Busy bowling alley. Used for blog on Saturation rates

You might feel like your bowling centre is busy, but is it really?

When we’re considering the percentage of time that your lanes are fully in use we call this the “saturation rate”. We are going to explore how to calculate how busy your bowling lanes actually are, consider how this information is useful to centre management and discuss how improving your saturation rate can increase your revenue.

Your bowling lanes will almost always be the primary footfall driver for your venue, and crucially, when your lanes are in use your ancillary income (food, drinks, games machines etc) increases in turn. Therefore, understanding and increasing your lane usage is highly valuable.

Measuring Success

It is easy to establish how successful your bar or restaurant is from a profit point of view. You simply look at your GP margin % and compare it to a wide range of examples readily available online. Most hospitality commentary agrees that a GP of around 70% demonstrates a good result for a hospitality offering.

Bowling games aren’t ‘consumed’ and don’t have a ‘shelf life’ like, for example, burgers do. So, we tend not to see them as potential value – like when you calculate a stock holding of burgers, or, as a resource which is lost when the date you can sell it by passes – like when you waste burgers. However, a bowling game is effectively a product with a potential sale value which expires. It’s shelf life expires as soon as the 10 minutes has passed, that resource gone forever at zero return, and it’s potential value is the same as your 1 game rate.

Unfortunately, bowling doesn’t have any recognised metric by which to measure the efficiency of your centre or how good you are at selling the bowling activity. Further, because there’s no recognised metric in place, comparison between centres within a group, weeks within a centre, and even different receptionists is difficult and often ends up being highly subjective.

To create a more objective look at ‘success’ in bowling sales, when supporting centres we utilise metrics around saturation rate and sector value to analyse the business and plan improvements. In this post we will explain how you can undertake this analysis for yourself.

Saturation Rates

Every 10 minutes (which is the average time it takes one person to play a game) that a bowling lane is not being used is potentially money that you are missing out on – these are games that you could have sold. Simply put, if your price per game is £8 then for every 10 minutes a lane is unused you are missing out on £8 of gross sales.

The really scary numbers occur when you consider that calculation across all your lanes, every day of the week for a month. Obviously it’s far less likely to sell all the available games off-peak, but they’re still potentially saleable items.

Many centres believe that they are busy, especially at peak times. Owners and Directors will often listen to ad hoc feedback from duty managers or receptionists talking about a particularly busy day, but they don’t actually calculate their saturation rate to fully understand their centre usage. If they did, it might become clear that actually only certain, relatively short, time periods are actually busy.

Here’s how you complete the calculation:

1: Work out the maximum number of games which could be played (Potential Games Playable; PGP)

Number of lanes x 6 games per hour x number of hours open

2: Record the number of Actual Games Played as tracked by your scoring or centre management system (AGP)

3: Calculate saturation rate

AGP ÷ PGP (answer presented as a %)

This table shows the saturation rate across the week for an example 10 lane bowling centre:

A mathematical table showing the calculation of saturation rates

As expected, the time when most lanes are being used is Saturday however we can also see that even on a Saturday less than half the resource is being used.

If we go back to our £8 game, we can determine that on Saturday the bowl missed out on up to £3,200 of revenue. However, on Monday the bowl missed out on £4,240. Across this one week with only 25.4% usage the bowl missed out on up to £26,520 worth of revenue!

Now, obviously we’re not saying that it’s possible to fill every trading session fully – however, it’s crucial to understand the potential if all sectors were used. What if we could assign a value to all sectors in a defined trading session, and then be able to use this to help price offers, package deals and other non-rack rate pricing to ensure these can be aggressive as possible, while still positively impacting the profitability of the business as a whole.

Sector Value

To tangibly understand the impact of your lane usage you may find it helpful to look at your sector value. This metric allows us to examine the value of each actual game played – it’s easiest to do this by day, but it’s possible to use any defined session length that you have games sold reporting available for. In principle we are calculating the impact on the monetary value of a game of bowling by not having lane use at maximum saturation, spreading the achieved revenue across the potential games playable.

Here’s how you do it:

1: Extract from your centre management system your Revenue (Gross) from sale of bowling games, for each trading session.

2: Calculate your sector value rate:
Revenue (Gross) ÷ PGP = sector value

Graph / table to show how to calculate sector value

This metric is helpful because it enables you to establish a baseline for any offers and deals you design to help boost your off-peak play. As long as you’re not charging less than your sector value for a game of bowling, as part of a bundle / deal, then the boost in AGP will have a positive impact on both your saturation rates and your sector value – as well as bringing along useful ancillary spend. Using sector value as a metric, with a gross value, rather than net, also allows the information to be highly relatable to junior managers and receptionists. If they know that currently that blank 10 minute slot on a Thursday evening is worth £1.46, it’s an easy calculation for them to sell an additional game to everyone who’s still bowling at 21:00 for £2 each – they know they will both fill the lanes more, and actually increase the sector value metric.

Making Positive Changes

Once you have armed yourself with these data what can you do about it?

Our top tips for increasing saturation rate are as follows.

  • Actively encourage visits at less busy times with offers and discounts.
  • Prevent advance booking of all lanes to allow for walk-ins & good lane management.
  • Train reception staff on lane management and incentivise improvements.
  • Prioritise products which take less time to bowl at your peak times.
    • The best receptionist sells a single game at peak times and the package you sell with the most games at off-peak times – they have to balance maximising dwell time with maximising customer throughput.
  • Ensure your EPOS allows quick processing of reservations.

Our encouragement to you is to use your data. You might be surprised by how informative it is about usage of your bowling lanes. Once you start tracking your saturation and sector value rates then it will be easier to analyse the impact of promotions, review the performance of different reception staff and monitor whether your marketing efforts to push off-peak opportunities are working.

Sector Value

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