"The bowling alley is the poor man's country club."
― Sanford Hansell
If you are planning to starting a business that will not only be enjoyable but also rake in profits, consider starting a bowling alley business. This is one business that will not go out of vogue irrespective of the prevalent market conditions or changing trends. However, the amount of investment involved in this kind of business is slightly higher than that of the others.
As you will have to spend a lot doing up the interiors of the business, it can become a start-up nightmare. However, once the teething troubles of this business are over, it will multiply your profits. Hence, it is advisable that you have a foolproof business plan in place to avoid making any kind of mistakes. Initially, don't charge a high rate; you can charge based on the minutes spent or on the number of games. Here are a few pointers that will come to your aid.
Factors to Consider
➦ You must conduct a thorough market research before venturing into this business. If possible, speak to an entrepreneur who has started a similar business in some other area. Don't expect guidance from people who are doing the same business in your area, as they will think of you as competition and will not divulge trade secrets.
➦ Observe and understand what is the age group of your target customers, what do they do, are they professionals or college-going students, and how much are they willing to spend for having a good bowling time. Know the type of ambiance that these customers prefer.
➦ Also, get to know the added benefits of having a café, smoking zone, bar or restaurant, etc., that will make customers a regular at your bowling alley. Decide the charges. Have a blueprint of your dream bowling alley ready, and calculate how much it will cost to set up the place and get it running.
➦ You will have to take the legal formalities seriously in order to avoid any hassles after the business has started. Contact your local, state, and federal authorities to know about the legal licenses and permit. You will have to register your business as 'doing business as' and get a license to operate.
➦ Apart from this, you will also have to get the Tax Identification Number (TIN) for your business and Employer Identification Number (EIN) for your employees. Ensure that your bowling facility follows the local zoning and building code requirements. You will also have to avail a sales tax permit and file for property tax.
➦ You will also need the necessary building permit for construction of the facility. In case you are serving or allowing alcohol or smoking, you will need to inquire about the minimum distance mandates from your planning department. You will also have to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy.
Type of Business
➦ You must decide whether you want to opt for a bowling alley business of your own or become a part of a franchise. If you have funds, try to buy an already-established business. If you are low on funds, it is advisable that you become a part of a franchise business, as setting up a new business from scratch will invite a lot of capital investment.
➦ Moreover, you will also enjoy the benefits of the popularity and goodwill of a national brand. However, it will also entail loss of control over your business planning, marketing, and operational decisions.
➦ If you plan to go the independent way and start a corporation, limited liability company, or a partnership, you will have to file the necessary documents with the Secretary of State's office. As a start-up, it may become difficult for you to challenge the existing competition and undertake aggressive marketing efforts, which will prove to be very expensive.
Find a Location
➦ You can rent out a centrally located facility or buy one of your own. It is advisable that you try out a facility on rental basis for a few months, look at the profits, and then decide to buy the same. Look for areas which have a good foot traffic or is crowded enough so that your business will get maximum exposure.
➦ Try to find a place where there will be concentration of your target market. For example, if your target demographics comprise an age group from 18 – 40, then having your business location near colleges, commercial shopping malls, universities, concert areas, movie theaters, amphitheaters, sports clubs, and famous restaurants will work wonders for your business. Other than that, opening a bowling alley in the downtown area will prove to be a profitable business decision.
➦ As I mentioned earlier, you will have to check with the zoning and planning requirements. Many people also turn abandoned factories and warehouses into bowling alleys at minimal cost. Ensure that there is enough space for the bowling alley as well as parking area. Some people also start a bowling alley at their home. You need a certain amount of square footage space for the same. However, you need to check the rules and regulations with the authorities.
Interior of the Bowling Alley
➦ A bowling alley should have a friendly and inviting ambiance which will end up attracting more and more customers. It is highly advisable that you get a professional interior team which specializes in design and construction. Try to get a team on board who will deliver turnkey solutions. It is advisable that you invite designs and quotes from many vendors before zeroing in on a single one.
