Developing Programs and Packages

With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, league season is officially upon us!

If you are like most bowling center proprietors, you find yourself falling behind each year in the league market, and you may even wonder why you have open lanes this year that were filled last year. You may even be wondering what, exactly, you are doing wrong. In most cases, you are not doing anything wrong. But you will need to refine your approach to filling lanes.

The reason is that our league base customers are becoming older and are dropping out of league play faster than the younger generations are signing up.  Our league product involves a commitment of time, and the younger generations are busy and hesitant to make a serious time commitment.  We are fighting for their time and working hard to get on their schedules.

The good news here? People of all ages enjoy our products and services, and bowling remains a cool sport. Some proprietors have added new entertainment options which really work well, but even for those centers whose sole entertainment option is bowling, don’t worry: Bowling is still the main attraction for your customers!

These customers will come through the door in droves, but we must attract them with packages and programs that accommodate their schedules and appeal to their different tastes and budgets through a wide variety of options and all-inclusive packages.

If you do not already have packages, now is the time build them. If you do already have packages in place, now is a great time to review them and assess any improvements you can make.

Here are some things to think about when reviewing and building your packages:

  • Simplicity: Make sure your package options are simple to understand.
  • Gear: Include rental shoes and rental gear in your packages.
  • Base bowling: Offer time bowling options but build in easy upsell options such as additional bowling time.
  • Pricing structure: Price your packages two ways – based on per/person and per/lane calculations.
  • Food & beverage: Include easy food and beverage add-ons with opportunities to upsell.
  • Day & time: Package pricing should include options based on day and time.

Package types should include the following (but note that this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Open play
  • Family open play packages
  • Birthday parties
  • Corporate parties
  • Holiday parties (And even in September, it is not too early to start promoting holiday parties.)
  • Fundraising opportunities
  • School / youth group events

The big advantage of keeping your packages simple is that it makes it easy to upsell. If your staff is not already in the habit of upselling, help them understand how to upsell more bowling time, food and beverage options along with programs you are trying to form.

Be sure to put your package offers in print and make the flyer simple and easy to understand. Also make sure your employees are perfectly clear on all aspects of each package – make sure they understand how and when to upsell products. I often find that it is helpful to have an additional binder behind each service desk with full details about package offerings and opportunities to upsell. These binders are an invaluable tool for staff.

Creating programs is a key component of a center’s success with filling lanes that were once occupied by season league bowlers. Take this opportunity to create a schedule and a plan for the entire year. Map out your lanes with strategic start and ending dates. An example of strategic planning would be to have a program end around the holidays and then a new set of programs starting a couple weeks later in the new year.

When creating programs, or what some call “short season” leagues, you must first identify your realistic available lane inventory and what lanes you are currently filling with open play bowlers versus how many lanes you have for weekly program bowling. Once you have determined the day and time slots of your lane availability, you will be able to target the right demographic group to fill your lanes.

As an example: If I need to fill a Thursday night from 7pm – 10pm, I am probably going to offer a pizza and pitcher deal with 4-person mixed teams for six to ten weeks based on starting another league ending in mid may.  If I have a Sunday at 1pm to fill, I would opt for a family or adult youth program.

Once the audience and number of weeks are established, you can then start forming your program incentives such as “Have a Ball” and other merchandising our programs now offer.

This may seem like a lot of work on the front end, but committing to building solid packages and programs will only get easier as you build your customer base. Those customers will become regulars in your programs, and filling lanes will become easier.

Giving your employees the informational binders will allow them to pass the information on to the customer consistently, which, in turn, will build business and help you cultivate happy and informed customers – which, again, means fewer problems and happier employees. And, of course, all of this translates into more revenue for your center.

Keeping packages up-to-date and enticing and fun are key components to building a strong year-round business! The upfront time investment this requires will pay off in the long run, and will help you consistently generate new business.

I will continue to share package and program ideas that work for many of your fellow proprietors – and could work well at your center.

Yours for Better Bowling,