Popular Ladies' Night Out leagues attracts casual customers.
Women want it, and operators love it — Girls' Night Out. A popular and growing league format is geared toward busy, over-committed women who want a break in their week to let loose and escape their responsibilities for a couple of hours.
Proprietors love the crowds of thirsty, happy, and hungry patrons who show up each session looking for laughter, bonding with friends, and maybe even a chance to expand their social circle. For you ladies out there, you know that a scheduled night out with friends can save your sanity and right your mood when it’s gone south.
Offering a unique ladies' night league at your center almost seems like a community service that every operator should be extending. Enter Brad Sommer, proprietor of Don Carter Lanes in Rockford, Illinois. Brad is a creative guy when it comes to combining bowling formats that bundle beverages, food, and a whole lot of fun.
Almost ten years ago, Sommer came up with an idea for a ladies’ night out league. He labeled it Women Bowling With Wine (WBWW) and had vino-loving ladies clamoring to join the fun. Brad shared his promotion with other operators, which resulted in many centers running his format or some version of it all around the country.
Sommer was looking for a way to connect with casual bowlers, specifically women looking for weekday fun with a casual, fun night away from the stressors of home and work. “When we first started these WBWW leagues, and this continues today, for 90% of people, it’s the first league they’ve ever joined,” Sommer said. “It’s more about the social aspect of getting together with their girlfriends and having a fun night out.”
Sisters Patti Rebman-Bellman and Mary Lou Rebman-Poli, from Rebman Recreation in Lorain, Ohio, gave this format a try seven years ago and continue to succeed. Rebman’s weekly gatherings of ladies and libations have proven to be another reliable source of revenue and a great way to expand the center’s reach and grow its customer base.
"There are some prior league bowlers, but mainly it's just women who want a night out to have fun," Patti said. "But then they make these friendships, and that keeps it going.” “They see a neighbor or a friend of a friend, bowl a few games, and then they all end up in the bar at the end of the night,” added Mary Lou.
Rebman Recreation found that a 12-week league was a bit too long, so they adjusted and found that six weeks was just enough to keep the bowlers engaged without getting burned out and keep them coming back for 3-4 sessions a year. They settled on a looser, 8-pin, no-tap format so bowlers of all skill levels and abilities could roll a strike now and again. They have a rolling bar cart that they take to each lane at the start of the night and add in extra merriment featuring things like mystery bowler, mystery game, and pin prediction contests that offer chances at sought-after prizes.
"We're always out there talking to people," Mary Lou said. "We just PR every night. You get to know people so much better." "If we find out one of the girls loves cabernet, we make sure to work that one into our prizes one week," said Patti. "It's how we choose the prizes and tchotchkes we give each week."
When necessary, the willingness to grow, evolve, and pivot helps keep these formats fresh. Sommer has expanded and tinkered with the 9-pin strike format to match his bowlers' interests over the years. "You've got to be flexible," Sommer said. "You have to always look to reinvent the format and find the next big thing."
LEADS TO MORE BUSINESS
One especially nice bonus for centers is the extra business it leads to. Rebman Rec has seen a birthday party uptick and additional revenue at their bar, and all are tied directly to their Women Bowling With Wine groups. “We see people come in and out, but we have a core group that keeps coming back who brings a lot of others with them," added Mary Lou. "And we usually see a good number eventually move to sanctioned leagues too."
Sommer agrees these leagues are great feeders for other parts of the business. “Once they get the bowling bug, they’ll have their kids’ birthday parties here or maybe have their kids join a youth league,” Sommer said. “One of the ladies even brought her whole company in, 200 people, for a company party. It is a snowball effect.”
While flyers, emails, and online posts have helped attract some of their current followers, Sommer has found that being clever with targeted Facebook ads helps connect with the non-bowling crowd. "80% of our signups come from sponsored Facebook ads," Sommer said. "We market to women, 25-55, and highlight things that refer to wine, wine tastings, a party atmosphere, or anything that ties into that fun aspect. We don't even highlight bowling."
No matter how these fun-loving women are found, retaining them and building follow-up leagues depend on a great experience delivered by the center's staff. Operators who get creative and add a little extra flare will reap the rewards from these casual customers who just want to have fun. Harness that energy through creative, targeted offerings and see your revenues increase.