Can bowling save the high street?

Even before the onset of Covid-19 the UK high street was suffering. High rent and lack of space led to the expansion of out-of-town retail parks, which allowed for affordable, purpose-built sites which captured the attention of the retail, leisure and hospitality industries. Coupled with the ease of shopping from your home and having goods delivered right to your front door. Not forgetting that stale high street brands often fell short with their poor instore engagement and lackadaisical customer experience.

Scattered around the fringes of urban areas were large retail parks, where free parking and accessibility allowed consumers to pop in to grab something for their DIY project, enjoy a relaxed browse in a wide range of shops, sit down for a quiet coffee whilst the kids ran around the soft play or for an easy night out of cinema and Nandos or bowling then TGIs.

The abandonment of the town centre has led to high levels of vacancy and a lack of community spirit.

However, in recent years there has been a resurgence. Town planners and developers have embraced the emerging needs and preferences of our society; so are now focussing on creating and transforming spaces unlike those seen before. Town Centres are being shaped to become desirable places to live, work, exercise, relax and socialise. Where everything you need is in one place.

The two main drivers of foot fall into any space have proven to be food and beverage but also leisure. The multi-generational appeal of bowling makes this an ideal entertainment solution to add into a retail space. Many savvy landlords are even making concessions on rent in order to attract leisure concepts, like bowling, in an effort to lure consumers back into their shopping centres.

This shift in focus has been made even easier since September 2020, when changes were made to the Use Classes Order (UCO). The amendments mean that changes of use can occur without the need for planning permission, making it much easier for an existing retail space to be transformed into a leisure venue.

Earlier this year Hollywood Bowl raised £30m via a share placing, money they plan to use for refurbishments but also expansion. Part of their expansion strategy is to take up prime, town centre and shopping centre locations, vacated by traditional retailers. Hollywood Bowl said: “As landlords look to increase the experiential leisure offering in their schemes, the pandemic has created additional opportunities for ten-pin bowling and mini-golf in prime locations in the UK.”

The 80,000 square foot former Debenhams in the Southside shopping centre in Wandsworth has been taken over by Gravity Active Entertainment. Alongside a range of social play concepts will sit 14 lanes of immersive bowling. Gravity Wandsworth, opening this summer, will be the first UK site to use Spark, by Brunswick Bowling Products. This revolutionary tech is unlike anything a UK bowling centre has ever seen with it’s immersive mapping technology, impressive graphics and consumer engagement.

Exciting times are ahead. With an increased appetite to release retail sites to leisure operators, high streets are set to become brilliant places for a night out. There are some innovative partnerships on offer from landlords such as rent free periods, fit out contributions, profit shares and turnover rents.  There are significant opportunities for bowling operators to take up locations right at the very heart of town and city redevelopments. With bowling able to offer site owners versatility, cross generational appeal, increased foot fall, uplift in F&B and high-tech appeal, it makes bowling an ideal entertainment solution.

Turnkey leisure solutions

We make the process of transforming retail space into leisure and entertainment easy by delivering a partnership beyond the traditional supplier relationship. Our team of seasoned operators and support staff can assist landlords to set up, manage and operate the venue and fill any knowledge gaps so that operators can add bowling, casual darts, smart shuffle board, mini golf and a whole host of other activities with maximum impact from day one.

Get in touch to book a free project consultation.

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