810 Billiards & Bowling
EXECUTIVE Q&A | MICHAEL SINISCALCHI, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF 810 BILLIARDS & BOWLING
1851 FRANCHISE: TELL US ABOUT THE FOUNDING OF 810 BILLIARDS & BOWLING:
Michael Siniscalchi: I worked in finance for about 10 years based out of Chicago, and then out of New York. Coming from Chicago and New York, I came to know more of what the upscale bowling and entertainment experience looked like — higher end food, craft cocktails, things like that. In 2014 I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach with my now wife and we came across a dilapidated, traditionally-styled bowling alley that was for sale. Being familiar with that idea of the market for upscale bowling I thought, “Why can’t the upscale bowling concept work in a smaller market like Myrtle Beach?” We put in a bid and it was initially rejected, so we moved on with plans to do the whole house and kids thing. Later, I was in Rochester, New York house shopping and got a call from the owner of the bowling alley and her financial officer saying she’d changed her mind. I turned and looked at my wife and we made the biggest decisions of our lives.
In 2015 things started to take position and we closed on the property. As it was, the bowling alley was purely a league center. It was nothing special so we made the decision to gut it. We converted the space to our upscale entertainment concept removing 12 lanes, and creating a step-down gaming pit and a completely new dining room, bar and kitchen. All of that took about five months and then we reopened under our new concept with a truly high-end food menu out of the gate.
1851: WHAT DID YOU LEARN AFTER YOUR INITIAL OPENING?
Siniscalchi: We initially opened with a formal dining executive chef that did an incredible job in terms of menu design and food prep — things like lolipop lambchops, braising whole prime rib in house overnight and chicken skin nachos. We had a couple of die hard food fans, but quickly realized we were trying to do too many things. Outside of major American cities the idea of a high end food experience in a bowling alley was a little foreign. For every foodie that loved the cutting-edge menu we had just as many people who were frustrated by the lack of traditional fare, so we knew we needed to move in a direction that would be more accessilbe to a broader demographic as we looked to grow.
Over that first year we moved away from our original chef and brought on a food and beverage director. We kept some signature items but tried to be smarter as we deployed the kitchen menu. The plan was to maintain our focus on executing the high quality food offerings but to develop a menu with accessible price points that everyone could enjoy. The menu became more upscale sports bar food — wings, burgers, pizza. Everything’s made in house and we still take a lot of pride in our food.
Another fun surprise was on the systems end of things, which had a traditional bowling setup geared toward league play and simple snack bar offerings. It was pitched as something it wasn’t, we quickly realized that we would have to develop a better custom solution for our unique concepts if we were going to deliver the customer service that we expect.
The existing center had traditional bowling equipment, and as it turns out a small number of American manufacturers have a strangle hold on the market. This results in price inflation that inevitably gets passed on to the consumer, so we knew we needed to find a better alternative. In order to be scalable, we did the work to find a different manufacturer and succeeded in establishing an exclusive pricing agreement with a firm that provides full custom bowling installation along with our furniture package. The savings are passed straight through to the franchisees — $500–$600K savings for 12 lanes.
1851: WHAT ARE 810'S KEY DIFFERENTIATORS THAT MAKE IT STAND OUT IN THE INDUSTRY?
Siniscalchi: 810 wants to reengineer the model to minimize build-out costs and allow us to offer a value-oriented experience for guests. We live in a different niche in the market in that regard. Brands like Lucky Strike, Brooklyn Bowl and Kings Bowl have skated by on the fact that they were very early to market the upscale bowling and entertainment concepts. They benefited from being unique in the aesthetic and experience, but they've never been known to deliver good service. We have a service first approach that separates us in our industry.
Our concept differs as well. We’re a place for young adults at night, but we cast a much wider net as a space for families as well as birthday parties. Instead of a night club feel, we offer a casual sports bar space with higher quality options.
1851: WHAT ARE THE MILESTONES IN THE BRAND'S HISTORY THAT HAVE LED TO ITS SUCCESS?
Siniscalchi: Around October 2017 the landlord of a mixed use retail dining space sought me out and talked about doing something there. We moved forward with that while our location in Conway was under construction. At 43,000 square feet, it has 20 lanes, eight billiard tables, live music, 3D mini golf and a 300-person dining space. That ended up being our second store open for business and it continues to be our highest volume store. We opened Conway in January of 2019, and that's our franchise model store — a smaller footprint, 12 lanes separated in two six lane sections, four billiards tables, a small secondary bar and a 140 person dining space.
We signed our first franchise agreement in the fall, and we’re finally under construction after mitigating the COVID-related challenges that have been inevitable in 2020. We signed our second franchisees in August of this year. The first franchise store will open in Chandler, Arizona. A newly vacant property became available in Arizona as well, so our fourth corporate store will open in downtown Phoenix. The expanded corporate footprint will ensure that we can properly support our franchisees in the southwest.
1851: HOW DOES 810 SUPPORT ITS FRANCHISEES?
Siniscalchi: We’re super hands-on with them in everything they’re doing — design engineering, general contractors, handling the bidding process, grassroots marketing and local outreach. With only two franchisees right now it makes it easier to be super involved. We want to offer ongoing support from promo and marketing to vendors and menu development. We’ve even developed training and plating videos, everything you need to stay current. They can also expect quarterly visits from myself and the team every couple months to make sure they have the resources to execute their business well.
1851: WHAT ARE YOUR GROWTH PLANS FOR THE BRAND?
Siniscalchi: It’s always bothered me that franchisors don't see the value of running corporate locations. My question is, why aren't you reinvesting your own resources? I believe in pursuing a two pronged approach — franchising in conjunction with corporate growth. If we seek a spike in franchisee growth, we’d slow down on the corporate growth depending on the rate of growth on the franchisee side. If we have the team and the ability, then we hope to open half a dozen units a year. I'd be happy with that.
1851: WHAT'S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU LEARNED THIS YEAR THAT WILL INFORM THE WAY YOU DO BUSINESS IN 2021 AND BEYOND?
Siniscalchi: COVID-19 reinforced notions that we already believed in — we think we’re different. When times are good it's easy to add things and then be caught in a bad way when headwinds come along. As is, we’re pretty nimbly positioned and dynamic due to the way we're structured. We have less debt burden than our competitors. If your expense structure is so steep that it only works when times are good, then it's short sighted.