For many families, a trip to the bowling alley is an essential element of a fun Friday or Saturday night out. The same is true of teens and adults. Bowling is a fabulous hobby and sport, and bowling alleys have evolved to offer great entertainment options for casual bowlers and pros alike. If you have a passion for bowling and want to start a business that could be successful for years and decades to come, it might be time to consider starting a bowling alley.
Bowling alleys offer entertainment for the general population, and for more serious bowlers, they offer a chance to train and compete. These alleys typically consist of multiple lanes, but modern-day alleys can be so much more. It’s common for a bowling alley to not only offer bowling but also to feature food, alcohol, arcade games, and other forms of entertainment. Shoe rentals, food services, bowling leagues, and events like birthday parties are other common income streams for these businesses.
A bowling alley may adopt a specific business model. Some alleys specialize in providing a professional bowling environment and are designed to appeal to professionals with lanes and setups that follow competition regulations. Other alleys take a more liberal approach, focusing on the family entertainment value that bowling offers. Glow-in-the-dark bowling parties, fun decor, upbeat music, and kid-friendly setups all appeal to non-professional bowlers who are looking for entertainment.
According to IBIS World, the bowling centers industry experienced 6% growth over the last five years, and the industry is expected to generate a total of $3.3 billion in revenue. An increase in disposable income has driven more discretionary spending, resulting in increased demand for entertainment options, like bowling.
While Bowlero Corporation and Lucky Strike Entertainment LLC are majority holders in the industry, plenty of independently and franchise-owned and operated bowling alleys exist, too.
According to Murrey International, there are several trends happening in the bowling alley industry. One trend is that bowling alleys are now offering a more refined experience with higher-quality food and beverage options, including artisan cocktails and craft beers on tap. Another trend is the rise of family entertainment centers, where bowling alleys are offering more options for families to enjoy. Additionally, casual league bowling is becoming more popular across America, especially youth leagues. There is also a move towards modernization and innovation in the industry, with many bowling alleys upgrading their facilities to include new technologies such as touch screens, online booking systems, and virtual reality experiences.
Today’s bowling alleys need to appeal to a broad target market to maximize their profits. While professional bowlers may be a part of the alley’s target market, more casual bowlers seeking entertainment now make up a larger portion of your typical bowling alley’s customer base. Those casual bowlers could be kids, teens, families, and adults. An alley’s target market consists of people who are looking for entertainment, whether it’s a group of teens looking for a fun Friday night out or a parent looking for a great birthday party idea for their child.
Checklist To Start A Bowling Alley
If you’re thinking about starting a bowling alley, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.
Step 1: Research the market demand for a bowling alley
Starting a new business, like a bowling alley, requires in-depth market research to understand the demand and viability of the business in a specific location. Here are some steps and resources you can utilize to conduct market research:
Local Market Demographics: Investigate the demographic makeup of your proposed location. The age, income levels, lifestyle, and recreational habits of the population are all factors to consider. A bowling alley typically attracts a wide range of ages, but it might particularly appeal to families and younger adults. Websites like the U.S. Census Bureau provide lots of useful demographic data.
Competitor Analysis: Look into the competition in your intended area. How many other bowling alleys are there? What services do they offer and at what price points? You can use resources like Google Maps, Yelp, or local business directories to help with this.
Local Economic Health: Assess the economic health of the area. Is it growing, stable, or in decline? This can influence people’s discretionary spending habits, which will directly impact your business. Information about local economic conditions can usually be found through local news sources or economic development agencies.
Location Analysis: Consider the accessibility and visibility of your proposed location. Is it easy to get to, well-known, and near other businesses that your customers might frequent? If it’s located near a cinema, for example, customers might be more likely to combine a movie with a game of bowling.
Surveys and Focus Groups: Consider conducting surveys or focus groups within the local area to gauge interest in a new bowling alley. This can give you direct feedback on what potential customers would like to see, how often they might visit, and what they’d be willing to pay. Online survey tools like SurveyMonkey, or hosting local community events, can help with this.
Online Interest: Use online tools like Google Trends to gauge the level of interest in bowling in your area. This can give you an indication of how many people are searching for this kind of entertainment.
Local Regulations: Research any local regulations that might affect your business. This could include noise ordinances, licensing requirements, or zoning laws. Information on these topics can usually be found on local government websites or by contacting the appropriate departments.
By performing this thorough market research, you can get a clearer picture of whether or not a bowling alley would be a successful business venture in your proposed location.
Step 2: Write a business plan
Writing a business plan for a bowling alley is important for several reasons:
Clarifies business objectives: A business plan not only helps articulate the goals and objectives of the bowling alley, but a business plan is essential for securing loans.
