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#38271 - 01/09/07 04:57 PM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: usr bin geek]
Brian Longo Offline
Legend

Registered: 05/23/06
Posts: 1393
A/S/L: 37/M/Jacksonville, NC
I think Steve and I could really knock everyone for a loop when it comes to running a bowing center. In his article, he's right - in most markets, bowling as a recreational activity, has really taken a downturn. It's hard to make even a decent profit unless you're fortunate to be in a large area with a lot of bowlers.

I know Vermont wasn't exactly a bowling hotbed. I bowled there for 2 years. Where I live, it's not exactly big business, either. My wife and I managed to scratch and claw for a meager profit (4 figures) for 5 years straight and we worked our behinds off doing that. Parts are expensive, labor is expensive if you do not have a continual flow of patrons, and snack bars and bars can be major revenue losers if not managed properly.

And Lefty, you're pretty close with your figure for a new center. It costs about $100,000 per lane when you factor in the BASIC costs such as lane beds, approaches, ball returns, pinspotters, and automatic scoring. That doesn't even touch a snack bar, "cosmic bowling" junk, a regular bar, Game Room, or any other extra item you decide to stick in there.

Owning a bowling center is a very low margin business venture most of the time, and only the ones who are either wealthy from other ventures, or ones who aren't worried about running at a loss usually stay open in the smaller markets. And if you're taking over from an owner/manager who ran off most of your league base, good luck getting it back no matter how much money you put into aesthetic items. Bowlers have very long memories and are generally short on patience. It truly is a tough business.
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#38293 - 01/09/07 10:33 PM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: usr bin geek]
Lefty Offline
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Registered: 01/30/05
Posts: 2356
A/S/L: 37 / M / Rochester, NY
A bowling center is something that I'd buy or build if I won the lottery. I've been trying to figure out how I could work in the bowling buisiness and still keep the same income and I just can't find something that looks like a reasonable risk.

But if I won the lottery, I'd love to run a bowling center.

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#38304 - 01/10/07 12:25 AM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: usr bin geek]
Cam Offline
Junior Coach

Registered: 12/04/06
Posts: 42
A/S/L: Minnesota
Thanks to all for this wealth of information (specially Bergman for that article). We also had Steve who is apparently redeveloping his land. The lanes in the town close to us that was redeveloped was in a good location (reading the article above about number of people per unit area) but the land was worth so much more as a medical office park that probably sealed its fate. But the town demographics are still attractive.

It was just an early thought. I work hard and am easily bored when home on vacation. So a working retirement might be okay. Besides Ohio state was being killed so I had to find something to do. I grew up bowling at some nice lanes, really strong adult-junior programs. I worked their briefly as the "pin boy" and shoe straightener. The owner was in the house quite a bit, hired kids like me into their first jobs.

The recent change here is the ban on smoking in bowling alleys (county rules but going toward a state ban). I think this will help bowling (it is why I kept away as an adult). It will draw more families and kids, regenerate the bowling population. And us boomers are getting too old for more active sports. And here in Minnesota we have a long (mild) winter of darkness where bowling is the perfect sport.

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#38306 - 01/10/07 01:55 AM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Cam]
usr bin geek Offline


Registered: 02/02/01
Posts: 315
A/S/L: 37/m/Burlington, VT
Sorry for the delay, its been one of those days.... brickwall

With real estate what it is today, even with a slow down in some parts of the country, the land most centers (and movie theaters) stand on is worth much more as mixed use developments. There is such high demand for senior and affordable housing in some areas that one can do considerably better redeveloping their land even for that lower margin use. So in many places it just doesn't pay to stay in the bowling business! Yes, EVEN when its a profitable bowling center!

I think the industry is probably heading to one center per county. With that ratio the surviving centers might do well enough to out pace what they could take in as a redevelopment. It is certainly not what we bowlers want to hear, as competition always improves centers but the bowling business margins are just to razor thin. Plus labor and insurance costs only going up.

Independent movie theaters and most other indoor recreation venues are facing the same types of problems. With real estate developers offering ways out (plus the owners make sizable amounts) you can see why many of those are getting redeveloped too.

So if you got lots to invest, really really really love the sport, don't mind countless hours, have a knack for customer care and leadership, are lucky enough to find a decent center in good condition, AND that has no competition nearby then you might do well and enjoy it. Otherwise I'd say enjoy the sport as a bowler and leave this business to those already in it. wink
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#38368 - 01/10/07 10:29 PM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: usr bin geek]
Cam Offline
Junior Coach

Registered: 12/04/06
Posts: 42
A/S/L: Minnesota
Originally Posted By: usr bin geek
Sorry for the delay, its been one of those days.... brickwall

With real estate what it is today, even with a slow down in some parts of the country, the land most centers (and movie theaters) stand on is worth much more as mixed use developments. There is such high demand for senior and affordable housing in some areas that one can do considerably better redeveloping their land even for that lower margin use. So in many places it just doesn't pay to stay in the bowling business! Yes, EVEN when its a profitable bowling center!

