Do you want to start a bowling alley business? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a bowling alley business with NO money and no experience plus a sample bowling alley business plan template. Bowling has always been considered as an activity that is wholesome and fit, which makes it a very lucrative business as the profit that is generated from this sort of business is all year round.

One thing with starting a bowling alley is that it can be opened in a variety of hotspots as an entrepreneur does not need to start something traditional- especially if he or she intends to stand out. However, just like any business endeavor you are looking to start, you must first conduct a market research to ensure that there is a demand before starting the business so that you do not end up wasting resources.

One important aspect of starting your bowling alley business is finding the right space as this can lead to either the success or failure of your business. In finding the right space, you can either build from scratch so as to design the place according to the standard you prefer or you can lease or buy a space that had been previously used as a bowling alley, that way you only carry out minor renovations to suit your business.

With building from scratch, you have to be prepared to spend a higher amount of money and if you are starting off with a strained budget, it will be best to lease or buy a previous bowling alley that has been abandoned.

18 Steps to Starting a Bowling Alley Business

1. Understand the Industry

The bowling industry in the united states generates an annual average revenue of billion with an annual growth pegged at 2.5 percent between the periods of 2012 and 2017. There are more than 3,600 bowling centers in the United States employing more than 69,000 people.

However, the industry is experiencing a tumble and this is because other forms of entertainment are increasing in popularity. This therefore means that revenue for this industry will only increase if the operators also evolve their services and offerings to attract more customers.

The industry which has been experiencing long-term decline is starting to experience an upbeat. Even though the industry has long been in a state of decline before the recession, the recession further brought about reduced disposable incomes which saw many customers cut out entertainments such as bowling out of their budgets; an act which further crippled the industry. It is expected that revenue will only grow slightly between the period of 2017 and 2022 as operators are expected to offer diverse services which will not only bring in new customers but will see them retained as well.

According to industry report, the market share concentration in the bowling alley industry is one that is quite low as only two companies account for nearly 15 percent of the total revenue generated by the industry in 2017. There has been an increase however in the level of concentration within the industry as the industry’s market share has been boosted by several mergers and acquisitions. The industry has also started seeing a shift towards bowling alleys that are large as they tend to offer more services and activities for intending customers.

Regardless of the decline experienced by the industry, the industry is said to be enjoying positive change and financial stability due to growing and unprecedented popularity. Bowling has still remained amongst the nation’s top participatory sport as operators are using new technology in order to not only offer more entertainment options but also to broaden the focus of their customers.

Bowling has a large remarkable customer base as statistics show that more than 67 million people bowl at least once a year with over 2 million being active league players. Also according to a statistical report from Sandy Hansell & Associates, bowling is said to do well even during economic downturns and the reason is that it is one of the wholesome location-based recreational activities that are close to home for families to engage in.

This was observed between the periods of 2010 through 2013, where many bowling alleys reported stability or only a slight decline in their operating revenue or margins. As at 2017, there were close to 4,700 bowling alleys with about 100,000 lanes in operation in the United States of America. Out of this number, about 4,200 operate as commercial centers with the others being operated as private clubs, colleges, military, and fraternal organizations. A quarter of commercial bowling alleys are at least 32 lanes.

The bowling industry also has approximately 210 duckpin and candlepin centers that have close to 2,870 lanes. The industry has had old players leaving with new ones coming in. The bowling industry is heavily fragmented as the largest bowling company has over 300 centers with the next three largest owning 48 centers together. Bowling alley ownership is quite diverse as most of them are owned either by individuals or families.

Quite a number of family-owned bowling alleys have been passed down from previous generations. The military services operate more than 215 bowling alleys domestically and overseas with about 3,500 lanes. Bowling is also quite popular on the international stage as the federation International des Quilleurs has about 100 million people from 150 countries participate in its bowling league on a regular basis.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

The demographic and psychographic composition of those who go to a bowling alley are children, teenagers, groups and families, birthday parties, dating couples, schools, churches, seniors and league bowlers. This shows that the demographic for bowling alley cuts across all ages and all manner of people.

If you are therefore going to define the demographic for your bowling alley in the United States of America, you should try to make it all encompassing. 

