Good for business, good for the community, and good for the growing sport!
Here’s a common scenario:
• It’s 3:00 p.m. during the week.
• Many centers have wide-open lanes.
• The arcade is minimally busy at best.
• Not many people are ordering food or drinks
Your facility might be open, but business is soft, and you are possibly hoping your staff is keeping themselves busy by cleaning or doing other proactive activities. Enter the well-recognized, albeit not consistently implemented, after-school bowling program. No doubt you’ve heard of this labor-intensive, kid-attracting, lucrative program, but you may have stayed on the fence waiting to launch your own.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
This program brings kids and their families into your center, exposes new customers to your center’s offerings, and creates a strong relationship with active community members. Think of all the opportunities that connecting with this age group and their parents can do for your center, from school fundraisers to banquets for sports or school clubs to an increase in arcade play. This extra traffic will expose your center’s other attractions, for instance, glow-bowling, and widen your reach to parents, teachers, and other school officials. The list of opportunities is nearly endless.
Industry consultant, Bob Borello, has helped numerous centers launch their after-school bowling program. As the former proprietor of Holiday Lanes in Pittsburgh, PA, Borello ran a very successful program that hosted 14 elementary schools with about 800 participants.
“I think you can only win with this program. It’s a big piece of business that keeps growing and growing, but it takes a lot [of energy] to accomplish that. If you’re looking for a couple hundred new families to walk through your center each week, this is a dynamite program. Anything your center has going on can be marketed to these kids and their families for free,” said Borello.
Jim Teuber, Richfield Bowl and B&B Lanes proprietor in Flint, MI, has had after-school programs since the mid-1990s. “One thing I learned is that most parents of children in after-school programs typically don’t bowl, which provides the opportunity to expose a large number of new youths to the sport,” Teuber said.
Matt Orvis started his after-school program 20 years ago at 60-lane Ashwaubenon Lanes outside Green Bay, WI. “It fills a time when there isn’t much going on, which makes it nice,” Orvis said. “All the benefits from this program have made it worthwhile — birthday parties, food sales, adult-youth leagues, boy scout troops, and girl scout troops.” While after-school bowling programs have proven to be lucrative long-term due to the power of customer growth, database collection, and added center exposure, they can also be a winner in the short term. Most centers average between $10-$12 per child per week; others are at a higher price point due to their location, facility, and package. One thing you can count on: these kids arrive at your center after school and are usually hungry, thirsty, and have some cash in their pocket to spend.
If you’re considering starting your own program, the first step is to develop a relationship with the schools. Before the pandemic and school violence concerns, this was a more straightforward animal to wrestle down. Now it’s essential to have a good strategy of how you will reach out to the schools and share the benefits of your program. Athletic directors, teachers who bowl at your center, or high school bowling coaches may help get you in the door of the school district.
“One of the key things is establishing a good relationship with the schools first,” said Andy Johnston, who has been operating an after-school program at his 30-lane Westgate Entertainment in Lima, OH, since 1997. “Any time local Andy Johnston schools need donations or help from us,
we provide it. We donate pizzas for their school meetings a couple of times a year, or we might host fun staff outings. The schools know if they need anything from us, all they need is to call us, and we will help.”
Some operators choose bussing transportation as part of their program, making it an easy option for parents to join. Non-transportation programs are still successful but depend on the parents to chauffeur them.
There are many options when considering transportation. Centers can buy buses or vans or rent them from school districts. The vehicles can operate one or two ways depending on when and where parents pick up their kids when finished. A good resource might be a local transportation company or a church. “Churches often have a bus and are looking for revenue. Contracting with a local place of worship could be a win-win for you both,” said Andy Vasko of BBBI, who has consulted with many centers over the years.