Have you ever stood at the foul line of a bowling lane and asked yourself — what if I owned my own bowling center?

To be honest, it’s a pricey proposition. It’s not just about buying up some bowling balls and shoes. It’s about finding a property, whether at a lower cost or higher cost, and paying attention to every nuance that makes a great bowling center. From installing top-quality lanes that attract bowlers to your building to creating a gross revenue stream that keeps your business afloat, building bowling alleys costs some major dough.

Is it worth it? Can you turn a profit lane-to-lane annually? Building construction is a tough game. So, we’re here to help you price out building your own bowling alley.

How much does it cost to start successful bowling alley businesses?

Are you taking over an old bowling center with wooden alleys in the rebuilding stage? Or, are you trying to build a bowling center from scratch? The cost of building a bowling alley from scratch could exceed $3 million depending on the square feet of the project. Renovations for an existing building also depend on how many square feet you’re looking at, with renovation costs ranging from around $1 million to $2 million depending on how many lanes you’re working with.

If you factor in the costs of union labor, your cash flow needs to be at a premium to start a bowling alley. And with profits ranging from just under $20,000 to over $100,000 per lane on bowling alone for most bowling centers, you have to be able to diversify your approach to recoup your initial cost estimate.

What are the average bowling equipment costs for starting a bowling center?

Renovating an existing bowling lane at a building alley will cost you around $40,000 to $60,000 per lane. That includes renovating the lane surface, the pinsetter machine, the ball return, and the pin deck. Building a new bowling lane from scratch can cost anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 a pop.

Considering the average lane revenue for a bowling alley is approximately $36,750 per lane annually, it might take you a few years just to get back your original investment. Even if you make $45,000 per lane, it’s still costly.

You also have to pay for shoes at around $50 to $100 a pop, balls, restaurant equipment, arcade machines, cash registers, chairs, tables, and all kinds of other building amenities. Heck, even buying the right billiard table takes a bit of cash upfront. You can easily spend millions building a bowling center before you even make a dime.

How much are renovation costs for an existing bowling center?

Renovation costs for an existing bowling center are about 50 to 65 percent of building a bowling center from the ground up. It also depends on the quality of the installed range of equipment with each lane figured as its own cost analysis proposition. Some bowling lanes might be ready for bowling leagues right away while others might need a lot of work.

With your cost per lane depending on the quality of what you purchased, it’s hard to get an accurate cost estimate until you assess the building as a whole.

Should bowling alleys also be family entertainment centers?

In all honesty, bowling alleys that do bowling and bowling alone are not likely to cut it nowadays. A profitable bowling center building requires a shrewd businessperson in charge who knows the demographics of the customers they’re looking for. If you want to make your bowling alley attractive for big birthday parties and business gatherings, you have to think like a customer.

If you have a lot of kids and young folks you’re trying to attract to your bowling alley business, consider arcade machines and karaoke rooms as an idea. If you’re looking for an older clientele, building a bar with the proper licensing and a good bartending staff might be the way to go.

Per square foot, a bowling-only center is not a profitable proposition unless it’s in the exact right community. Consider making your bowling center a family entertainment center than appeals to the widest possible demographic in your area.

Is the bowling industry profitable?

America’s vanishing bowling alleys make starting a bowling center a scary thought. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bowling alley industry has seen a major downturn in attendance and per-lane profits. Just like movie theaters and equally a nightclub or bar, bowling alleys have taken it on the chin over the past few years. And that is coupled with a general drop in avid bowlers over the past couple of decades.

To build a profitable bowling center in this day and age, you have to be shrewd and know where and how to do it. Unless you market your bowling alley business just right, you may be in for a big-time struggle at the cash register.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a home bowling alley cost to build?

It depends on the quality of the bowling alley that you’re trying to install. If you want a simple bowling alley with just two bowling lanes and cost-conscious equipment, you might be able to build your alley for anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000. However, building regulation-size bowling lanes that are bowling alley business quality might cost you close to six figures per lane.

Does the average bowling alley business turn a profit?

It depends on the bowling alley. If you are renting your building and paying exorbitant rent plus the costs of equipment, you’re going to need massive numbers at the door to make it work. However, if you own your building on a good deal and know how to manage both your costs and your customers, you can make a bowling center profitable.

Should I rent or purchase a bowling center building when building my own bowling alley?

We recommend owning a building over renting a building any day. When you own a bowling alley, you are not subject to rising rents and the whims of a third party. You can build and renovate to your liking and cut out the middleman entirely.

Are arcade games necessary when building a regulation-size bowling alley?

They help. Any entertainment you can add to your bowling center that builds your customer base is worth at least considering. Arcade games are a big part of the modern bowling alley experience for many people. If you want to get people into your building and diversify your cash flow, the right arcade machines can help you do that.

Is bowling a dying sport?

In reality, bowling isn’t the mainstream sport it was half a century ago. Yes, there is still a large swath of bowling enthusiasts out there who love the game more than ever. However, everything from lane attendance to television ratings for professional bowling is down across the board. That doesn’t mean that bowling is dying. It has always been subject to ebbs and flows. However, we’re unsure if and when the next bowling boom is coming.

How much do new bowling lanes cost?

Renovating existing bowling lanes into new bowling lanes will cost you anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 a unit. Building new bowling lanes from scratch will cost you in the neighborhood of $80,000 to $120,000 each.

Closing Thoughts

From buying bowling furniture and bowling shoes to installing bowling lanes complete with one pinsetter machine apiece, you need a great business plan to make a successful venture into the bowling business. From building a reputation for great recreational bowling to facilitating league bowling at its highest levels, running bowling venues means juggling a lot of responsibilities. To get your operating cash flows to a viable and profitable level, you have to be savvy and you have to work hard. New equipment and/or renovations aren’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a great investment.