Business Story: Fun Bowl

Fun Bowl is a family entertainment center featuring over 7 acres of activities that include bowling, billiards, video games, mini-golf and laser tag. From league bowling to birthday parties, the center caters to fun seekers young and old.

You might think such a large business is run by a big corporation. However, Fun Bowl is 100% owned by entrepreneur Steve Brown.

 

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Brown came to SmartBiz Loans for an SBA commercial real estate loan to consolidate three existing real estate loans and tap into significant equity.

In addition to consolidation, he’s using the savings to revamp Fun Bowl’s game room and purchase 70 new amusement games.

Here’s how he built his business and his plans for growth.

When asked about his past education and experience, Brown reports, “I’ve been doing this since I was 11 years old. I started working at bowling centers, picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms.”

Before he owned his own center, he worked around the Atlanta, Georgia area and managed bowling venues for others.

In 1991, Brown became a business owner, buying four bowling centers, using proceeds from a 504 SBA loan to build a 5th location from the ground up.

“My advice for a lot of people who ask me about starting a bowling business is to work at a center and see if you like it. My wife and I love this business. That’s why we do what we do.”

Eventually, Brown decided to concentrate his energy on Fun Bowl in Henry County. He sold the remaining four centers, one to his son Matt in 2001.

Although the business is owned by Brown, he gives another important person in his life a lot of credit for their growth. He jokes, “At my funeral you better thank my wife Jackie because if you’ve ever been paid, she wrote the check.”

His wife has extensive payroll and accounts payable experience and handles all of the paperwork.

“My wife is a pivotal part of what we do,” says Brown. “I couldn’t have done this without her support.” She is now sharing her experience and teaching her daughter-in-law Lucy, co-owner of another center with their son. “We truly run a family business,” he says, adding, “my daughter Katie lives in North Carolina and she’s an insurance underwriter. We don’t know the ins and outs of that so she helps us there.”

When it comes to the future of Fun Bowl, he admits he’d like to keep it all in the family. “I do have 5 grandchildren,” he says proudly.

 

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Brown has a solid feel for why he’s been doing well for so many years.

“The growth of our business is based on young families. We need them but a lot of our business is cradle to grave as well. The biggest growth in the whole industry comes from seniors. People are living longer and want something to do with their time.”
One promotion strategy is to focus on just one type of market. Brown disagrees with that. “We want to have something for everybody. That works for us.”

He credits his success to staying true to his industry and adapting throughout the years.

“The business model has changed so much. We simply can’t do what we did in the 70s. Back then and through the 80s and 90s, 75% of business was league bowling.”

League bowling now accounts for just 12.5% of business.

Many things have gotten much easier due to modern technology and Fun Bowl has kept up.

“Marketing today is really less costly than what I was spending on print,” he says. “In fact, 98% of what we do is social media. If I want to do something on Friday night, we can blast out an announcement for $500 and cover it. We can reach more people quickly, it’s amazing.”

In addition to marketing, operations within his facility are always on the cutting edge.

“We have many more tools. For example, bowling used to be scored by hand. We have a generation today that doesn’t know how to score but we’ve installed computer scoring to handle that.”

Brown manages behind the scenes as well. “It takes a staff of 50 – 60 to operate the facilities. We have 5 employees who have been with us over twenty years.”

Business growth was steady but Brown needed money for upgrades. “I’m not good at robbing banks,” he laughed. “I talked with other business owners and they recommended SmartBiz.”

Brown connected with SmartBiz Loan Consultant Doug Kilroy who was instrumental in guiding him through the SBA commercial real estate application.

Steve jokes, “Boy, if I was going to have more kids I would name them Doug. It took about 6 months to get it all done but without his help, I wouldn’t have made it. He saw it all the way to end, talking 3 – 4 times a day even during vacations.”

Brown goes on to explain how his Lending Consultant helped during the SBA loan process.

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“What I liked about Doug is that he took on a lot of the required details. He did a lot of the leg work for me handling issues with the state and the county. I’m so appreciative. The best 1% I’ve ever spent in my life was with SmartBiz.”

Before getting an SBA commercial real estate loan through Smart Biz bank partners, he took on some short term debt to buy equipment or finance upgrades in past 10 years. Looking for additional cash flow and growth, he recognized an additional money making opportunity.

“We work with a vendor for our game machines. They take 30%. We’re going to buy our own machines and keep 100% of the profit.”

Brown acquired a 25-year, 5-year fixed rate commercial real estate refinance with a rate of Prime+1.5%. In addition to saving big with the refinance, he has plans for upgrades.

“We’re taking care of everything within our walls from flooring to carpeting to glass walls.”

New furniture and new automatic scoring will be installed during the remodel as well.

To revamp the existing game room, he’ll purchase 70 new amusement games the ownership of the games is projected to add an extra 25% in monthly cash flow and savings from the real estate refinance will add an additional 30 – 35% in monthly cash flow.

Regarding his future plans, Brown says he intends to continue to focus on one customer at a time. “My son owns a successful bowling center and I own one too. I truly live a blessed life.”

What advice does Brown have for budding entrepreneurs?

“I tell everybody to focus on their education and get a degree to compete in today’s market. I don’t have a degree so for the most part we just tried to work hard and count the pennies – they add up. Remember that success is a marathon, not a sprint.”

 

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