Local bowling alleys morph for the good of the business

RollHouse, Gilmore and Pohlman adapt to entertainment needs of communities.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

When Jeff Pohlman took over the bowling center at 954 Pyramid Hill Blvd. in Hamilton in 2019, the building had 16 functioning lanes and needed repairs “from the roof on down,” he said.

Now, business at Pohlman Lanes and Family Entertainment Complex is better year after year.

Pohlman prioritized updating the facilities with synthetic wood lanes and hydraulic bumpers, a “six-figure” undertaking according to Pohlman, while putting in other entertainment options in the complex to pull in more business. Throughout the past four years, the Pohlman Lanes and Family Entertainment Complex changed to include spaces for live music, a bar and grill and volleyball leagues alongside 16 bowling lanes.

“Most bowling alleys’ focus is all on bowling,” Pohlman said. “We try to incorporate bowling in the whole family package.”

While the bowling side of the building has new balls, pins and shoes, Pohlman said bowling is only 30% of total profits with the other 70% coming from Scott’s Bar and Grill, the in-house restaurant, the volleyball leagues and group events.

Pohlman said there was not a large demand for bowling when he took over so the business had to find other ways to make a profit. He saw customers coming in to eat or socialize, but not to bowl.

“We had the live music going anywhere from on the weekends to a couple of days during the week,” Pohlman said. “That’s what started to draw the people in and see the improvements we were making, and then get them interested in bowling again. The bowling part of the business had really died off, just because things were always breaking down.”

Gilmore Lanes in Fairfield has been a family-owned bowling center since 1991 and knows exactly what its business is; bowling.

With 24-real-wood lanes, a staff with local bowling hall of famers and United States Bowling Congress members and leagues for almost every day of the week, Gilmore Lanes boasts a bowling center full of experience and opportunities to bowl.

Alicia Elam, Gilmore’s league and marketing coordinator said current summer leagues bring in more than 200 bowlers while last fall brought in more than 1,000 bowlers across 15 leagues.

Elam said Butler County has one of the largest bowling communities in Ohio which keeps bowlers coming in the door and signing up for multi-week leagues. With this business, Elam said the bowling center is doing well and hasn’t thought about pivoting away from bowling which brings in more than 75% of its business.

“With all this business, the owners have never had to think about changing to an entertainment center like other like places,” Elam said. “We’re perfectly content being a bowling center and catering to our league bowlers and tournament bowlers and bringing in these special events for those who may not have you know a great average or are comfortable to be out there in a league.”

Along with seasonal leagues, the bowling center offers special group events including discounted events for special needs bowlers, special homeschool rates in the fall and a “Wizarding Night at the Lanes” which includes herbology and potion classes.

These programs, along with a program through Kids Bowl Free which offers two free games per day for kids from March 15 to Oct. 31, are what Elam said bring in new bowlers and keep business flowing outside of league play.

Just a mile from Gilmore Lanes sits RollHouse Fairfield, a traditional bowling center part of RollHouse Entertainment which owns seven bowling centers across Ohio.

Similar to Gilmore, RollHouse focuses on leagues and open bowling to bring in business but RollHouse Chief Executive Officer Glen Gable said the airfield location attracts business that Gilmore would get in different ways.

“[RollHouse’s] offer is a little more robust,” Gable said. “We just put in new bathrooms and we’re expanding the kitchen along with our new lanes.”

Despite the installation of new synthetic wood lanes, lights for cosmic bowling and general renovations, Gable said RollHouse’s Fairfield location isn’t bringing in nearly as much as other entertainment centers that RollHouse owns.

Gable said entertainment centers with larger arcades and laser tag bring in $5 million more than traditional bowling centers, but the Fairfield center is not being looked at as a possible entertainment center.

“There’s a very healthy traditional bowling market [in Fairfield],” Gable said. “We do great business with corporate events and things like that in there so there is some appeal to [a traditional center].”

Although Gable said RollHouse Fairfield won’t be turned into an entertainment center, he said the appeal for one in the area can be seen by the popularity in The Main Event in West Chester building a “$15 million property” just 15 minutes away from his location.

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