When it comes to starting a business, nearly anyone can take their chances with financing and some industry knowledge, but we all know the dream isn’t guaranteed. When it comes to long-term success, it takes true business acumen to be creative and adapt accordingly in the face of market instability. The COVID-19 pandemic tested the abilities of business owners around the world to not only succeed but to survive.
Huikko’s Bowling Center in Buffalo, MN, has shown that its unrelenting entrepreneurial spirit is tougher when times are tough. Huikko’s adapted and took control by filling a niche most business owners would never consider: hosting funeral luncheons and celebrations of life for families of their community.
We got in contact with Les Huikko, owner of Huikko’s Bowling Center, to see how this opportunity came to fruition and maybe steal some tips out of his business playbook.
Les started with how he got the ball rolling: “We were first approached by the Catholic church in town to cater a few meals in their basement. We then became their preferred method for all luncheons before COVID-19 hit in 2020. Father would meet with the families and give them our menu to select their meals. We would prepare the meals and deliver them to the church for the church ladies to serve.”
He mentions they started doing funerals on occasion after building an event center back in 2007, but things really took off once the church no longer hosted luncheons in the basement during the pandemic in 2020.
This innovative proprietor wanted to find out exactly how popular this additional stream of revenue could be. “In 2021 we catered/hosted 33 luncheons. Some were just sandwiches and salads to the funeral home. However, most were at our event center due to social distancing requirements. We did $50,000 in luncheons last year, and $80,000 by September of this year. This income is mostly seen as last-minute events filling empty space during weekday lunchtime.” There were minimal losses in the existing revenue.
To keep the additional revenue coming in, Huikko’s promotes funeral luncheons and celebrations of life on its well-designed website. Additionally, strong relationships with the Catholic church and the local funeral home have made a huge difference.
What packages do they offer for funeral services? It looks like Huikko’s keeps it simple. They offer traditional Minnesota hot dishes in the winter, while sandwich trays and homemade potato salad are popular in the summer. Even simpler, regular buffet meals are offered at a discount, and many families opt for the open bar. Home-made chocolate bars, cakes, and cookie trays are available for dessert. Room rentals are complimentary on weekdays.
Huikko’s is the first to do it, and they’ve got it down to a science, so how do these events play out? “Most luncheons arrive at the event center about 12:45 p.m. and are cleaned up and gone by 4 p.m. Having the luncheons at the event center is a huge bonus for bar revenue. We set up the buffet line, dessert, and beverage station. The funeral home will bring in the flowers and picture boards from the church. Guests will arrive, pray, and go right into lunch and socializing.”
Les continues, “We do also host the service at the event center if the funeral home isn’t large enough or if the family does not have a church they belong to. We have had caskets and urns in the room.”
Les’s success with Huikko’s Bowling Center is a combination of the many things he’s done right. The website is easy to manage. The different dining and catering options are easily accessible online. They offer cosmic bowling, tournaments, mini-golf, and volleyball on the outside property. Most importantly, they’ve gone the extra mile to build a relationship with the community. We know they are not done adapting.
“Planning a funeral isn’t something that anyone wants to go through. Any way that we can help the family, we are here to do so. As I said, we give a complimentary room and discounted meal. We do this as a service to the family. In return, it is bringing in revenue on short notice, during a day that we didn’t have booked. Also, it brings new customers that may not have been to our place before or didn’t know that we existed!