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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.
Who is this business right for?
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.)
What happens during a typical day at a duck pin 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 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 duck pin 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.
What is the growth potential for a duck pin 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.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful duck pin 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 are the costs involved in opening a duck pin 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 steps to start a duck pin bowling alley?
Once you're ready to start your duck pin bowling alley, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your duck pin bowling alley is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your duck pin bowling alley keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- 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.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a duck pin 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 to promote & market a duck pin 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.
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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.
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.
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.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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.
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.
What are the ongoing expenses for a duck pin 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.
How much profit can a duck pin 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.