Stars and Strikes Steady Through Covid
Chain Opens 15th Location in November; Revenues Exceed Expectations
The Georgia-based bowling entertainment center chain Stars and Strikes opened its 15th venue in November. The company has long had all locations reopened (most of them since May 2020) and is quickly approaching typical overall revenues, something co-founder Jack Canouse certainly doesn’t take for granted.
“We felt extremely blessed to be in the states that opened up first,” he said. “It’s certainly been helpful financially.” Canouse noted that their nine stores in Georgia reopened on May 8, Tennessee’s a few days later and locations in Alabama and South Carolina in early June. The last one to reopen was in Raleigh, N.C., in mid-September.
While detrimental to be sure, that’s just a few months compared to some who continue to wait for locations to reopen after nearly a year of government-mandated shutdowns.
Canouse saw people gradually come back to locations over those months. During the first reopened week, revenue was only at 20% compared to the same period in 2019. But as the weeks wore on, that number grew and grew consistently.
Currently, revenue is at about 85% of 2019’s numbers, but Canouse added, “We have a couple of stores that are at 100%.” (Stars and Strikes also had a location open in Raleigh last January and in Irmo, S.C., last March, so there’s no 2019 stats for those venues.)
Most locations are open at essentially 50% capacity – every other bowling lane is closed and no more than 50 people can be in a group. Canouse noted that it’s self-policed and “hasn’t really been a hindrance.”
Like guests, staff came back incrementally as well. “When we first reopened, we had salaried managers in there running the show for the first week,” he said. They’ve added key employees back and then more and more as time went on. For example, laser tag wasn’t allowed to reopen at one store early on, so there was no need for employees to be operating that attraction.
Now, staffing is at about 80%, consistent with the company’s revenue. New Covid protocols at locations include more visible cleaning processes, bowling balls off the lanes and the every-other-lane rule to promote physical distancing.
“I think the people who are going out want to be out, so the feedback has been very strong,” Canouse explained. “They really felt like we did a good job cleaning.”
Revenue may be creeping up to normal and customers may be happy, but mirroring the rest of the industry, group sales have taken the biggest hit. Stars and Strikes is doing about 65% of the usual birthday parties and about 55% of total events. Because they have locations in different states, the numbers vary, but those are the averages.
As for when the company can return to 100% of its typical year-over-year revenue, only time will tell. “I don’t see it happening while we can only sell every other lane,” Canouse explained, saying that also means fewer seats and tables in their restaurants.
Lauren VanBuskirk, the director of marketing at Stars and Strikes, added that while corporate holiday event sales were lower than normal over the Christmas/New Year season, their open play and walk-in business was pretty strong during that time period.
“We saw some effects before the holidays of guests wanting to stay home so that they could spend the holidays with their families but have definitely seen an increase after Christmas,” she said.
All that – plus the ability to open a new location during a pandemic – points to the growth mindset Stars and Strikes has been employing and plans on continuing into the future.
“Bowling entertainment offers a lot under one roof,” he said. “As we come out of this virus, I just think there’s going to be a lot less competition and you just have to be prepared to take advantage of it. I think the future’s pretty bright.”
Canouse and fellow co-founder Chris Albano have been getting phone calls from malls that house empty big box stores in roughly half a dozen states that’d like a Stars and Strikes location to fill them.
“Our mentality was in 2020 let’s keep our head down and get through the year. We’re a good bit ahead of what our expectations were in June or July.” The plan is to continue growing, “assuming things don’t get worse.”
But the fact remains, he opined, “People need to get out. I think the demand for our product goes up. We’ve proven we can provide a safe environment.”
Learn more about the business at www.starsandstrikes.com.
Stars and Strikes’ 15th Location’s Opening Exceeds Expectations
Concord, N.C., is home to the latest Stars and Strikes – the chain’s 15th store, which held a grand opening ceremony on Nov. 7. “We’ve been very happy,” reported co-founder Jack Canouse. “It’s exceeded our expectations, which are lower what they would have been pre-Covid.”
The company signed a lease on the old big-box space at the end of 2019, went through the permitting process in February and then the virus-related lockdowns struck. “I think everybody’s expectations were that it wasn’t going to last as long as it has.”
As Covid dragged on, the original Aug. 1 opening got pushed back as they weren’t in a hurry to get open. Still, Canouse said, “We’re very excited about the market.”
The approximately 60,000-sq.-ft. facility has 24 lanes of bowling and the largest arcade floor of any of their locations at more than 8,000 sq. ft. They worked with Lasertron on their new LED Arena, which can be seen from inside the arcade. Additionally, there’s bumper cars, a separate VIP room, a restaurant and a bar.
Added Lauren VanBuskirk, the director of marketing at Stars and Strikes, “The response from the Concord community has been great. We had a very strong grand opening given the current Covid situation and business has been steady.” However, she said the North Carolina governor implemented restrictions in December that included no alcohol sales after 9 p.m. They also have to close at 10 p.m. “That, of course, affects revenue, but we hope that will be lifted soon.”