Bowl New England

Bowl New England Colchester VT

Bowl New England leads in innovation when it comes to family entertainment centers

and continues to expand along the East Coast.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

July will mark 50 years since Richard Corley, a former pilot for the U.S. military, returned home to Burlington, Vt., and took a chance on opening a bowling alley. Bowl New England was founded in 1968 and has evolved over the years to meet consumer demand.

“I bought this thing and didn’t know anything about the business, but I’ve grown the business today to about 1,000 employees and operate 18 locations in 10 states,” Corley says. “It’s a heck of an achievement, 50 years. I started it, but I’ve also brought a lot of great young people along with us who have grown with the company.”

Bowl New EnglandAbout 12 years ago, Bowl New England’s whole operation changed because people were no longer joining bowling leagues and consumers’ lifestyles were changing. The company decided to transform its bowling alleys into family entertainment centers, which came with a new name for the locations, Spare Time Entertainment.

“If you ask anyone about us, they will say we are on the forefront of innovation and are not afraid to try new things,” Corley says. “When family entertainment centers first came out, I knew this was the right idea and to go for it. We had faith in our convictions to do it and it was a substantial capital investment to convert the properties and now we are building new ones. It’s been a wild ride.”

Spare Time Entertainment

Bowl New England operates 18 Spare Time Entertainment locations along the East Coast. Each location averages about 50,000 square feet and includes bowling, laser tag, arcade games and multiple restaurants.

“In the past if you were going to the bowling alley on a date or out with the family, you would bowl a few games and probably have something at the snack bar. Your visit would be about an hour-and-a-half,” Corley says. “Our strategy has been to get you to come here and spend three hours because of our multiple venues of entertainment and very good food.”

Spare Time Entertainment operates its own food and bar service, customizing offerings based on the market. Although each location varies, Corley describes the menu as upscale bar food that includes tacos, salmon and filets, and is served on china. “We are drifting away from fast food,” he adds. “It’s very interesting too because the consumer told us they wanted to eat on china. The consumer today is becoming very sophisticated in what they want and it’s different than it was 20 years ago.”

Bowl New England LobbyBowl New England’s biggest challenge initially was converting its existing bowling alleys into Spare Time Entertainment. “We totally renovated the buildings. A normal renovation of an existing bowling alley is about $5 million to $7 million to convert into a family entertainment center,” Corley says.

When renovating its locations, Bowl New England continued to strengthen its partnerships with existing vendors and has been developing relationships as the business continues to evolve. QubicaAMF, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of bowling products in the world, is one of the company’s key suppliers.

“They have been a partner for a long time,” Corley notes. “A lot of their stuff now is done in Italy and they are very much on the forefront of the industry. We buy equipment, furniture and fixtures from them. They do design facilities, but we used an outside architectural firm for our locations.”

Sweet Spot

Bowl New England will be opening a new Spare Time Entertainment in Greenville, S.C., in March and is aggressively pursuing two more locations for 2018. The goal moving forward is for the company to acquire or build two locations per year in the Southeast. “I just love the Southeast and that will be the focus for the foreseeable future,” Corley notes.

Moving forward, Bowl New England will continue to be family owned and operated as Corley’s children move into the leadership roles. “It was never really the goal but just happened that way,” he says. “My children saw it as an opportunity, but worked other places before coming into the company. Will it always stay family owned? I’m not sure of that. We will go wherever the business leads us.”

Bowl New England plans to continue focusing on selling fun. “We are one of the largest privately owned family entertainment centers in the United States,” Corley says. “We sell fun that requires little to no experience or skill. Our mission is to create memorable experiences for every guest every visit.”

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