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

Every entrepreneur hopes that his business will stand out from others that have already been in existence, which is why most start on certain areas of specialization. A niche helps identify a business whilst also enabling it to generate the necessary profit it will need to grow and sustain the business.

Before you can offer niche services, it is best that you take a thorough study of the business environment so you can identify the niches that will enable you stand out whilst also generating revenue. Therefore, the niche ideas that are available for this particular business where one can specialize in are;

  • Bowling – open play
  • Bowling – league play
  • Shoe rental
  • Restaurant
  • Bar/lounge
  • Snack bar
  • Laser tag
The Level of Competition in the Industry

The bowling alley is one that has to be physically located in an area; therefore, the level of competition will purely be dependent on other bowling centers in the same vicinity. Asides from other bowling centers, other competition will be from other entertainment centers as well as home entertainment due to video games.

What customers are looking for when they go to an entertainment center is the availability of quality services and availability of games. Therefore if you are looking to start a bowling center, ensure that your services are top notch and that all the games that you have listed are on for customers. Once customers find that you are consistent, it will be easier for them to be loyal to your brand and thereby help you compete fairly against your target market.

If you are therefore looking to start your bowling alley and are wondering at the level of competition you are likely to face in the United States, you should be aware that you are not only going to be competing against bowling centers but all other forms of entertainment as well and it is therefore vital that you are prepared.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

The bowling alley business is one that has long been in existence and due to this there are lots of bowling centers that have become popular overtime. There are many factors that has contributed to brands being popular especially bowling alleys and they are; the number of games being offered, quality of services, length of time in the industry, marketing and publicity strategies.

Below are some of the well-known bowling alleys in the United States of America;

  • The White House Lanes
  • Bowlmor Lanes
  • Holler House
  • North Bowl
  • Lucky Strike
  • Punch Bowl Social
  • Brooklyn Bowl
  • Rose Bowl
  • The National Bowling Stadium
  • Brunswick’s Bowling Center
  • All Star Lanes
  • Montrose Bowl
  • Mission Bowling Club
  • Bowl and Barrel
Economic Analysis

Less people from average households patronize entertainment centers, least of all a bowling alley. Social stratification has caused only affluent households who can increase their spending to have a higher participation in entertainment centers than those on lower income. These trend started long before the great recession and only got accelerated after the recession.

On a macro level, the declining trend that is prevalent in this industry is not something that works well for the bowling industry, which is why creative entrepreneurs are venturing into niche services in order to stand out and this has been working.

Bowling is considered as a sport and also as a form of recreation and it has since remained one of the most popular indoor forms of social entertainment. This is because most families and friends that want to hang out and have a good time usually consider a bowling alley as the place to be.

There are two types of bowlers, the casual bowlers and the serious bowlers. Those who are regarded as serious bowlers are league bowlers with a large number of them bowling for at least 25 times a year.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

The bowling alley business is one where the entrepreneur can either choose to buy a franchise or open an independent bowling alley by starting from the scratch. No option is an easy one for the entrepreneur which is why it is important that you think through the options properly as they both come with their own pros and cons; whichever option you finally decide on should be one that aligns with your intended corporate goals and objectives.

Starting one’s business from scratch might look overwhelming for an entrepreneur, which is why having a business plan is necessary as this will guide your decisions and actions during the early stages till you have garnered the on-hands experience you need. One thing with starting from the scratch is that you are in control of all aspects of your business – from marketing to its daily operations.

If you however intend to buy a franchise, you should ensure that you have conducted a thorough research into the franchises available, their capabilities, their fees and how well their goals align with yours. The advantage that comes with buying a franchise is that you will not spend so much in marketing your business.

You may also not be in charge of the prices you charge, what hours you should stay open and what promotions your bowling alley should honor. All in all, buying a franchise is not bad especially if you are scared of making major decisions when newly starting your business and wouldn’t mind being guided by an experienced company.

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

Threats and challenges are part of the business world and while some can easily be controlled, not all can be and so for those threats and challenges that you aren’t able to control, it is best that you hope for the best when they occur.

