It was the equivalent of hitting a 7–10 split.
AMF, America’s most famous operator of bowling alleys, filed for its second chapter 11 in late 2012. But Bowlmor, a growing, upscale boutique operation with just six locations, saw the stumble as an opportunity. The company struck a deal with Cerberus Capital Management, LP and Credit Suisse Group AG to acquire AMF, and thus Bowlmor AMF was born. The new company is now the world’s largest bowling-alley operator, with 272 locations, 7,500 employees, and annual revenues of $450 million.
Brett Parker, Bowlmor AMF’s vice chairman, executive vice president, and CFO, came to Bowlmor almost 13 years ago, when the company had just one location in New York City’s Greenwich Village. He has personally managed the business’s calculated growth over the past decade, working to build the brand and cater each upscale location to its unique market. “We see design as a key differentiator for us,” he says. “We don’t repeat cookie-cutter designs but tailor each one as a piece of art specific to the tastes of the local area.”
Knickerbockers of New York City, built in
was the country’s first indoor bowling facility.
Bowlmor Times Square, comprising
square feet, is located at 222 W. 44th Street, a space that used to serve as the newsroom for The New York Times.
For Parker and his colleagues, everything is about to change because of the merger. After developing, testing, and perfecting the Bowlmor brand for more than a decade, they stand ready to unleash its proven potential on a dramatically larger scale.
Fifteen AMF locations are or will soon be branded as Bowlmor, and the other 249 will remain more traditional AMF lanes. Parker hopes to elevate the brand with his suite of highly evolved operating, sales, and marketing tools. “We plan to invest in the hundred or so highest-opportunity locations to change our offering by rolling out the Bowlmor brand across the portfolio,” he says, noting that the existing AMF property base will add “significant velocity” to the process.
The Bowlmor brand is upscale. As Parker describes it, “Bowlmor does to bowling what Starbucks did to coffee.” Bowling already ranks as the nation’s number one participatory sport, with 22 percent of the population partaking, and Parker’s company is simply adding a level of class. “Bowling is part of the American fabric,” he says. “We’ve taken the experience and wrapped it up in a model that is differentiated on service and design to create an atmosphere and experience that’s relevant to a more affluent customer.” In keeping with this, Bowlmor has taken rundown, mundane, low-level buildings and replaced them with modern, fresh, attractive structures.
It’s a proven model. At its original Greenwich Village location, Bowlmor converted a failed bowling alley, built in 1938, into a thriving operation. The company does away with hard plastic seating, fluorescent lighting, and canned two-bit graphics in favor of plush seating and couches, warm amber tones, and modern A/V components. Additionally, the Bowlmor menu has more eccentric offerings (such as Mediterranean hummus and crab cakes), and patrons can also enjoy cocktails, imports, wines, and even champagne.
AMF started in
as American Machine and Foundry. After World War II, the company began manufacturing bowling equipment.
Bowlmor had just six locations before its merger with AMF.
Now, Bowlmor AMF has
The company’s properties range widely from 24 to 62 lanes. And because each location is designed to generate a large portion of its revenue from corporate and special events, Parker works tirelessly to make sure his company is a leading provider of leisure-based hospitality. High-end design and detailed finishes are key to this approach.
One current location, Bowlmor Times Square, evidences the brand’s full potential. It’s the highest-grossing bowling alley in the world, boasting 50 lanes and seven themed bowling lounges paying homage to Chinatown, Central Park, the Prohibition era, and more. The $25 million, 90,000-square-foot space opened in late 2010 in what was once The New York Times’s newsroom. Fittingly, the trendy bowling hotspot has boardwalk-style games such as Whac-a-Mole and other arcade favorites, and Boomer Esiason’s Stadium Grill gives patrons a chance to dine fully entertained with 40 HD screens and tiered stadium seating.
Seventy million people go bowling each year in the United States. Bowlmor AMF is betting that those who do so in major markets would prefer to do so in a fun, fashionable environment with first-rate amenities and quality cuisine. The strategy is working in the United States, and as Parker rolls out more locations, he has his eye on the rest of the world. His company already owns holdings in Mexico and has international licensing and franchising aspirations.