I think the industry is probably heading to one center per county. With that ratio the surviving centers might do well enough to out pace what they could take in as a redevelopment. It is certainly not what we bowlers want to hear, as competition always improves centers but the bowling business margins are just to razor thin. Plus labor and insurance costs only going up.

Independent movie theaters and most other indoor recreation venues are facing the same types of problems. With real estate developers offering ways out (plus the owners make sizable amounts) you can see why many of those are getting redeveloped too.

I live near Minneapolis and St. Paul, each basically in its own county. But many bowling alleys (and high population density) so I hope your one per county does not come to pass. Interestingly we have several outdoor movie theaters around the periphery of these large citie. They have been for sale for years, but still operating. Development is approaching and they will probably go.

My current alley is located on a smaller plot that recommended by a previous post. Next to a strip mall (hovering over this on a hill) sort of "road locked" between a freeway, the strip mall and a main street. So you could not demolish for housing, but could replace possibly with something that could bring more cash. Recent road realignment makes this alley hard to get into, so you could not run a fast food place. Maybe only bowlers would be motivated enough to make all the u-turns required. Very convenient for me, nearly across the street from work.

The other city I mentioned (technically in the next county) might have the density to support an alley. Thanks for all the comments, as I said I am not really doing this, at least not now. By the time this would happen I think we will have much more data on the trend in bowling.

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#38375 - 01/11/07 02:46 AM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Cam]
Atochabsh Offline
USBC Bronze Coach

Registered: 02/13/01
Posts: 6567
A/S/L: 50/F/California
Quote:
Interestingly we have several outdoor movie theaters around the periphery of these large citie.


We have one set of outdoor movies theaters in Sacramento. They are the only ones in about a 200 mile circumferance. There are none left in San Jose that I know of.

Bowling alleys are closing fast in CA. The land prices exceed the value a bowling alley can give. Most of the centers here in Sacramento are time capsules. They were built around the mid 1960s and they have not changed too much. Synthetic lanes and auto scorers and that's about it. Nothing else has beem put into the houses. One house has been remodeled for a more contemporary feel. But they have fallen to the dark side of cosmic bowling and basically have NO evening leagues. Its all cosmic, every day of the week. They do not oil on the weekends as most of their customers are throwing plastic house balls so it doesn't matter. We had a holiday party there for my work on Sunday and I was standing 50, shooting 25, with plastic, and going Brooklyn. Actually my ball was rolling out. Everyone else was just straight up the middle with a house ball. I was the only one in a party of about 75 that had my own equipment. That's how this house makes a living. Its what they have to do I guess.

The biggest tip I can suggest from seeing many many centers go defunct, is that if you get into the center business you NEED to own the land. DO NOT rent the land or build a center on rented land. Never invest the millions of dollars it takes on a center, on rented land.

Erin

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#38391 - 01/11/07 10:35 AM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Atochabsh]
MrBowler Offline
Action Bowler

Registered: 12/08/06
Posts: 298
A/S/L: CA, USA
Erin, don't forget about the new Strikes center in Rocklin (just outside of Sacramento for those of you not familiar with the area). They just built a huge house with 50 lanes (30 exclusively for league, 16 for open play, and 4 for private parties). They seem to be packed every night of the week and very busy.

But as was said above, this bowling alley was built in an area that is growing, a lot of homes are being built in the area. Also, it has a lazer tag area, a large Game Room and restaurant. This seems to be the way that bowling centers are going now (check out Strike Zone Family Fun Center in Manteca).

Mike
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#38392 - 01/11/07 10:36 AM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Atochabsh]
Dennis Michael Offline
Virtual League Champion

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 9763
A/S/L: M/Barrington, Ill
"The biggest tip I can suggest from seeing many many centers go defunct, is that if you get into the center business you NEED to own the land. DO NOT rent the land or build a center on rented land. Never invest the millions of dollars it takes on a center, on rented land."

Excellent point, Erin. I happen to be in an area where 3 centers have closed, but 3 new larger centers have been built. The 8-12 lane Houses are gone to be replaced by 32-40 lane Houses. The common building site has been adjacent to large shopping centers, with open parking for all. Open parking area is the expensive investment. So, if one can build a center, and lease the parking area, it is to their advantage.
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#38670 - 01/14/07 05:23 PM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Cam]
Brandon510 Offline
Legend

Registered: 08/05/06
Posts: 1990
A/S/L: 28/Male/California/Philippines
Have you seen these new bowling alleys are like modernize new style. They have bowling, bilards, catering, and full bar. You can even throw parties and get a private bowling room.

300 Club Bowling Alleys

Have not been to them i wonder how much they charge for open play.
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#38677 - 01/14/07 07:43 PM Re: Can one make a living owning a bowling alley? [Re: Brandon510]
Brian Longo Offline
Legend

Registered: 05/23/06
Posts: 1393
A/S/L: 37/M/Jacksonville, NC
Originally Posted By: Brandon510
Have not been to them i wonder how much they charge for open play.

Probably something between an arm and a leg. wink Just a guess, but when a place like that opens, you're not only paying to bowl, but for the cost of providing the atmosphere as well.
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