➦ Do not forget to verify the vendor's qualification and experience to avoid any unpleasant surprises later. You should utilize the space appropriately by allotting it to the bowling, eating, and smoking zones. Needless to say, the bowling zone will occupy the maximum space. It is advisable that you go for natural maple wood lanes.
➦ However, if it is crossing the budget, you can even go for synthetic ones. In order to reduce cost, you can also buy good quality secondhand equipment. Ensure that it is well-lit and bright. You will also have to get the right furniture and fixtures.
➦ It is important that you place the order for equipment many days in advance so that you will get time to install them properly before the bowling alley starts operating.
➦ You will require special bowling balls with varying weights and finger holes along with several pins. You will also need a bowling machine that will keep arranging the pins and a bowling ball retriever device. Apart from that, you will require bowling bags to keep the balls and bowling accessories like grip sacks, grip creams, gloves, hand blow dryer, wrist supports, etc. You will also have to offer bowling shoes in various sizes on a rental basis.
➦ You will have to source the necessary equipment for maintenance of the equipment. Apart from this, there should be display screens which will showcase the points won by players. Needless to say, you will need chairs and tables for seating purpose. Adding a bench can also help other players sit and watch while they wait for their turn.
➦ Only setting up the bowling alley is not going to pull customers to your business. You will have to offer certain extra benefits for the entertainment of customers. You will have to provide added amenities in your bowling alley to attract your prospective customers.
➦ This may include setting up of karaoke, a juke box, arcade games, billiards, bowling shops, concession and discounts, etc. You can also offer snacks, espresso, smoothie or ice cream bars. You can also have a smoking lounge or an alcohol bar (which will require a liquor license).
➦ You can have the entire décor set up based on a particular theme. Let your bowling alley idea be innovative enough to compel the target audience to visit and comfortable enough for them to enjoy a good weekend.
➦ A bowling alley is definitely not a one man's job. You will have to hire employees who will help you with cleaning, managing league, managing business, serving food and beverages, bartending, playing music, taking payment and keeping a record, etc.
➦ You will need to conduct training for all the staff regarding their duties and code of conduct. You will have to especially train the people you hired for maintenance and repair work. Ensure that all in your staff have the right uniform so that people can easily identify them.
➦ Also, teach them the ethics of business and tell them a thing or two about customer service. Have an award like employee of the month, and give away awards for good service.
➦ You will require to avail insurance for your business, equipment, and facility building and premises. You may also have to get an insurance for all the employees who are permanently working for you. You must contact a professional insurance consultant to know about the type of insurance required by your business.
➦ With your business plan in place, you will be able to easily estimate how much will be your capital investment. In most cases, you will have only a limited amount of cash on hand. Under such circumstances, in order to gather funds, you can avail bank loans.
➦ You may enjoy the benefit of lower rates of interest, if you are a part of a credit union. You can even seek help of a private investor or opt for a partnership venture. You can also take personal loans from family and friends.
➦ Except the last option, you will have to present the business plan to investors and convince them that your bowling alley business will prove to be a profitable venture.
Marketing and Promotion
➦ Ensure that you have a grand opening for your outlet. Get a communications agency in charge to make a media splash. Ensure you get a popular personality for the inauguration. Put up a neon signage even before the place is open to public in order to attract people's attention.
➦ You can also advertise in the local publications and put up flyers. Sponsor local radio and TV programs to create a grand publicity campaign.
➦ Try to offer discounts, giveaways, coupons, gifts, etc., in the initial days to attract more customers. You can also sponsor the local marathon or a bike race to reach out to your target audience.
Whenever you are considering a business space, ensure that your rent does not exceed more than 10% of the total yearly revenue. Ensure that the facility will not make you shell out more on repairs and overhauling. You may have to source lightweight bowling balls for children. Think about your long-term business needs, and get a place that you will be able to expand.