Employment Events Produce New Business & Employees for Smyrna Bowling Center in Tennessee.
When Chris James agreed to host a job fair at Smyrna Bowling Center, he figured it was a great way to help and do something for folks and companies in his area. "Supporting Strong Community" is the motto of the beloved 52-lane institution in Smyrna, TN.
What he couldn’t have predicted, however, was how the decision would soon pay off dazzlingly. Not only was the job fair a successful networking asset, but it was also a smart, unexpected way to bring in new business and build a surplus of potential employees for his center.
James, who has served as the center’s general manager since 2019, initially came into contact with the local office of the American Job Center while looking for staffers of his own. While there, he struck up a conversation with Jeff Glidden, a Career Specialist for the county, and an opportunity organically presented itself.
"We got to talking, and he mentioned he needed a facility for the Smyrna area," James recalled. "So, I said, 'Jeff, just come to the bowling center; we've got plenty of room. I think it'd be grand.' Long story short, it created a way to bring in small businesses and large factories and showcase us as an option for a company party.”
The first fair at Smyrna was held on a Wednesday morning, with two dozen companies representing manufacturing, automotive servicing, food production, local airlines, and other industries in attendance. Since each paid a fee to take part, which covered his day's income, James could close the alley and devote the entirety of the time to the job fair. With the space available (the center is the largest in Tennessee), each vendor was given a high-top Brunswick table to conduct business at, making for a functional and memorable experience.
"It's a fun atmosphere, and we love coming every time," Glidden said. "It puts people at ease and makes it easier for employers and job seekers to interact. If we can host a job fair in a place where people can bring their kids, say, that makes a big difference. It also provided a lot of additional traffic from people who would come to bowl, so there was a lot of cross-marketing."
With a positive response, Smyrna Bowling Center has since hosted three additional job fairs, and with each, they’ve learned and evolved for a better experience. He offers door prizes for the vendors who attend, typically things that incentivize them to come back to the center for company events, parties, and team-building activities.
“I redid our meeting room in the back of the center, took up the carpet, and put in new flooring,” James said. “For our next fair, we had a great turnout, and I worked with Jeff and his staff to transition everything from the concourse of our center into our conference rooms and get a little more privacy and room to work in.”
Being more thoughtful about the space allows Smyrna to floor 52 lanes of league bowling in the front of the house while the fair is held in separate conference areas. And while the continued participation of so many organizations is heartening, even better for James is the opportunity to continue to build relationships with them and open new avenues for business.
“It was really cool to see someone going that extra mile,” said Karen Mull, human resources coordinator for Steel Technologies, a metal processing company based in Murfreesboro, TN. "All our current employees got to go for a free night of bowling after we attended the job fair, which was a really nice thing to offer."
For James, the keys to keeping these events successful and bringing new organizations in have been staying proactive and putting in the extra work on his end to boost attendance. He helps lead marketing efforts along with the staff at the American Job Center. He reaches out to businesses in the region to keep new vendors coming to the fairs, including recent contacts with Kroger, Waffle House, and Nissan production support company Yates Services.
“I can’t just sit here,” he said. “You have to think outside of the box if you want your business to grow.”
During the event, James hosts his booth seeking new candidates for his busy 52-lane center. The results? Smyrna Bowl is fully staffed and has a surplus of job candidates on file. At the time of printing this article, James tells us that he fired two employees this week and was able to fill the positions from his surplus list immediately! Now, that’s genius!
Today's bowling centers and FECs face new barriers to reaching and retaining customers. The success of Smyrna's efforts to rethink how they use their space and create new sources of revenue is a testament to being open to trying something new, being willing to evolve, and always serving as your own biggest advocate.
“Chris has been very hospitable, accommodating, and welcoming to people coming in,” Glidden said. “That made a big difference. It’s been a great partnership for all of us—the bowling center, the American Job Center, and the vendors who attend—and the folks who come in looking for a job have been very pleased.”
"It's all about finding new ways to expose folks to what you're offering," James said. "Bowling is built on repeat business, and you simply want to repeat what works. I had an opportunity to help keep this industry alive, and I'll do whatever I can to make it work."
Owners interested in hosting a job fair in their area can reach out to their local American Job Center (careeronestop.org). Beyond that, they should take a lesson from James' ingenuity and willingness to take advantage of opportunities (even those outside the normal course of business) coming their way. You never know where your next success story will start.