Some of the threats and challenges that you are therefore going to face when starting your bowling alley are; marketing as this can be overwhelming for a new entrepreneur, competition from alternative sources of entertainment, and intense competition from already existing bowling alleys in the same area.

7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

One very serious decision that you will need to make when starting any business in the United States is what legal entity will suit you best. The legal entity you use for your business can have a positive or negative impact on your business. Different businesses require different legal entities and so you have to know what kind of legal entity will be most suited for your bowling alley business.

There are several attributes that you will need to use as a check for any legal entity you intend to choose for your business. Some of the major ones are personal liability, simplicity, taxation, flexibility and access to business loans.

There are five types of legal entities in existence for entrepreneurs in the United States and they are; sole proprietorship, partnership, S Corporation, C Corporation and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Most entrepreneurs usually stick with an LLC because it offers them what they need for their business. If you are however not sure of which legal entity will suit your business, it is best to speak with an attorney to help you out.

An LLC positively ticks most of the attributes, not only are LLCs easy to form but there are few restrictions on how the ownership and management of the LLC can be structured. Also, owners are not doubly taxed in an LLC as only the profits are taxed once and with an LLC, owners have access to business loans. In case the business acquires debt or faces a lawsuit, the personal assets of the owners are safe.

LLCs comes with a major disadvantage as well as your business cannot be listed on the stock market which makes it difficult to obtain any sort of funding from venture capital firms unless the LLC is converted into a corporation.

8. Choose a Catchy Business Name

Before making your intended business legal, it is important that your business has an identity – a name. naming your business not only gives you the identity you need, it is also a means of setting your business apart from that of your competitors. It is important that you choose a catchy business name for your business, ensure that it is memorable and can be easily pronounced as well.

Below are some of the catchy business names that are suitable for your bowling alley business;

  • Quick Lanes
  • Smart Bowling Center
  • Slow Drill Bowling Alley
  • Drizzle Bowling Center
  • Epic Bowling Alley

9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

Bowling is regarded as a wholesome and clean entertainment for people of all ages and most centers are usually open every day of the week, closing in late hours. Due to this, there are a number of things that could go wrong and so it is always best to have comprehensive insurance policies that will cover whatever is likely to happen either to the customers or employees themselves. If you aren’t sure of what insurance policies to get, it is best that you engage the services of an insurance agent or broker to help you out.

Below are some of the basic insurance policies that you will need for your bowling alley;

10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

The bowling alley is one where individuals of all ages go to get clean entertainment through games; therefore in starting this business, you do not need to worry about intellectual property protection.

This does not however mean that as an entrepreneur there are certain aspects of your business that shouldn’t be protected. It is necessary that you protect your company name, logo, domain name or any other material worth protecting. Get in touch with a lawyer to help you out.

11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

The bowling alley business is a wholesome entertainment inclined business and as such those that have started the business or are planning to go into the business are expected to live up to certain expectations but having professional certification is not one of them.

This does not mean that you cannot take professional courses in a bid to have certifications in certain aspects that will allow you run your business better such as management, marketing and finance; they are however not seen as compulsory to-dos for entrepreneurs in this industry.

12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

When starting any business in the United States of America, it is best that you have all the necessary documents required of your business else you will run into trouble with the law. If you do not know what documents that you will need, it is best to ask others who are into the same business as you are or you engage the services of an attorney to help get all you will need so as to be able to run your business without hitches of any sort.

Below are some of the legal documents you will need in order to run your bowling alley in the United States of America;

  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Operating Agreement for LLCs
  • Basic Business License
  • Insurance Policy
  • Business Plan
  • Clean Hands Self-Certification
  • Tax Number
  • Music License
  • Certificate of Occupancy
  • Fire Marshall Inspection
  • Liquor License
  • Food Handling Permit
  • Bowling Alley License

13. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

One of the decisions that you will need to make once you have a business idea is where and how to source for start-up capital. This is because while you can source for your start-up capital from many places or individuals, not all will be beneficial to your business and so you will need to know which financial source will best allow your business the opportunity to grow whilst demanding little or no interest.

Also, before you can take a loan from any financial institution or private investor, you must have a business plan that will let the investor see how committed and serious you are regarding the business and how you intend to pay back the loan once given.

