Is Owning a Bowling Alley Profitable?

is owning a bowling alley profitable

While it had a little bit of a downturn in the past, the idea of bowling is back on the up. This means more people than in a long time are starting to dive into the world of bowling, whether as an odd recreational activity or because they want to play the game competitively. Of course, this has resulted in many people wondering whether running a bowling alley is profitable. 

Generally speaking, a bowling alley can be profitable. It is a business, and it depends on how you run it. It is important that you run it with the idea of making money. However, most of your cash is unlikely to come from the actual rental of the lanes.

It will come from the other services offered. This includes rentals, refreshments, and even ball maintenance. While we are sure that there are some people that have been successful from purely running lanes, the odds are going to be stacked against you.

How Much Does a Bowling Alley Make?

In 2019, the bowling business in the United States made over $4-billion. 

It was estimated that the average lane would make $36,750 per year. However, that is before all the expenses are taken into account, e.g. maintenance costs, staffing costs, promotional costs, etc.

Obviously, the actual income from a bowling alley will be variable. This is an average across all bowling alleys in the United States. You can expect a business located in the middle of a large city with a high income to make more than a bowling alley located in the middle of nowhere. You can also expect bowling alleys that offer more services (e.g. arcades) to make more money than one that is strictly about the lanes. 

If somebody wanted to make the equivalent of a full-time income from their bowling alley, it is likely that they would need 4-5 lanes to come even close to a decent income to make running a bowling alley worthwhile. This is because you are going to have to be working incredibly hard for your income.

Thankfully, the more lanes you have, the easier things become. This is because there will be ‘fixed’ costs. Five lanes wouldn’t be that much more expensive to run than a three-lane bowling alley, but it could potentially generate $70,000 more in cash. 

How Do I Start a Bowling Alley Business?

If you are considering starting a bowling alley business from scratch, then it is not recommended at all. It is important that you buy an already established bowling alley business. It will require less time and effort. After all, you probably will not have to actually build the bowling alley, which can be pretty expensive.

If a bowling alley business has proven to be successful, then it is likely going to be successful for you too. However, do make sure that you do your due diligence to find out why a person is selling their bowling alley in the first place.

If it’s because it’s a lossmaker, then you will need to think long and hard about whether you can turn it around or not to make it profitable again.

If you aren’t buying an established bowling alley, then expect to be spending at least $30,000 on everything that you need. The larger the building, the more you will have to spend. This includes buying:

  • Lanes
  • Kitchen (if it doesn’t have one)
  • A bar (if it doesn’t have one)
  • Arcade
  • Balls
  • Shoes
  • Music system
  • Websites

Some new bowling alleys will even have more than this in place. 

Of course, deciding to buy a bowling alley is the easy part. There are more things that you need to consider.

When purchasing bowling balls in bulk, it may be a good idea to use generic bowling balls like these, as most bowling enthusiasts will bring their own. Cutting costs by purchasing lower tier bowling balls will be a good business decision as not everyone that comes to a bowling alley will be an entusiast.

Location of the Bowling Alley

Studies have shown that bowling alleys located in the middle of areas with an average income in excess of $100,000 tend to be the most profitable. They are likely going to be a lot more expensive to buy, but they will deliver a greater return on your investment.

Of course, the bowling alley should be located in an area with a larger number of people. So, opening up an alley in the middle of a large city would be better than opening a bowling alley in a town of 1,000 people. In the latter situation, you wouldn’t have enough people coming through the doors to justify running your business.

Register as a Business

In most states, you will need to register yourself as doing business. This is important when it comes to paying tax. Since every single state is different, we are not going to dwell on this point too much. However, do make sure that you do your research into running a business wherever you are located. This way you can be sure that you are doing everything legally.

Get Business Insurance

Never, ever run a business without insurance. If you do, then you run the risk of losing absolutely everything. Some states may not even allow you to run a business without actually having insurance. This is, again, something that you will need to look into.

Determine Your Expenses

Before you do anything, it is important that you work out what the expenses for running your bowling alley are each month. Expenses will include:

  • Staffing costs
  • Lane maintenance
  • Ball maintenance
  • Bowling accessory maintenance
  • Electricity
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Food ; Drink

If you are buying an established bowling alley, then it is likely that the person you are purchasing from can share most of this information with you. If you are building up your own alley from scratch, then it is going to take a bit of effort on your part.

On average, you can expect to be sending between $5,000 and $10,000 per month on general upkeep for your business. This is before you factor in staffing prices.

Determining Your Pricing Structure

You are a business. This means that you are going to need to earn money at some point.

In the bowling industry, the price of lane rental seems to be pretty fixed. You will rarely find companies charging more than $2.00 per game, per person. So, if you have 5 people playing on a lane (which is about average), then expect to be receiving around $10.

Of course, you cannot survive on $10 per game. You would need to be renting out each lane dozens and dozens of times per day to even reach those maintenance costs, let alone staffing costs.

This means that you will need to gain income elsewhere. As we said before, a lot of the income for bowling alleys will come from:

  • Food ; Drink
  • Rentals
  • Entertainment
  • Arcades
  • Running bowling parties for children

To work out the price for these services, you will probably need to look at your competitors in your local area. This is because these costs are going to be quite ‘localized’, so you do not want to be too expensive or you won’t make much money.

It isn’t uncommon for new bowling alley owners to constantly be adjusting their costs in the initial months to see what works for them.

Once you have an idea of the running expenses of your business, then it is easier to work out what you can charge people. After all, the average person may buy:

  • A game of bowling
  • Rent shoes
  • Food

This means that your initial $2 from somebody may creep up to $20-$30 per person, which is going to be a much more realistic amount of income. A single bowling lane rental to 5 people may make you $150.

Knowing this, and knowing your expenses, will work out whether this is a viable amount. For example, if the cost per lane is $1,500 per month, then you would need to rent it 10 times to people to breakeven.

Marketing Your Business

If you want to make money with your bowling alley, then you need to get people through the door. This means marketing yourself. If your bowling alley is already established, then this is a little bit easier. The brand will probably attract people already. However, you still need to market yourself. This includes:

  • Newspaper advertising
  • Social media
  • Radio advertising
  • TV advertising
  • Owning a website

Some places also run regular competitions. This is because it helps to bring competitive players and professionals through the door. While these people are not likely to be renting equipment, they may be buying food and drink.

The chances are pretty strong that the strength of your brand will increase too, particularly if you become known as that place that runs ‘top competitions’. 

Final Thoughts

If you are looking to become very wealthy, then getting into the bowling alley business probably isn’t the best idea unless you have a huge passion for it. There isn’t a huge amount of cash to be made, particularly with smaller bowling alleys.

However, if you love the sport, then it can be an incredible amount of fun to run a bowling alley which can be very profitable with the right owner.

Owning a bowling alley could potentially be very lucrative if it’s done right. It’s all about the location, cutting costs, and having enough lanes to generate the revenue that you desire. 

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