Even a 47-year industry veteran can learn a few new tricks
INTERNATIONAL BOWL EXPO 2017 was a smashing success and ranks among the top four amusement industry trade shows in the United States. The positive- energy buzz at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel was electrifying; one could sense that there was a lot of knowledge in the air to be absorbed simply by being there.
And Shaquille O’Neal, the keynote speaker, kept us all in stitches as BPAA President Nancy Schenk asked some serious and hilarious questions; those two could have their own comedy show.
So, what lessons could a 47-year industry veteran learn from a full day of seminars and two days on the trade show floor? The answer: plenty. That said, you should know that I am a sponge when it comes to learning the details. I attended as many of the seminars as I could, taking notes and taking pictures of the presenters’ slides.
Next, I traversed the trade show floor and conducted video interviews with pre-selected exhibitors, BPAA past presidents and BPAA award winners — as many as I could schedule. You can learn a lot by interviewing the experts, and they were very willing to share their perspectives on the bowling industry and its future. All in all, there was enough time to put together 24 YouTube videos, and it would be worth your time to go through them.
Meanwhile, here’s a sampling from my notes…
- After 50 years of focusing on the traditional competitive league sector, the bowling industry is in agreement that the new model should be a bowling- anchored family entertainment center — and it’s okay to remove excess lanes to create the necessary space.
- Wally Hall, BPAA’s President from 1990-1992, told me, “Our second and third-generation proprietors are more in tune with our customers, and we ‘founders’ must back off and let them take over the business.”
- “Success now depends on two main factors: good customer service — this was the main focus over the past 50 years — and now growth, which means effective marketing. Proprietors need to learn how to grow their business, and attending Bowl Expo is a good place to start.”
- Joe Schumacker, BPAA President from 2006-2008, told me, “Bowling’s future looks good, but will have a different financial model than presently. The new owners that are building the new centers are entrepreneurs from outside of the industry. They are young and sophisticated and do not know about some of the ‘rigid walls’ that proprietors have operated within. These deep-pocket owners hire professional, financially trained managers to run their centers, and they know how to market. The structure of leagues will be reinvented. Leagues have a place Monday through Thursday. Currently, leagues comprise about 25% of the bowling revenue in a bowling center.” Schumacker breaks bowling activity into five segments: 1. casual, 30%; 2. entertainment (non-competitive event), 35%; 3. league (competitive), 25%; 4. competitive (sport), 2.3%; and 5. free games (no revenue), 7.7%. The key to success, Schumacker added, is “balance between the entertainment and casual segments. Future centers will be a combination of bowling within a retail environment.” The main challenge will involve real estate. “Land values are going up and the occupancy cost for bowling is very high,” he said. “Some of the current centers may be forced to close because they are sitting on ‘good dirt.’ However, there are retail big boxes available at low occupancy costs, and retail centers may be willing to subsidize a bowling center as they need the entertainment value it brings to their complex.”
Bowling center proprietors are great at what they do, but it should be obvious that many will need to learn new skills in order to remain successful in the future
- Pat Ciniello and Emanuele Govoni have been partners at QubicaAMF for 23 years. QubicaAMF currently has more than 100,000 lanes installed worldwide, and their BES X is installed in more than 900 centers. They told me they are optimistic about taking bowling to the next level.
- The Bowlers to Veterans Link was founded in 1942, the need for it created by World War II. Now in its 75th year, BVL has quietly raised more than $50 million, and provides recreational therapy for veterans, picking up where the Veterans Administration leaves, off, and enhances several V.A. programs. John LaSpina, a BPAA past president, has been a driving force behind the BVL for years and is proud of the fact that the charity operates on a 6% margin. Mary Harrar is now operating BVL (directed by its board), and everyone in the bowling industry should be supporting it — not just because of the great work it does, but because it’s a great public relation and marketing tool.
- Andy Bartholomy received the V.A. Wapensky Award, while Dick Corley (CEO of Bowl New England) received the Victor Lerner Award and was inducted into the BPAA Hall of Fame. “Andy B” owner of 10 bowling centers, has been the Chairman of BPAA’s Smart Buy Committee for the past decade. Both revealed how they save many tens of thousands of dollars utilizing the Smart Buy program. Every bowling center should be a part of Smart Buy, and I loved Andy’s quote: “If you hit a home run, you have to touch all of the bases.”
- ”US Bowling Corporation’s David Frewing reported that there are about 75 new bowling-anchored centers being opened in the United States each year and that growth is being seen internationally as well. Frewing is a second-generation “young gun” who is optimistic about the future of bowling. One of the reasons is that US Bowling has advanced bowling technology with the introduction of the 24-volt string pinsetter system. BPAA’s Bart Berger and Kelly Bednar put together 15 terrific seminars, and here are some of my takeaways from those…
- David Dye, the author of Winning Well — A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results, noted, “You get minimum results by managing by fear or power control. Being a ‘user’ or ‘pleaser’ also doesn’t work. In many cases, your top people will leave. Confidence and humility make you a rock-star manager. A team working together will have six times the productivity as each person works from their individual strengths.”
- In his presentation, Justin Emig said that 90% of purchases are still retail, which means center operators still have an opportunity to succeed — as long as they treat customers well.
- Mike Abecassis, President of Game Time, suggested using two different colored debit cards for arcades — one for regular credit/point play, and the other for time play. The breakdown is 51% of revenue is from credit/point play, and 45% is from time play. (Note that with redemption games on time play, players do not receive points.) The result is that video and novelty games receive more play. Guests get to “practice” playing redemption games and then spend additional money once they feel they have improved their skills.
- Scott Lesnick said that there now are five generations in the workplace, and some companies have all five: Silent Veterans and Traditionalists (born 1922-45); Baby Boomers (born 1946-64, and numbering 83 million); Gen X (born 1965-79, and numbering 60 million); Gen Y, also known as Millennials (born 1980-95, and numbering 80 million); and Gen Z (born 1996-2010). Gen X is “sandwiched” between the Boomers and Millennials — not a great situation. Boomers are retiring, but many are hanging on and refuse to give up their power. Gen X and Millennials are leaving jobs at the same rate. Millennials get a bad rap in the media but like to work standing up rather than sitting at a desk. They can even work sitting on a couch and listening to music, and they love “funny.” They like having their parents involved in their lives and prefer to hear good news before bad news.
There! I hope I have provided enough proof that even an old-timer can learn and gain valuable experience by attending Bowl Expo, taking knowledge back to their centers, and using it to raise the bar. Proprietors are great at what they do, but it should be obvious that many will need to learn new skills in order to remain successful in the future. Hard work is no longer an excuse for having the time to work on your business rather than just in it.
BEC’s Editorial Consultant, Frank “The Crank” Seninsky, is President and CEO of Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM), a company that offers a full range of consulting services, including early-stage feasibility analysis, business plan development, funding assistance, and conceptual design and layout services for the family entertainment center industry. He can be reached at [email protected] or 732-616-5345, or visit the AEM website at AEMLLC.com
Bowling Entertainment Center – Fall 2017