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Shop Talk by Dennis Bergendorf – March 2009

How Many Models Do You Really Sell?
Preventing a bewildering array from being bewildering.

AS OF JANUARY 1, there were just under two and a half million bowlers holding USBC certification cards. And, there were nearly that many active bowling balls on the market. Okay, in reality, there weren’t quite as many, but the sheer volume of choices can leave shop operators scratching their heads.

A quick count showed at least 83 premium marquees, 34 mid-price, 12 entry level reactives, and eight polyesters. And that doesn’t include dozens of balls meant for international sale, recently discontinued (but still available) and specialty items such as Vis-A-Balls. In all, a pro shop operator could have more than 150 options when it comes to outfitting a customer (and when different color/style options are thrown into the mix, the number of choices could be close to 300).

So, do any PSOs actually go through that many different models in, say, a calendar year? How many drillers know the dynamics of each ball and how the numerous layout options will affect performance of bowlers with widely-different styles? The number is probably pretty low, and it may be a safe bet that no shop actually drills every offering from all the major and boutique brands. “You can’t sell everything. You can’t drill everything,” says Ralph Gorsuch, who runs the busy shop at Gate City Lanes in Greensboro, N.C. Gorsuch says he tries to learn the characteristics of every ball released and how it will complement his customers’ arsenals. The problem is that he doesn’t have that many customers who are looking for arsenals as such. “It’s a very small percentage,” he says. “We do have customers who need three or four balls.” Although he has a heavy wall (with some 70 balls), Gorsuch tends to “lean on” about eight or 10, in large part because he has seen those balls in action and knows just what they do. “I have to be familiar with a ball to sell it with confidence,” he admits. But he listens to the customer. If that bowler wants something out of the ordinary, he’ll discuss it, then place the order.

Tom Gollick, manager of the shop at Red Crown Bowling Center in Harrisburg, Pa., shares this philosophy: “I’ll sell anything the customer wants.” But he, too, favors a small core of balls with which he’s familiar. Gollick is a Storm staffer, and he knows that line well, but also sells other brands. He admits that he can’t keep up with the technical details and characteristics of more than 100 different balls. Besides, the vast majority of his customers are average bowlers at best, those who might not understand and utilize subtle differences in mid-lane read, back-end shape and other esoterica of ball motion.

One operator who asked not to be identified says, “I have a lot of customers who get one new premium ball a year. Then they put the other balls away and use the new one all the time, whether it works or not.” This owner would like to see his customers learn to use a small arsenal, but he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. PSOs have to take into account the fact that the vast majority of their customers will bowl almost exclusively on a house condition, once or twice a week. A few might participate in a PBA Experience league or the USBC national championships, but most are just recreational players who don’t want to part with a ton of money and are looking for the best all-around reaction for the money they spend.

So, it’s important to, as Gorsuch puts it, “go out on the lanes and watch them… and ask a lot of questions,” about how and where the ball will be used. Then, know the characteristics of as many balls as
possible, and sell accordingly.

*Posted with permission from Luby Publishing Inc.