

Bowling industry strategy can be tricky

Bowling industry strategy can be tricky

By Dave Friedman. The Blue Flames 1960 hit Bowling USA proclaims, “everybody’s going bowling.” At its height in the mid 60’s, there were more than 12,000 bowling alleys in the country, and professionals made as much money as football stars and Hollywood moguls. Times have changed.

“Family Entertainment Center” is the new lingo in the industry; diversifying clientele is the way to score big. However, at its heart, bowling is still good old-fashioned fun.

Dan Simril’s Foxfire Lanes in Kannapolis is a traditional bowling center, in the family for 30 years. Simril says that business is “fine,” and his 25 mostly part-time employees cater to league bowlers, which accounts for 35 to 40-percent of revenue.

But there are creative ways to bring in new business.

Every Thursday for eight weeks, Simril hosts 60 home-schooled kids for the afternoon. “They get instruction for an hour, and then bowl a game. Scholarship money is available for kids. That’s a good incentive for parents,” Simril says.

Food at Foxfire consists of mainly pizza and burgers, with wine coolers and beer also available. Concessions account for just over 20 percent of Foxfire’s revenue.

The bowling industry generates about $6 billion in revenues a year. The alleys that are growing are good places to eat and meet friends—with little risk of anyone burying their face in a smart phone.

In Mooresville, George Pappas Victory Lanes is a one-stop entertainment venue. Pappas, a Charlotte native and Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Famer, earned six figures bowling in the 1970s and 80s. The Mooresville location was built in 2007, and does not resemble the type of facilities that Pappas played in decades ago.

Victory Lanes is smoke free, spacious, and offers much more than bowling. Half of their $2.4 million in sales last year came from food and beverage. Their Finish Line Restaurant & Lounge serves steak and salmon and “rivals any restaurant in the Lake Norman area aside from maybe Epic Chophouse,” said General Manager Paul Kreins, who is in the process of buying the business from Pappas.

One of the big reasons is that business is up 35 percent over the last four years. Bowling  may account for half of all revenue, but Krein, GM for the past four years, targets a wide swath of demographics.

“There are really three types of facilities,” said Kreins. “Traditional places cater to league bowlers and can be dark and dingy, their offerings are limited. Then boutique places like Lucky Stripes, they are more of a nightclub where bowling just happens to be there. We are a hybrid, a combination of traditional, and a modern, family entertainment center.”

Items on the menu include healthy dishes like Cajun grilled fish and grilled chicken breast.

In addition to bowling and a restaurant, Victory Lanes has billiards, and an arcade. However, it is their outside-the-box ideas that constantly draw new people into the building. While one would expect bowling centers to have a big birthday party business, Pappas hosts the 20 piece Lake Norman Big Band on a regular basis. The Top of the Lake Rotary holds meetings there at 8 a.m. each Thursday and several times a week a group of women come to play cards and eat. There’s shag dancing on Friday nights—no bowling shirts required.

“Industry trends that show league bowling has been declining for 35 years, and gives mediocre numbers for average lane revenue reflect what you make if you just unlock the doors,” said Kreins.

He’s active in business groups and the community. “The facility has a wow factor, and then we have great customer service. Industry trends are not concerning because we are a neighborhood business and have changed our product,” Kreins said.


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