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Shop Talk by Dennis Bergendorf – October 2009

Keeping Up With the New Balls Is a Key Part of the Business
The time and effort to stay abreast is a necessity.

If you want to stay on top of the bowling market as a full-fledged pro shop operator, you have to understand how these new balls compare to the dozens of others on your shelves, plus, to stay ahead of the curve, how they compare to the several dozen other balls in the production pipeline... and how each relates to the customer.

Retail sales guru Ted Hurlbutt ( says a shop should offer “state of the art product knowledge,” especially when it comes to attracting customers who might be tempted to buy at a big box store or online. “You must convey the knowledge that the items in your pro shop are worth the price,” he says. “That knowledge has value, and so the [customer must be made aware that the] relationship with the pro shop has value.”

To stay one step ahead of the competition, it’s clear that the pro shop operator must devote some time to researching the characteristics of this veritable equipment wonderland. The question, of course, is: How much time? The answer, of course, is: Whatever it takes.

Zach Weddle at Bowlers Pro Shop in the Kansas City suburb of Raytown, Mo., says, “I do a lot of research on the internet. If the ball companies release something that I’m not familiar with, I can look it up on the internet and see what it does [and if it has any special performance characteristics].”

One problem with looking things up, whether on the internet or in catalogs or brochures, is that you’re just reading data — and, even more, you’re reading an interpretation by a copywriter with a vested interest in selling that ball. Accordingly, if you want to know how equipment really reacts — especially on the lane conditions your customers are likely to encounter — you’d better see that ball in action on that type of condition.

As a 15-time titlist on the professional women’s tour — and also both a PWBA and USBC Hall of Famer — Anne Marie Duggan has some connections in the industry, and is “fortunate enough to get different balls to try out.” Duggan does just that at her shop at Boulevard Bowl in Edmond, Okla. By throwing the ball, she can tell exactly how the core relates to the cover (whether totally new or hybrid) and check out other characteristics like overall hook, length and break-point shape. She also calls upon her contacts to get information when needed.

But Weddle says you don’t have to be a star like Duggan to get help. “I pick the brains of the company reps,” he says. Plus, most factories make their experts available to answer questions, a service of which he often takes advantage.

One thing Duggan doesn’t worry about is getting too caught up in numbers, especially in talking to customers. “I don’t think you have to know everything,” she says. “But you have to have a basic knowledge of what the different cores and covers do.” Most important is how the covers differ, she says. Duggan says her experience is that the average customer isn’t all that interested in the numbers and may, in fact, not understand them, anyway. “They just want a ball that works,” she says.

Another element of “researching” equipment is watching other bowlers throw the balls. In fact, Weddle tries not to drill a ball until he has taken the customer out onto one of the 32 lanes at Premier Bowling and Recreation Center and watched them roll some of their equipment. He also likes to see them throw the new ball. He can make mental notes on the different performance characteristics, something that can help make the next sale.

Knowing your inventory by doing the research is one more thing that takes time and effort. But the successful operator knows that the time and effort can add to the bottom line.

*Posted with permission from Luby Publishing Inc.