Below are some of the financing options that are open to your bowling alley;

  • Use part of your personal funds from either savings or sale of stock as start-up capital
  • Source for soft loans from wealthy family members and friends
  • Apply for loan from the commercial bank
  • Partner with private investor for start-up capital
  • Source for business loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA)

14. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

Any entrepreneur looking to start a business that will cater to a large number of customers know that the location of the business plays a huge role in the success and growth of the business. A bowling alley for instance is one that requires a large amount of space, therefore if you are looking for a location, make sure it is large enough for the lanes, storage of the bowling equipment as well as other additional services and features that you plan on having.

You will have to make a decision on whether to build your bowling alley from the ground up or whether to rent or buy a defunct bowling alley and then conduct certain renovations in order to start and grow the business. However, if you are building from ground up, you will have to consider the extra costs that you will contend with, which is why finding an already existing alley that has gone out of business or structure and renovating it will be better for your business in terms of cost.

When looking for a location to rent a building or build entirely from scratch, it is best you conduct a thorough research so that you will know the number of lanes you will need. This of course will depend on the population density of the place which you are looking to locate your business. The more potential customers you are looking to have, the more lanes and other entertainment options that will be made available.

Ensure that the location which you intend choosing for your bowling alley is one that is conspicuous and not too far out from an accessible area. No one wants to drive out too far before they can get clean entertainment, so it is necessary that you ensure that you are located within the hub of your target market.

It will be best to partner with a real estate agent that has local knowledge of the area you intend to locate your business, so that he or she could get the best location that will thoroughly suit your bowling alley business.

15. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

Regardless of whether you intend to build your bowling alley from ground up or to buy an existing one, a physical location is required in order to be able to run your business. You will need a minimum of 8,000 feet in order to get an eight-lane bowling alley that will have room for other additional features. The building should be a long one and in an easily accessible area with enough parking space for guests.

The lanes that you can use for your bowling alley are dependent on your preference as there are many synthetic lane styles or natural maple wood lanes that you can pick from. Aside from new lanes, bowling equipment, racks, balls, shoes, ball drillers, grinders, lane conditioners, ball cleaning units and pin setters, you will also need office supplies and equipment as well as other inventories for the additional features you intend to add for your business.

Having sufficient capital is very important as you will need money to purchase the facilities for use as well as to run it to a point where the business starts to generate revenue to be able to run by itself. When looking to raise capital, you have to take your legal structure into consideration as some will affect the sources you intend to borrow from, thereby making it impossible.

You will need to build a solid business structure to keep your business going. It is important that you hire those that know about the industry and also understand your corporate values and objectives so that achieving your goals will not be so hard.

Your staff should be able to work as a team and also be responsible for duties given. Therefore those you will need to hire to help run your bowling alley are; Admin and Human Resource Manager, Accountant, Customer Service Representative, Business Development and Marketing Officer, Lane Maintenance Person, League Manager, Kitchen Manager, Karaoke DJ, Cashier, Waitress, Bartender, Cleaners, and Security Guard.

From the above break down, you will require at least 14 key staff to help run your bowling alley business effectively.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

Bowling alleys are a great entertainment centers that offer customers a place and equipment with which to bowl with. While many go to bowl for fun, there are league plays where players can compete as individuals and as a group. Also, the indoor facility allows people to engage in their activities regardless of the weather and to also host events and parties.

However bowling alleys these days are no longer for those who just want to bowl as many successful lanes have expanded in order to offer customers varied entertaining activities as well as food services. Therefore the processes that are involved in a bowling alley is sometimes quite unrelated to the bowling sport.

Asides from attending to inquiries as regards lane and space rentals, building relations with bowling league organizers, organizing bar and food supplies; you will also have to contend with administrative or management duties.

16. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

Marketing is a major way for businesses to generate revenue that will sustain and grow their business thereby enabling it achieve its goals and objectives. Marketing involves anticipating and knowing the needs of your target market and then striving to meet it.