While there is no specific section exclusively for bowling alleys in a business plan, certain sections are particularly important:
Market Analysis: Understanding the local demand for bowling, identifying target customers, and analyzing the competition.
Operations Plan: Describing the layout of the bowling alley, the number of lanes, seating arrangements, and any additional amenities or entertainment offerings.
Marketing and Sales Strategy: Outlining how the bowling alley will attract and retain customers through promotional activities, advertising, online presence, loyalty programs, etc.
Financial Projections: Including startup costs, revenue forecasts, and profitability analysis, considering factors specific to the bowling alley industry.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Find a suitable location for the bowling alley
Finding the perfect location for your bowling alley is an essential step in ensuring your business’s success. The right location depends on a variety of factors, including customer accessibility, demographics, competition, costs, and zoning regulations. Here’s an overview of the process:
Identify Your Target Market: Based on your business plan and market research, identify who your main customers will be. Will you be targeting families, young adults, or league bowlers, for example? Knowing this can help you understand where your business will be most successful.
Area Demographics: Research the demographics in various locations. Look at factors such as population size, age, income levels, and lifestyle. You want a location that matches the demographics of your target customers. Tools like the U.S. Census Bureau can be useful for demographic data.
Access and Visibility: Ideally, your bowling alley should be easily accessible and visible. Look for locations near main roads or highways, with good public transportation links. It’s also beneficial to be near other businesses that attract a similar demographic, such as movie theaters, shopping centers, or restaurants. It’s also important to look for a location with plenty of parking.
Analyze Competition: Consider the competition in the area. If there are already multiple bowling alleys, it might be more difficult to attract customers. However, some competition can also indicate a healthy demand.
Space Requirements: Bowling alleys require a significant amount of space, not only for the lanes but also for equipment rooms, seating areas, snack bars, restrooms, and parking. Make sure the location can accommodate your space needs.
Cost: Analyze all costs associated with the location, including rent or mortgage, utilities, taxes, and renovation or construction costs. Make sure these fit within your budget. You also want to consider the cost of living in the area as it will influence your pricing strategy and payroll.
Zoning Regulations: Check with the local government or a commercial realtor to ensure the property is zoned for a bowling alley. Zoning laws regulate what types of businesses can operate in specific areas.
Growth Prospects: Consider the future growth prospects of the location. Is the area growing and developing? Are there plans for residential or commercial projects that could bring more potential customers to the area?
Safety: The safety of the area is also an important consideration. You want to ensure your customers feel safe coming to your business.
Lease Terms: If you’re leasing a property, understand the lease terms. How long is the lease for? What are the terms for renewal? Who is responsible for maintenance?
Remember, location decisions can have long-term impacts on your business, so it’s worth investing time and resources to choose wisely. If possible, engage the services of a commercial realtor who knows the area and understands your needs. They can often provide valuable insights and access to properties you might not find on your own.
Step 4: Register the business
The next step in starting your bowling alley is to make sure it’s properly registered and legal to operate. It’s important to note, however, that the exact process can vary from state to state, so you’ll need to check the specific requirements for your location. Here’s a general guide to the key registrations:
Choose a Business Structure: Decide on the most suitable legal structure for your bowling alley, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation. Consider factors like liability protection, taxation, and management flexibility.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Register Your Business Name: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain Business Licenses and Permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits to operate. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
In addition, licenses that may be needed specifically for a bowling alley are a liquor license and food handling permit, as food and alcohol can provide a lot of additional revenue for a center.
Step 5: Secure financing
Getting funding to start a bowling alley can be a significant challenge, as it typically requires a substantial upfront investment.
Banks and credit unions are frequent sources to obtain funding. To go after funding, prepare a solid business plan and financial projections to support your loan application. In some cases, Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees may be needed by the bank in order to make the loan. Popular SBA programs include 7(a) and 504.
Even with a guarantee, borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 6: Acquire the property and begin setting it up
Once you have secured funding and acquired a location for your bowling alley, there are several steps you will need to take to prepare for the opening.
Prepare the Building: Depending on the condition of the location you’ve acquired, you may need to do significant renovations or updates to make it suitable for a bowling alley. This could include installing the lanes and pinsetters, creating a rental area for shoes and bowling balls, setting up a snack bar or restaurant area, and making sure there are enough bathrooms.
Layout and Design: The layout and design of your bowling alley are critical factors in creating an enjoyable customer experience. Consider hiring an architect or interior designer with experience in recreational or sports facilities. They can help you optimize the layout for customer flow, safety, and enjoyment. Consider the placement of lanes, seating areas, food and beverage areas, restrooms, and arcade or gaming areas if you plan to include those. You’ll also need to ensure that you meet all ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for accessibility.
