Fifty years ago, Brunswick Corp. didn’t run any bowling centers. It just sold bowling equipment.
Then came what Jim Fox, president of the company’s bowling retail division, calls the bowling bust of the 1960s. Too many bowling centers were built, and business owners had trouble paying Brunswick for the pin setters it had installed, Fox said. When the bowling centers went out of business, Brunswick found it easier to just take over rather than performing the labor-intensive process of removing the setters. Over the next five decades, Brunswick expanded to 87 locations nationwide.
Now it’s leaving the bowling center business again. On Thursday, the company announced an agreement to sell its retail bowling centers to Bowlmor AMF for $270 million.
Brunswick also plans to say goodbye to the bowling industry itself, which it entered in 1890. It intends to sell its bowling products business by the end of the year, but hasn’t found a buyer yet.
“It’s a very emotional day at Brunswick today, to be perfectly honest with you,” Fox said.
The company has decided to focus on its boat products and fitness businesses in the face of changes in the bowling industry, Fox said. Business from bowling leagues his in decline, he said. There’s been growth in casual visitors to bowling alleys, but they expect amenities like nice restaurants.
“What’s happening is people have more things to do and more ways to spend their money,” he said.
Brunswick has responded to the changes by adding restaurants serving dishes like porkbelly tacos and Cobb salads to three of its bowling centers, and had some success, Fox said. But the company decided it would rather devote its energy to its fitness, boating and billiards businesses than spend the money necessary to revamp all its bowling centers, he said.
Bowlmor AMF’s offer to buy the bowling centers, which made about 8 percent of the company’s revenue, was unsolicited, Fox said. After receiving the offer, the company also decided to try to sell its bowling products business, he said.
New York City-based Bowlmor AMF has 272 locations of its three stores – Bowlmor Centers, Bowlero Centers and AMF Centers, according to its website.
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