In a market facing a potential downturn, The Original Bowling Co has not only discovered growth through being customer-centric, it has put itself right into the social sphere, too. David Reed finds out how it made the pick up.
“The sun is our enemy. If it is sunny, our bowling centres are like a graveyard.” Given the record temperatures set this summer, that comment by Stephen Burns, managing director of The Original Bowling Co (TOBC), might not seem to bode well. Add in market surveys that constantly forecast a decline in bowling and you might expect Burns to be downcast.
Yet the company, formed in 2010 as an umbrella uniting the AMF Bowling and Hollywood Bowl brands with their 44 venues in the UK, saw its year-on-year revenues grow in 2012 by 7 per cent, with an 18 per cent rise in EBITDA. The challenge has been how to convert a latent enjoyment of bowling - nine out of ten consumers say they love it - into a higher return visit rate, given that the average customer only goes bowling 1.1 times per year.
“It is very difficult to predict usage of our business and we have fixed costs, which makes it difficult to plan,” says Burns. Which is where innovations in the use of CRM and data-driven marketing have been able to make a difference. Three years ago, TOBC implemented a new platform from Green 4 Leisure and started to move the culture of the company away from being operator-focused towards having the customer at its centre.
“To us, CRM is about bringing together all the data across the organisation and ensuring we have ourselves aligned to it,” says Burns. Before the new system was in place, the company had relatively insight into its customers and into how its marketing was performing. “We couldn’t manage yield because we didn’t understand customer behaviour,” he says.
In 2010, the company had no data capture on its 12.5 million customer visits and was running legacy systems on multiple platforms. There was no central brand control over marketing by individual venues, which led to multiple discount sometimes being offered for the same visit, and there was no customer feedback. “We didn’t own the market,” says Burns.
This made the business requirement clear - a web-based CRM system offering remote access to users right across the estate.TOBC ran an initial trial in ten of its bowling centres. “They saw their revenues grow and outperform non-CRM establishments by 10 per cent. It was an immediate hit, so we rolled it out to the rest in May,” says Burns.
Becoming customer-centric has involved changing some aspects of the brand’s marketing. “Propensity to bowl declines over time, so we offer 50 per cent off the next visit if it is made within 14 days, followed by 25 per cent off if that is not used and finally a 10 per cent offer. That email generated £25,000 in revenue at first and is now producing over £100,000 each time,” he says.
Now, if the business knows the weather is going to be hot, it can send special offers to its customers. Predictability has also improved as a result of the channels customers are using - 44 per cent of bookings are now made via a mobile device and 38 per cent are made more than 24 hours in advance. TOBC is seeing its revenues grow in line with the increase in the size of its database, adding around 2.5 million new customers each year.
Burns notes that TOBC has not just been transformed through CRM, it is actually innovating. “We have linked our scoring system to Facebook so friends can see what your core is and your lane is already populated with your name when you arrive,” he says. “If you score a strike, you can share it to your Facebook wall.”