Equipment Purchase: You will need to purchase the necessary bowling equipment, including bowling lanes, pin setting machines, bowling balls, shoes, and automatic scoring systems. It’s recommended to reach out to suppliers who specialize in bowling alley equipment such as Brunswick Bowling or QubicaAMF.
Scoring System and Management Software: Modern bowling alleys often use automatic scoring systems and management software to streamline operations. Companies like AlleyTrak and Steltronic specialize in this type of software, which can help with scoring, lane management, reservations, league management, and even point-of-sale operations.
Remember, starting a bowling alley is a complex endeavor that requires significant planning and preparation. But with careful planning and execution, it can become a profitable and rewarding business.
Step 7: Get your marketing plan in place
Effective marketing for a bowling alley starts with understanding its target audience and then tailoring a mix of traditional and digital marketing strategies to reach that audience.
Local community engagement is crucial; partnering with schools, businesses, and organizations for events or leagues can help establish the bowling alley as a community hub. Offering themed nights, like cosmic bowling, discounts, or special events for different age groups can help attract a wide array of customers. Traditional marketing, such as print ads in local newspapers, radio spots, and eye-catching outdoor signage, can also be effective. Also, offering a loyalty or rewards program can also help retain customers and encourage repeat visits.
In addition, having an online presence is essential. A user-friendly website with clear information about hours, pricing, services, and location is a must. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are invaluable for sharing promotions, events, and specials. Online customer reviews significantly influence people’s decisions, so encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp. Finally, consider implementing a targeted email marketing strategy, offering discounts or special offers to those who subscribe to your newsletter. Effective marketing requires creativity, community involvement, and a consistent online presence.
Step 8: Hire & train employees
Hiring the right team is crucial to the success of a bowling alley business. The employees are the face of your business, interacting directly with your customers and significantly shaping their experience. Typical roles in a bowling alley include general managers, shift managers, customer service representatives or front desk clerks, lane attendants, maintenance technicians, and food service staff.
In terms of compensation, pay can vary greatly depending on the location and specific job duties, but here are some general ranges:
– General Manager: $40,000 – $60,000 per year
– Shift Manager: $15 – $20 per hour
– Customer Service Representative/Front Desk Clerk: minimum wage
– Lane Attendant: minimum wage
– Maintenance Technician: $20 – $25 per hour
– Food Service Staff: minimum wage per hour plus tips
In addition to budgeting for salaries, a business’ budget needs to include employee-related expenses like paid time off, health insurance contributions, and worker’s comp insurance.
Remember, these are rough estimates and salaries can vary depending on the location, experience, and specific duties of each role.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 9: Prepare to launch
As you prepare to open your bowling alley, there are several critical steps to take to ensure your business is ready for operation.
Business Insurance: Securing the proper insurance is essential to protect your business from unforeseen circumstances. This typically includes general liability insurance, property insurance, workers’ compensation insurance (if you have employees), and potentially additional coverage for specific risks associated with bowling alleys.
Bookkeeping: Establish a system for bookkeeping and accounting right from the start. You might use software like QuickBooks or Wave Accounting (FREE) or hire a bookkeeper or accountant. Keeping careful track of your income, expenses, and other financial details is essential for tax purposes and will help you understand and manage your business’s financial health.
Banking: Set up a separate business bank account. This is crucial for keeping your personal and business finances separate, which makes bookkeeping and tax preparation easier and helps protect your personal assets.
Payment Systems: Decide how you’ll accept payments. In addition to cash, most businesses find it necessary to accept credit and debit cards. Look into merchant service providers that offer card payment processing. Nowadays, contactless payments and online booking systems are also important.
Health and Safety Regulations: Comply with all local health and safety regulations, which might include rules about food service, fire safety, and COVID-19 related precautions.
Marketing and Promotion: Don’t forget to promote your new business. This might include a grand opening event, special promotions, and both online and offline advertising.
Every bowling alley business is unique, so these are general recommendations that might not cover all your specific needs. Starting a business is a big endeavor with many moving parts, but with careful planning and attention to detail, it’s an exciting journey that can be incredibly rewarding. Be sure to lean on professional services as needed – accountants, lawyers, and business consultants can provide invaluable guidance as you navigate these waters.
Opening an independent bowling alley allows you complete control over marketing decisions, promotions, and other daily operations, but you may find it challenging to compete with the large marketing budgets of franchise bowling alleys. Purchasing a bowling alley franchise from a national company can decrease the amount of marketing necessary to succeed, but may also mandate what hours you are open, what prices you charge, and what promotions your bowling alley will honor.
Common Questions When Starting A Bowling Alley
How much does it cost to start a bowling alley?
Starting a bowling alley can be a substantial investment. The total cost can vary widely depending on a range of factors, including the size of the bowling alley, the location, the condition of the building, and the cost of equipment and renovations.
