Bowling today isn’t what it once was during the 1950s and 1960s. At its peak in the mid-60s, there were about 12,000 bowling centers across the US. Today, there are less than 4,000 bowling centers. Given the vast extent of industry decline, would anyone still invest in a bowling center or alley? And would it be a profitable venture?
When one looks at some quick numbers, the short answer is yes. According to data from bowling.com, on an annual basis, bowling alleys can expect to rake in revenues of around $36,000 per lane. With over 20+ lanes, that can be a considerable total amount. Industry observers note that bowling centers have a market share of approximately $4 billion. Additionally, a bowling center is prominently known to be an all-cash business with no accounts receivable and little or no inventory.
However, succeeding with a bowling alley business is not a given, and there are some caveats to consider.
In the middle of a transition
While experts and observers expect the bowling market to grow over the next few years, you can’t ignore the fact that the industry has taken big economic blows since the 1970s. Additionally, with the plethora of new leisure activities, bowling isn’t just as popular as before.
As a result, a rebuilding phase is currently underway across the entire industry. Owners and managers have been investing in bowling alley modernization and integrated non-bowling activities to keep up with the times. Additional features like arcade games or sophisticated bar amenities allow visitors to step back from the game of bowling without actually leaving the bowling center. Party packages for birthdays and corporate events are designed to encourage people to use bowling as the main event or attraction for gatherings.
So contrary to what others may think, bowling is here to stay for many more years to come, albeit with modern additions to adjust to the current market realities.
What you need to succeed
If you’re considering a bowling alley as a business venture, you’d need to work hard (and smart) for every customer you can get. Given the rebuilding mode that the bowling industry is in, you need to be exceptionally scrappy and business savvy to succeed. Learn from other entrepreneurs who have experience with managing bowling centers or alleys. Ask about the typical expenses they incur and see if there are areas that will be relevant to your situation.
More importantly, you need to find ways to set yourself apart from the competition. While modernizing and integrating other activities is part of that, you need to go deeper and truly understand your potential market. Having a good grasp of customers’ tastes (e.g., activities, food, type of entertainment) in a particular geographic area will have a big impact on whether people will visit your facility.
A timeless and accessible leisure activity
Bowling has indeed been in decline for some time now, but one thing has remained consistent. It’s still an activity that has widespread appeal, without bias to any particular group. Just about anyone can take a bowling ball and start knocking down pins. It’s reasonably easy to pick up, and it’s a great way to socialize with friends and family.
With a sport or activity that is widely accessible, there are several ways for you or any business-savvy individual to use that to your advantage.