The Apex Placerville

How to build off-peak play

It’s the same for most bowling centres, Friday 5pm until Sunday 5pm your lanes are in constant use. The rest of the time you need initiatives to get people in. Being busy at the weekends and during the school holidays is great however it’s essential to find ways to drive off-peak traffic and maximise the use of your facilities. In this piece we will outline how to utilise bundling and deals for groups to boost your off-peak usage.

When tackling the off-peak issue, it is tempting to assume that by offering a game of bowling for a reduced rate will get people through the door. The problem with this strategy is that it de-values your peak bowling and consequently devalues the whole customer experience. Therefore the #1 rule is to never openly promote an offer that is less than the price of a single game of bowling.

Unlike food and beverages where a physical product is sold, Bowling and other activities usually have a low operating cost and high gross profit margin. Therefore, one of the main keys to your success in this area is to demonstrate value added, rather than diminishing the perceived value of the bowling activity.

Before you begin developing your off-peak strategy it is advised that you conduct a saturation rate analysis so that you are certain about the trading patterns of your centre. Ascertaining your saturation rate is a whole other blog post, but if you need help with this get in touch and we can talk you through.

Once you know which times are your peak / super peak times it is important that you create off-peak strategies which cannot be activated during your peak times. We will discuss this in more details in the section on discounts for groups.

Friends enjoying food and drinks at a bowling alley

Tactic #1: Bundling

The theory here is to bundle together an offering which is attractive because customers perceive they are getting a good deal.  The cost of the bundle is less than the component parts at peak time.

Unlimited Bowling: Offering guests unlimited bowling for the cost of a single game, during off-peak is an excellent hook. Not only will you have people on the lanes, when they would otherwise be empty, but unlimited bowling results in increased dwell time and therefore additional ancillary spend, particularly on F&B.

Tip – issue three games upon arrival and explain that once their three games are finished they can come and request additional games. For casual bowlers, three games is usually sufficient and they will usually stop at that point – the benefit of this is that it gives staff greater control over lane usage.

Large centres might consider having day and evening rates to reflect the fluctuations in centre usage.

Bowling with F&B: A very popular option is to offer a bundled deal which includes bowling with food and a drink. The pricing of this should cover the costs of the F&B and (as per rule #1) not be less than the cost of one game of bowling.

This strategy is particularly effective for boosting the afternoon / early evening usage. These kinds of bundled deals are very attractive as an after school activity for families or a post work get together.

Tip – Never do a family deal. Constricting bundle deals to families causes all sorts of problems with ascertaining which groupings are “families”. Furthermore, the post-work market can be profitable and so it’s important your bundle deals don’t exclude them. Instead, just create deals with similar content that are available to any groups.

People bowling

Tactic #2: Deals for Groups

This type of deal has a number of boundaries:

  • The rate applies only to a very specific group of people. Therefore, not just anyone can walk in and receive this rate, therefore you can bend rule #1
  • It is day / time restricted and therefore protects your peak / super peak time
  • These can be recurring events / ongoing rates

The aim here is to identify days and times when your centre is empty and target a specific group of people to come and use your facility during those times. Here are a few ideas:

Coffee morning for retirees: Devise an offering with excellent perceived value, e.g. three games of bowling, tea, coffee and biscuits. Here you can layout refreshments upon arrival, creating a welcoming environment. Steer clear of expensive beverages i.e. don’t offer Cappuccino, just standard filter coffee – if they want the more expensive product, they can pay an upgrade. This group of customers are keen for active, social activities therefore running this on a regular basis helps it become one of their diarised events. The chances are they might also stay on for lunch.

Tip – Ensure it’s clear that this is term time only. Your guests won’t know when term time is so you’ll need to devise mechanisms for ensuring they are informed, reminded and encouraged back after the holidays.

Service users:  There are discrete groups who are frequently looking for places to take their service users for outings. These visits can be offered with a significant reduction as the aim here is to create good will and repeat use. Support services run on very tight budgets so for this to be viable the rate needs to be low. However, once they see the positive impact of attending your venue they are more likely to book in on a regular basis – transforming a time slot, which would otherwise be empty, into a hive of activity. The familiarity is also likely to result in staff and service users coming at other times independent of the group setting.

Tip – offer to make adaptations to support the requirements of the users. For example, adjusting the lighting or turning the music off / playing specific music.

Card holders: Students and Emergency Services staff are identifiable by a card. This enables you to create an off-peak offer specifically for them. Staff aren’t required to make any judgement calls on who can and can’t have the offer. You have the card; you get the deal. Once again, this discrete group of people have access to an offer (a bundle is best) tailored to them giving perceived value for money. Students often have plenty of free time during the day and therefore are an ideal group to attract.

League practice: Attracting a league to your venue is invaluable. Yes, you need to condition your lanes and properly maintain your pinsetters, but league bowlers want to spend lots of time practicing. The best way to entice league bowlers is to offer a standard unrestricted rate. A single £10 lineage rate enables them to practice for hours and hours, when otherwise your lane would be empty. Offering F&B at your staff-discount rate creates a sense of belonging and helps them feel like they’re part of your team.

Tip – dusting, cleaning and conditioning your lanes daily means that your equipment always looks in top shape for your customers, and that you are always ready to accommodate league practice.

Tactic 3: Free Bowling Off Peak (for certain people)

One of the best ways to retain staff is to get them to love bowling. The easiest way to do that is to offer them free bowling off peak. Staff who are enthusiastic about bowling will not only attract their friends and family but are also a highly effective source of guest engagement.

We also recommend that you offer free or discounted off-peak bowling and F&B to your neighbour businesses. Encouraging them to come before work and after work builds familiarity and increases repeat visits

The aim of these strategies is simple; get people using your lanes off peak. An activation which results in people being in the venue, when it would otherwise be quiet, is a win. Success, and therefore profit, lies in getting these customers to come regularly, transforming your previously dead hours into lively, busy times.

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