Duckpin bowling is the smaller, more challenging sibling of standard tenpin bowling. The game uses a four-pound ball and stubby pins, and participants get three throws per frame rather than two. Despite these seemingly slight differences, duckpin is vastly more difficult than tenpin bowling. In the entire history of the game -- which stretches more than 100 years -- no one has scored a perfect 300 in a game.
The duckpin variation is popular from the Mid-Atlantic through New England for historical reasons, but it’s appeal ultimately can extend to every region of the country. A duckpin bowling business can offer a fun and challenging variation of bowling to any city or town that’s large enough to support a bowling alley.
Learn how to start your own Duckpin Bowling Alley and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a duckpin bowling alley by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Duckpin Bowling Alley
- Form your Duckpin Bowling Alley into a Legal Entity
- Register your Duckpin Bowling Alley for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Duckpin Bowling Alley
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Duckpin Bowling Alley
- Get Duckpin Bowling Alley Insurance
- Define your Duckpin Bowling Alley Brand
- Create your Duckpin Bowling Alley Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your duckpin bowling alley. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Duckpin Bowling Alley Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a duckpin bowling alley?
The costs involved in opening any bowling business are substantial. Startup expenses run around $45,000 per lane for tenpin businesses by the time all facility, equipment, and build-out costs are considered. Average costs for duckpin setups are more difficult to estimate, but they’re likely similar.
One of the challenges with estimating costs -- or with actually opening a business -- is finding equipment. Because Kenneth Sherman, inventor of mechanical pinsetters for duckpins, took his patent to his grave, traditional mechanical pinsetters are no longer manufactured.
Thus, traditional duckpin setups are only available used and must be purchased from a business that is closing. A few companies do make new automated systems, though. The most well-known manufacturers are Infinity Bol and Murrey.
What are the ongoing expenses for a duckpin bowling alley?
The ongoing expenses for a duckpin bowling business include facility expenses, employee wages, and maintenance costs. Most parts needed for mechanical pinsetters can be found inexpensively at an auto parts store.
Who is the target market?
The target market for a duckpin bowling business is vast. It’s anyone who bowls, regardless of whether they’re in a weekly league or simply go to the lanes once a year. Nearly 70 million people bowl at least once annually, offering plenty of opportunity for new businesses in the industry.
How does a duckpin bowling alley make money?
A duckpin bowling business makes money from the sport itself and from concessions. Businesses charge for the use of lanes, either on a per-hour, per-game, or per-season basis. Food and beverage sales (and other ancillary activities) can account for 50 to 60 percent of revenues.
How much can you charge customers?
Duckpin bowling lanes generally charge $2.25 to $3.25 per game, with rates lower on weekdays and early in the day on weekends. Many players rent shoes, which are usually around $2.00 per game. Concessions normally cost less than $10 per item, and many items are under $5.00.
For parties, businesses may charge anywhere from $7 to $12.50 per person. In some cases, rates may be higher.
How much profit can a duckpin bowling alley make?
A duckpin bowling business can bring in sizeable revenues. As an example, a business with six lanes in full use would likely bring in over $100 per hour before concessions. Food and drink sales could easily increase that to $150 per hour. (These figures are based on two people playing per lane and games lasting about 15 minutes.)
How can you make your business more profitable?
In order to cater to parties and draw in a wider array of people, some duckpin businesses are adding arcade games. Foosball, air hockey, and video games can increase how long people stay and how much money they spend.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your duckpin bowling alley is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a Bowling Alley business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office.
Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Certificate of Occupancy
A bowling business is generally run out of a large building. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a bowling alley business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your bowling alley business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
In order to play music in a business setting, permission must be acquired from the composer or license holder. Typically, it is possible to obtain a “blanket” license allowing a businesses to play music owned by a large catalog of artists and recording studios. Such licenses can be obtained from Performance Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP or BMI. Learn more about music licensing requirements.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Duckpin Bowling Alley needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Duckpin Bowling Alley.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a duckpin bowling alley
Most players will come from the surrounding area, so marketing efforts for a duckpin bowling business should focus on the local community. Newspaper advertisements, radio ads, local search engine optimization, and social media marketing can all be effective ways to reach people nearby.
How to keep customers coming back
A duckpin bowling business can keep customers returning by offering lessons and loyalty programs. Lessons help players get better so that they enjoy the sport itself more, and loyalty programs offer a financial discount to players who come frequently.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
Bowling aficionados who are looking for a unique version of the sport may enjoy running a duckpin bowling business, and current bowling alley owners may want to install a few duckpin lanes to add variety for their players.
In addition to loving bowling, business owners should also be handy. The mechanical pinsetters used on traditional lanes have a lot of moving parts. These parts need to be properly maintained to keep the pinsetters functioning properly. (See Costs Involved in Opening for more details on lane types.)
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a duckpin bowling alley?
When players arrive at a duckpin bowling business, the business owner or an employee must welcome them and get them set up on a lane. If the players haven’t previously seen duckpin lanes, they may need an orientation to the game and scoring.
Players may order foods or drinks, which must be prepared and served. Any equipment that’s lent out is collected when players are finished with their games.
When not interacting with customers, business owners maintain the equipment, lanes, and facilities.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful duckpin bowling alley?
Business owners should know the rules and techniques of duckpin bowling so that they can explain the variation to players. Those who haven’t previously been duckpin bowling may want to find a pro at an existing duckpin alley who can coach them.
Additionally, business owners should be familiar with the basics of running a business. Many community colleges offer classes on business-related topics, and there are also many online course options. Harvard Business School and Coursera are two well-known online platforms with business courses.
What is the growth potential for a duckpin bowling alley?
Most duckpin bowling businesses are small businesses that have a single location. Greenmount Bowl and North Chelmsford Duckpin Bowling Lanes are typical examples of these businesses. If a business owner can procure enough equipment, though, they theoretically could grow and open multiple locations.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a duckpin bowling alley?
Duckpin bowling has a long history of being a social sport, and it continues to be highly social today. Businesses can capitalize on this aspect of the sport and increase revenues by offering birthday party, bachelor/bachelorette party, and company team-building packages.
How and when to build a team
Duckpin bowling businesses are open long hours, so it’s necessary to hire at least a few employees from the outset. Business owners may need front counter staff, concession workers and a maintenance person. Hiring a pro to offer lessons can help increase revenue but isn’t absolutely necessary.