On average, starting a bowling alley can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million or more. These figures include the initial investment for launching the business as well as the recommended three to six months of operating expenses you should have on hand as a buffer.
Let’s break down some of the costs:
Lease or Purchase of Property: This can vary greatly depending on the location and size of the property. Buying a property might cost anywhere from $500,000 to over $1 million, while leasing could range from $10,000 to $30,000 per month or more.
Renovations and Build-Out: If the building needs to be transformed into a bowling alley, this can also be a significant expense. Depending on the extent of the renovations needed, this might cost between $100,000 and $500,000.
Bowling Equipment: Bowling lanes, pins, pinsetters, balls, shoes, and automatic scoring systems are some of the major equipment costs. For a 10-lane bowling alley, the cost of this equipment could range from $150,000 to $300,000.
Furniture and Amenities: You’ll also need to outfit the facility with seating, tables, and possibly other amenities like arcade games or a snack bar. This could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.
Operating Expenses: Operating expenses include salaries for employees, utilities, insurance, marketing taxes, and maintenance. Depending on the size of your operation, this could be anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per month or more.
Initial Inventory: If you’re going to have a snack bar or pro shop, you’ll also need to purchase initial inventory. This could cost between $5,000 and $20,000.
Remember, these are rough estimates and the actual costs can vary widely. It’s always a good idea to get quotes from multiple vendors and service providers in your area to get the most accurate estimates. Given the significant investment required, creating a detailed business plan and securing sufficient funding are key steps in starting a bowling alley.
How much can a bowling alley owner make?
The income generated by a bowling alley can vary widely based on factors such as the size of the establishment, the location, the local market, and how well the business is managed. Generally, a bowling alley can generate revenue from several sources, including lane rentals, shoe rentals, sales from food and drinks, and income from hosting parties, events, or leagues.
As an example, let’s consider a small bowling alley with 10 lanes. Assume the bowling alley is open 12 hours a day and each lane is occupied 50% of the time. If each lane is rented out at $20 per hour, the bowling alley could generate $1,200 per day ($20 per lane x 10 lanes x 6 hours) or $360,000 per year from lane rentals alone.
Then add shoe rentals, which might average about $4 per person. If the alley has an average of 60 bowlers per day, that’s another $240 per day or $87,600 per year.
Sales from food and drinks can also add substantially to the revenue. If each customer spends an average of $10 on food and drinks, that’s another $600 per day or $219,000 per year.
Finally, income from parties, events, or leagues could add more, though this can vary widely.
So, this example bowling alley could have gross revenues of over $666,600 per year. From this, the owner would need to subtract operating expenses – such as salaries, rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, taxes, maintenance, and cost of goods sold – to determine the net income. If operating expenses accounted for 70% of gross revenue (which is the average for bowling alleys), the net income might be around $200,000 per year.
This is a simplified example and actual results can vary greatly. The success of a bowling alley depends on many factors, with the primary being the additional offerings such as a pro shop, pool tables, arcade games, or a concession stand with good food and beer. Also pairing a bowling alley with an arcade, go-carts, or other entertainment can help you to appeal to a broader audience and can encourage families to stay longer, spending more money. You can also develop special theme nights and birthday party packages or start a bowling league or other fun competition to encourage repeat customers.
What skills are needed to run a bowling alley?
Starting a bowling alley doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can give you an advantage in the bowling industry.
Bowling experience. Experience within the industry, either as a bowler or by having worked in a bowling alley, can be advantageous since a business owner will have detailed knowledge about the game, alley operations, and more.
Customer service skills. Interacting with customers is a huge part of owning a bowling alley. A business owner with strong interpersonal skills can make meaningful connections to encourage customers to come back again.
Technical skills. Bowling alleys are full of mechanical equipment that can and often does break. An alley owner who has some basic technical skills may be able to troubleshoot or perform small repairs, saving on the expense of having a technician out to perform repairs. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone, be sure to have a plan in place as lanes that don’t operate can’t generate any income, and it’s critical to have them fully operational on the weekend.
Management experience. A business owner who has previously hired, trained and managed staff will be better prepared for some of the challenges of running a bowling alley than an owner who lacks management experience.
Creativity. Some of the most successful bowling alley businesses have unique themes or offerings, like special event nights or food offerings that consumers won’t find at other bowling alleys. Creativity is important in initially designing the bowling alley and creating offers that will appeal to customers.
What is the NAICS code for a bowling alley?
The NAICS code for a bowling alley is 713950.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?
American Wheelchair Bowling Association
Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America
International Candlepin Bowling Association
National Bowling Association
Professional Bowlers Association
Professional Women’s Bowling Association
United States Bowling Congress