Bowlera, an innovative FEC in Caguas, Puerto Rico, opened on April 25, 2008, and has been the talk of the town ever since. The center is consistently setting new performance records as the citizens of the greater San Juan market continue to discover the island’s true entertainment jewels. Located on the fifth floor of the Lincoln Center Plaza, this 30,000 square-foot center has 17 lanes, a bowling pro shop, five distinct food and beverage sections, a lounge, dance floor, two corporate meeting rooms, retail, a redemption prize center and, of course, a plush 50-game Fun Zone [All games supplied by Alpha-Omega Sales, East Brunswick, NJ].
Owner Manny Morales is all smiles when he gives the history of Bowlera: “In 2001, I built the five-story Lincoln Center Plaza, as an office and retail development project with a 500-car parking garage right in the middle of downtown Caguas [population 1.68 million in target market, compared to Puerto Rico’s four million] and was able to find great tenants. These included the United States Postal Service, the Puerto Rico Electric & Power Authority, and T-Mobile. Humana, the health care company, was going to take the 30,000 square feet on the fifth floor and put their name on the top of the building. After we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on tenant improvements, they backed out in December 2006, just two weeks before they were to take the space.You can only imagine the stress that this caused,” recalls Morales.
“With 500 parking spots that are not being used on the weekends [400 municipal parking and 100 below ground for building employees], I had always been thinking of ways to create a generator for the parking building,” he continues. “Back in June 2006 I contacted Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM) to discuss a possible idea of putting a 14-lane bowling center in another building that is 1/2 a block away. When Humana backed out I was in a position to look at the penthouse space instead. AEM’s Jerry Merola suggested that I attend Foundations Entertainment University and both Ana Rosa and I went to the February 2007 three-day educational seminar. We asked a lot of questions and learned a great deal about the family entertainment center industry. It was there that we met several suppliers including EMBED’s Phil Showler, who ended up providing the debit card system.”
“The following month I attended the March BPAA’s Bowling Center Management program under Frank Mathews and learned much about the bowling business from all members of the faculty,” adds Morales. “What I soon discovered was that there was no way that 17 lanes could generate the revenues that were needed. My friends at the local bank told me that they would not accept what they referred to as a ‘built-to-suit’ feasibility study. All these questions may have been due to Galaxy Lanes’ problems in their recently inaugurated facility at the Island’s largest shopping center. I do not know who did that feasibility study or even if they had one done. They closed operations in June of 2006.”
“Today I can say that after 29 weeks we have hit $2 million and revenues are projected to at $3.6 million for our first year!” says Morales. “This is without any advertising or direct marketing.”
Even Merola, who worked on the highly accurate feasibility study, was pleased with the returns from Bowlera. “Needless to say, we are very impressed with the overall performance of Bowlera, and glad that our AEM Team could play a role in its success,” says Merola. “Market analysis for this project was particularly challenging, as the demographic composition of the island had to be manually compiled from the local records of Puerto Rico’s urban and suburban municipalities.”
“Simply put, I would not have been able to do Bowlera without attending Foundations Entertainment University and the BPAA’s Management Program,” says Morales. “I still have the monstrous FEU manual and keep looking at it almost every week. I originally didn’t understand what Frank Seninsky and Jerry and the other presenters at Foundations meant that location of everything within the facility is critical, as is the traffic flow, types of games and services, having separate spaces for adults and kids of different ages. I thought it was very easy. Once I saw it in action, the way people flow, mom’s with kids, teenagers, everything they said was completely true.”
The numbers bear out, according to Morales.
“For example, the first six months of business indicates our cost of goods sold in the center is 15%, while total compensation is 31. 7% of gross sales,” says Morales. “We are tracking more than 22,000 people per month through Bowlera. I have everything on spreadsheets. I realized at Foundations that defining my own ratios would be very important since every FEC according to its market demographics, location, space configuration, and another fifty factors, will have different operating ratios for everything. To run your business you need to know that information instantly. That is how I run my businesses and it works like wonders.”
“[My wife] Ana Rosa and I next attended Bowl Expo where AEM introduced me to Howard Ellman of Dynamic Designs, in Birmingham, Michigan, and I also met with Bill Kratzenberg of Bowling Services, in Atlanta, Ga. Bill introduced me to Rex Golobic, President, Bowling Management Group in San Mateo, California, who has decades of bowling industry experience. He said, “Son, I am going to give you two truths about running a bowling center: No 1, the bowling business is 80% marketing and 20% bowling, and the second truth is, the best profit center is shoe rentals. ‘Bill along with the AEM Team both helped me negotiate the deal with Brunswick that saved me lots of money.”
