A Conversation with the Founder of Kids Bowl Free

Over the past few months, we have explored different promotion ideas to attract more customers to your bowling center. Today, I sat down with the founder and creator of Kids Bowl Free, Bruce Davis.

Bruce is one of my close friends, and I am also fortunate to have had him as a career mentor for many years. His energy has no end, and his lifelong passion for bowling has fueled some of the industry’s most innovative approaches to inspiring future generations of bowlers.

Jim: Tell us a bit about your background in the industry.

Bruce: I grew up around my family’s bowling center in Toledo, Ohio. I had always wanted to help improve and develop the marketing of the bowling industry, but you have to understand that in those days, in the ‘60’s, the bowling industry did not think it needed any marketing help. Centers in those days were able to turn away customers. Most centers were busy all the time. Everyone in this industry was doing really well in the mid-1960’s.

But one of the side-effects of the booming 1960’s era in our industry is that the entire bowling segment got over-built. Eventually, as demand began to decline, centers faced a bigger struggle to get customers.

Over the years, I got involving in various things that were taking place in the state and national associations. I served on numerous committees. As times changed, and as centers faced more challenges getting customers in the doors, enthusiasm grew for additional marketing services beyond what committees could provide. So, I began providing marketing services to the industry.

Jim: You played a really key role in creating a national marketing program. How did that develop?

Bruce: As I served in the association in different capacities, and on different committees, I was able to experiment and explore new avenues for marketing. The New Products Task Force that I chaired came up with a lot of ideas that were dubbed crazy at the time.  However, many have come into play over the years.  Both the membership association and the business association asked the marketing committee to undertake different projects, and through that, I was able to test out new marketing techniques to get more customers in the door.  And then, of course, my company, Team Up Associates, began doing direct mail and radio in the ‘80’s, which helped us grow in ways we had not imagined before.  Our “Fun Rollin Family Bowling” direct mail promotion floored over 30,000 adult/child teams in one year for example.  Our “Radio Have-A-Ball” floored thousands of adult teams in short session leagues over a 6-8-year time period.  One program I founded was an entirely new bowling game: The 40-Frame Game. That game has a national tournament and is still very popular today

Jim:  What led to the creation of Kids Bowl Free?

Bruce:  Bowling needed a branded national bowling promotion with “legs”.  In order to make that happen, I needed to form a team of professionals and make an investment.  I asked some of the industry’s best marketing people to join with me and form a new company, Bowling Business Builders International (BBBI).  With that marketing company, we launched a new product. The product, “Win and Roll In Las Vegas”, completely flopped.  But we reinvested and our second program, “Kids Bowl Free” has been highly successful.  In fact, it’s the strongest, longest running marketing promotion in the bowling industry’s history.

Jim: You’re speaking of Kids Bowl Free, which has completely revolutionized bowling centers’ promotional and marketing opportunities. 

Bruce: Yes, exactly. Kids Bowl Free is in its 11th year now, and the reason I like the program so much is that it addresses two very distinct problems. The first problem is specific to each center: How do we get more customers into our centers in the summer months? And the second problem is a much larger, industry-wide problem: How do we attract a new generation of bowlers and get new people to fall in love with the game?

Jim: How does your service work with Kids Bowl Free?

Bruce: When we partner with a center to do a Kids Bowl Free promotion, we conduct a detailed analysis. We show the center how many people within a 10-mile radius are 15 years and younger. This is the target market. We provide specific tips on how to attract those people. We also provide tangible program materials such as information and marketing cards, and then we provide digital support, especially on social media.

Jim: What are some of the greatest achievements of Kids Bowl Free?

Bruce:  Kids Bowl Free has helped our industry improve in three key areas. First, we are addressing the summer lull. With Kids Bowl Free, we don’t have vacant centers during the summer season, which used to be such a slow time. We are also able to bring in “secondary spending.” As customers come in for the Kids Bowl Free program, they are spending money on shoes and food and other items. This is an overall net positive program. And third, Kids Bowl Free is a fantastic way for us to collect more data. We get an opportunity to collect information on families that are interested in bowling – and we can use that information to market birthday parties and numerous other special events.

Eighteen million children have participated over the years (most of those are 13 years old and under). Just last year, we had 2.8 million kids participate. Our goal for 2018 is three million children. One of the ways we knew our program was so successful was that many of the participating centers’ employees were not happy with the program because it meant the summer months were no longer relaxing months – there is a lot of work to do now with all of the customers coming for Kids Bowl Free!

Jim: Last question, Bruce. What’s the greatest contribution you hope to make in our industry?

Bruce: The contribution I would like to leave with the industry is making the actual bowling experience more exciting and fun. That’s my passion, and it’s one of the most exciting ways I can contribute.

It is no exaggeration at all that Kids Bowl Free has changed the bowling landscape forever. And the best news for the bowling industry is that Bruce Davis is continuing to innovate and explore other ideas.

For more information about Kids Bowl Free, be sure to check out KidsBowlFree.com, or email Andy Vasko at Andy.Vasko@kidsbowlfree.com Centers that participate in Kids Bowl Free make money on the promotions that the nationwide Kids Bowl Free program offers, as well as making money through secondary streams of income at the center.

For better bowling,