Because of how powerful marketing is, entrepreneurs are always careful about the strategies they create and how well it can be adapted to suit their overall goals and objectives. Marketing also ensures that you not only penetrate your intended target market but that you are also able to create the right awareness whilst getting a fair share for your business.

Creating the right marketing strategies require a thorough market research as this will allow you study your market thoroughly in order to know who your target market is, what they require from you and what you should expect from them as well. It will also allow you to know who your competitors are, their major weaknesses and strengths and how you can manipulate the former to the advantage of your business.

One thing that you should have in mind when looking to create effective marketing strategies is the location of your business. A good location is a marketing strategy all by itself and so if you aren’t located in a place that can easily create awareness for your business, you might have to do extra marketing which will likely cost you more.

If you feel you are going to be overwhelmed by creating these marketing strategies on your own, then you can seek the help of a marketing consultant who has knowledge of your industry and the right experience necessary to create winning marketing strategies for you. Alternatively, you can hire marketing executives who are very proficient to help you in creating the right marketing strategies that will align with the goals and objectives of your business.

Below are some of the marketing ideas and strategies that you can use for your bowling alley business;

  • Place adverts in local newspapers and magazines as well as on radio and television stations about your bowling alley
  • Empower your business development and marketing executive to physically source for clients for your bowling alley
  • Create an interactive website that is user friendly and advertise your bowling alley. Deploy SEO strategy so that your website can come out tops in search engines
  • Advertise your bowling alley on your social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter, Instagram and Snapchat
  • Ensure that your bowling alley business is listed in yellow pages as well as in online directories
  • Distribute handbills and fliers about your bowling alley in strategic locations

17. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

Every business that is customer centric knows how important it is not only to attract the right customers but also to ensure that a high number of these customers stick with the business and this is because customers ensure the sustainability and growth of a business. When your business retains a high number of its clients, you are likely to continue to remain in business whilst spending less than the businesses that keep attracting clients but retaining little or none.

The bowling alley business is one that has become saturated and this is because customers have found alternative means of entertaining themselves at home without having to go out especially with the advent of the internet. The few customers who go out to bowling alleys might not go back if they find that the quality of service is poor. It is therefore important that your employees know the importance of customers and treat them fairly.

While it is important to recover your initial capital and start making profit, it shouldn’t come with you overcharging your clients. If you have other bowling alleys close to you, try and ensure that you charge rates that are competitive in nature but will not cause you to run your business as a loss.

Give out incentives. Customers love incentives and you can slash rates every once a month, or give promotional offers by ensuring they get a discount if they brought a friend or colleague to your bowling alley. Remain consistent in giving your incentives so that customers can begin to eagerly anticipate what you have to offer and therefore stick to your company.

18. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

Every entrepreneur starting a business knows the importance of creating strategies that will boost the brand of the company as well as communicate the corporate identity of the company to its target market. Any company that doesn’t take publicity important enough is likely to lose revenue compared to its competitors because one other added benefit to publicity asides from creating awareness is the fact that through the awareness, a company can generate revenue. Also, with publicity, an entrepreneur can effectively penetrate the market and not only get a fair share but also compete fairly against competitors.

The bowling alley business is not a new or growing business and as such there are several players in the industry and to stand out as a newbie might be very difficult, therefore you will need strategies that are from someone that knows the industry. Ensure that the strategies crafted by the publicity consultant are in line with your corporate goals and objectives.

It is important that you set aside a budget when creating your publicity strategies so that you do not end up overspending and causing a strain on your overall budget. It is important to note that while some strategies will cost you, others will not especially as the internet allows entrepreneurs to get creative about how they promote their business.

Below are some of the strategies that you can use to boost awareness for your brand whilst also creating a corporate identity for your bowling alley;

  • Ensure that you create activities that are family friendly in order to positively promote your brand amongst one of your major patronizers
  • Have an attractive signage installed outside your bowling alley so as to attract potential customers
  • Participate in local community events and even host some charity events for free at your bowling alley
  • Start a bowling alley competition for different age groups, that way awareness of your bowling alley will be increased
  • Make use of your social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat to promote your bowling alley business
  • Encourage loyal customers to refer others to your business by giving them group discounts
Solomon. O'Chucks
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