“My next step was to hire Dynamic Designs as the architect and work with Howard Ellman and Doug Wilkerson,” remembers Morales. “My son Luis and I oversaw the construction. Dynamic Designs’ space planning for this facility is out of sight. With 400+ people here at one time, our design enables the guests and employees to disperse from area to area and it doesn’t feel crowded. Even the Redemption Center throughput is working out very nicely. The entrance has a ‘wow’ effect and we are very grateful for the design. Even other architects and engineers are amazed when they see Bowlera.”
Coming up with the name and logo is always a critical step for any business. “I didn’t want to call it a bowling center or just a family entertainment center,” says Morales. “The Spanish word for a bowling center is ‘bolera.’ Our graphic artist said, ‘Why don’t you combine bowling and ‘bolera’ with ‘Bowlera’ and this was just perfect. My son immediately went to register.com and discovered that the name Bowlera was not taken. Then I requested a registration of name from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Their process to confirm the name lasted four months, at the end of which we qualified for a Service Mark (sm). This is the same as a Trade Mark (TM) for services. We now have the ‘Bowlera’ name rights registered with the USPTO for the 50 states, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories for the bowling and restaurants industry.
“Obtaining the proper financing has not been an easy process. New concepts are always difficult to explain. There is nothing like this in Puerto Rico. I had to initially fund some of this project with my own funds as banks have become risk avoiders.”
Here are some specifics in the overall development of the facility:
“If we would have gone the traditional route of getting bids, it would have taken forever and time was not on my side,” says Morales. “There was a tax-credit situation with which we had to comply with by April 2008. We decided to go the ‘fast track’ or also known as the design-build route. We hired a local contractor and were able to complete the project in nine months. We were able to build an ultra modern facility at $170/sq. ft. with $4. 75 million [28,000 sq. ft -actual constructed] that included everything, even the bowling lanes, 50 games, audio and video systems, as well as our 1,175 sq. ft. kitchen, and five food and beverage sections.”
Food & Beverage
Bowlera has 5 different style food & beverage services:
- ‘Morivivi’ is a 2800 sq. ft. full-service restaurant that seats 80 but can be increased to 120 for big lunch or dinner groups. The name in Spanish is a plant in Puerto Rico that when it is touched, fades and dies as a defense mechanism to fool you and comes back to life two minutes later. “We have found that it is more profitable to host large groups at Morivivi during the day for seminars, meetings, and lunch (Wed-Sat) than to have the restaurant open,” says Morales.
- ‘”El Vinedo’ [grape field in Spanish] sits 12 people and is our special wine cellar. It came about because we had an aisle that ran from the snack bar to ‘Morivivi’ and were looking for a concept in the middle that would attract our customer’s eyesight. Our market enjoys good wines that sell in the $20-$60 range, which is lower than fine dining restaurants in San Juan. A lot of people in Caguas work in San Juan and can take advantage of our lower beverage prices during the evening and on weekends,” says Morales.
- “‘El Pinal’, our main dining room, is open 11 :30 a.m. through 11 p.m. and serves staples like ‘rice and beans,’ beef plates, pasta, pizzas, burgers, salads, and soups,” says Morales.
- ‘”Picadera’ is our snack bar selling hot dogs, burger dogs, pizza slices, popcorn, cookies, soft beverages and other ‘fast style’ foods,” explains Morales.
- Food/drink service is available directly to the lanes. “The night waiters are bringing in up to $1,800 in a good night selling food at the lanes,” says Morales. “Luis worked on a different but easy to prepare menu for the lanes. One item, for example, Fritters, that sell for 99 cents each and take only 10 minutes to prepare, have a cost of 3 cents per piece. It comes on a platter, are most appetizing and are a winner with bowlers. Fritters are easy to eat and are ‘dry’ so that grease doesn’t interfere with bowling.
“Our reporting systems are all functioning extremely well,” adds Morales. “By 6 in the morning, we have key sales reports from the day before. Bowling center management emails the daily Vector Plus operating reports summary at closing, as do the F&B group with MICROS, our food & beverage POS system (we use Easy Bar for alcohol sales). We receive the EMBED reports via email at 6:08 a.m. By 7 a.m. I have all actual sales for the day before. We are not yet fully integrated but for now, it is as good as you can get.”
For more information on Bowlera go to Bowlera.com or call 787-746-7211.
Reprinted from Entertainment Center News – Winter 2008