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Shop Talk by Dennis Bergendorf – May 2009

How to Profit in the Pro Shop Business in Today’s Tough Times
Here are some new tricks for surviving and thriving.

EVERY TIME YOU TURN ON A television or radio news program, every time you glance at a newspaper’s front page, you get the same message: the economy is in the tank. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index was at an all-time low a month ago, and unemployment was approaching a post-Depression high.

Not a good time to be in the bowling business in general, and the pro shop business in particular? Not necessarily, says PBA Hall of Famer Dave Husted. “Some experts say bowling isn’t affected as much as some businesses in these tough times.” The owner of Dave Husted’s Inside Line Pro Shop in Milwaukie, Ore., concedes that there may be more to do these days, but “if it has a good operator, [the shop] can weather the storm okay.”

Husted, whose famous family owns three centers in the Portland area, says buying habits have changed a bit, but that it’s part of an overall trend that began several years ago, and not entirely related to the weak economy. He’s selling more mid-priced equipment, and doesn’t have a lot of “high-end balls” in his inventory. “People are a lot more computer savvy. They’re doing their homework, and they’ve learned that that they can get a pretty good ball in the $140-170 range.” He adds that he can’t look a customer in the eye and tell them that they must spend another $100 to get the desired reaction.

At the other end of the country, Linda Wagner has decided to keep costs down by maintaining only a barebones inventory in her West End Coaches Corner shop in tiny Brodheadsville, Pa. She claims to have only “five or six balls in stock.” West End does have books and flyers, and then orders for the bowler. “Most of this stuff now is… pick something out, it’ll be here next week.” As the name implies, Wagner’s shop stresses coaching and other hands-on service. The same can be said for Husted, who makes sure his staff remembers customers’ names. They also get out on the lanes, talking to bowlers about their equipment.

Robert Maxfield, owner of Striking Cat Bowling Lanes and pro shop in Duncan, Okla., tries to be as proactive as possible, running win-a-ball leagues and other promotions. “If you wait for things to happen, bad things will happen,” he says. He works with Linds for an inexpensive ball and bag package (interestingly, no shoes) that put equipment into the hands of several dozen entry-level bowlers this year. And Maxfield (a one-time BJI top-100 coach) stresses coaching to keep his customers in the game, and even looking to upgrade equipment.

If a shop finds that its customer base is shrinking, or if those customers are cutting back their purchases, it’s more critical than ever to trim costs to the bone. Maxfield orders from distributors who can provide parts and supplies to his center so that he can more easily reach the (usually) $400 minimum order to get free shipping. He tries not to make a customer wait more than an extra day, and in most cases, that customer understands the delay. After all, it usually involves less time than ordering online.

For some pro shops, the economic crisis is hitting home. For others, things aren’t much different than last year or the year before. How an operator handles the situation depends a lot on how well that shop owner adapts to the challenge. One key to adapting is to stay knowledgeable about the business. That’s the challenge addressed by the IBPSIA Educational Conference at Bowl Expo in Las Vegas.

Here are highlights of some pro shop and coaching sessions:
■ Utilizing the PBATour; June 22, 8-9 a.m.
■ Coaching as a Business; June 22, 9-10:30 a.m.
■ International Bowling Campus Training Facility; June 22, 10:45-noon.
■ Maximize Your IBPSIA Membership & Skills Center; June 22, 1:15-2:30 p.m.
■ When the Science and Business of Bowling Converge; June 22, 2:45-4:15 p.m.
■ How to Operate a Successful Pro Shop; June 22, 4:30 to 6 p.m.
■ Coaches’ Guide to Matching Equipment; June 22, 4:30-6 p.m.
■ Pin Carry Study; June 23; 8:45-10:15 a.m.
■ Idea Session for Pro Shops; June 23, 3-4:30 p.m.
■ Idea Session — Coaching; June 23, 3-4:30 p.m

*Posted with permission from Luby Publishing Inc.