Paul Quaintance Director of QLP Holdings Limited, which owns and manages eight Superbowl UK centres across the UK, discusses the company’s unprecedented expansion throughout the coming 18 months, the vital role amusements play in repeat business and how Bulldog has revolutionised the pusher for both customers and cashbox alike…
Can you start by outlining what the Superbowl brand is all about, what the demographics are, the current venues and your expansion plans?
We’re a bit different to other bowling centres because we’re more of an FEC incorporating bowling and arcades with facilities like Crazy Club Soft Play, Laser Quest and Ninja Tag Assault Courses. Amusements form a massive part of our business and in line with our expansion we’re also about to launch our first site with Adventure Golf this year. In terms of our customers, it’s anybody and everybody. Our demographic ranges from babies under one-year-old in the soft play to people in their nineties coming to bowl. Through all our entertainment offerings, we cater for every single combination of age and gender in order to bring everyone together under one roof. As an expanding ten-pin bowling operator, one of the key parts of our customer base is establishing our repeat visitors as most casual bowlers come possibly four times a year whereas soft play users frequent on a monthly basis. Crucially, repeat visits for the arcades and amusement side of the business is a lot higher than anticipated, with the addition of SEGA Prize Zone arcades and other amusements we’ve seen repeat visits more than double which has fed into our expansion strategy. We are due to open four new sites in 2019, including St Helens on 27 March which has a huge arcade space, Warrington in May/June, Norwich in July and then Newbury around November. We hope to repeat this with another four new sites in 2020.
Are you able to describe a ‘typical’ Superbowl UK customer and his/her visiting patterns – is it to celebrate special occasions or is it an alternative to visiting the pub or cinema?
We’ve seen marked growth from corporate events and birthday parties because they lead to so much repeat and new business. A successful kids party booking should lead to another five bookings or a business event can remind adults that our centres are an ideal space for their teenagers to spend time in or for parents to grab a coffee with friends while their young children are in the soft play. As licenced premises, our centres do serve as a key alternative to pub culture and we’re seeing a trend in date nights which bring a lot of new business to us in the evenings. Combining bowling with F&D and amusements is key to generating new visits and for customers to see the space as multi-faceted. For example, our new Adventure Golf will be for everyone, in the day it will be for families and then in the evening we’re opening it up to be more adult-led by serving drinks and creating a different atmosphere but with the same emphasis on quality entertainment.
Obviously the main proposition is bowling but how do you integrate secondary activities such as arcade games?
The layout of our centres is all about the customer journey. The minute customers come through the door they immediately go through the arcade and soft play and though we’re predominately a bowling venue, to get to the lanes you’re guided through all the other departments enticing everyone into those amusement locations.
In turns of calling them secondary, we actually see very strong repeat business for the arcades. In Merthyr Tydfil one of our most popular sites, amusements takes 36 percent of our revenue, which is on a par with the bowling income so you can see amusements form quite a key part of our business. In a place like Merthyr Tydfil, bringing the bowling and arcade together has been a perfect storm, the area doesn’t have much in the way of amusements and we’re in a prime location on a leisure centre with a Nandos, Frankie and Benny’s and Travelodge so it’s a great catchment area and the repeat business continues to be extraordinary.
Where do pushers fit into the product mix in your arcades?
The pusher is the centerpiece for us, it’s a great tool to use as a stop for customers. Across our sites a pusher is one of the first machines they’re exposed to and it’s also the last machine they see before leaving. Recently we’ve seen a massive increase in 2p plays, the income on 2ps is probably double that of 10ps and I think it’s because pushers are for everyone. There’s an innocence to them as people aren’t playing for the money, they’re playing to win the bed prizes which is why 2p is eclipsing the others at this time, so much so we now have dedicated 2p pushers in almost all our sites where we used to have split beds.
How important are pushers as centrepiece attractions?
In Merthyr Tydfil, since bringing in an 8 Bed Bulldog Monopoly the pusher revenue has almost doubled. It’s been a literal overnight success story in terms of cash box, customer enjoyment and in particular, the appearance of the arcade area. As part of our expansion strategy, we currently have three more Bulldog machines on order across our most proven sites and we’re looking to order more as Superbowl UK sites expand in coming months.
Do you think the description of pushers representing ‘traditional’ style entertainment is something of a misnomer now we have branded product such as Monopoly and Pac-Man making an impact?
Absolutely, it’s revolutionised that side of the arcade industry. After installing our first Monopoly pusher it immediately changed the way our staff and customers look at them. Bulldog is delivering these big, bold, brightly branded products which is a gamechanger amongst pushers. Our hope is the success of Bulldog’s machines will make other providers, up their game too. We took £1,500 in one week with the Monopoly pusher and we’ve never come close to those numbers before.