Scott Sullinger is not a rock star. Not yet, at least. But the itinerary he keeps and the mileage he amasses trucking from one tiny town to another across four Midwestern states with his pro shop on wheels, which he has operated since 2012, sure might have fooled you.
What the operation has become in the ensuing years is a glimmer of hope for bowlers in small, rural communities that can sometimes seem left behind by the rest of the country. Places where, in some cases, the total population clocks in at fewer than 100 people and the local "bowling center" comprises three lanes in the top floor of a building that also houses the post office.
"There is one building besides seven houses," Sullinger explains of that town, Sheridan Lake in Colorado. "The rest is all farmers."
The town's Wikipedia entry reports that its population of 88 as of the 2010 census was "up from 66 at the 2000 census." Call it a population boom.
Towns like Sheridan Lake represent just the kind of market in which Sullinger saw opportunity — for himself as a businessman, sure, but also for bowlers who otherwise might drive hours to find the nearest pro shop. Even then, Sullinger explains, "It might be some guy in a garage who does not have any training.”
These are towns “where it’s four lanes or 6 lanes or 10 lanes, and nobody cares about them because they’re so little. They don’t spend enough money,” Sullinger says.
With Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa also in the mix, Sullinger's Seven Pin Pro Shop, these days operated out of a new, $74,000 diesel truck with a $30,000 trailer he purchased a year ago, now comprises a four-state enterprise serving roughly 80 small towns where the bowlers are plentiful enough but the pro shops are few and far between.
On any given day, Sullinger’s trailer may include about 500 bowling balls, 300 pairs of shoes, 150 bags, and an abundant array of accessories in addition to his drill press and other equipment.
“I had to get my CDL when I bought this trailer because I’m so big,” Sullinger explains. “I weigh over 40,000 pounds.”
It all started when a proprietor set to host the 2012 Iowa State bowling tournament told Sullinger that his centers had no pro shop.
"He asked if I would open one from January to May of 2013," says Sullinger, who already had a pro shop in Le Mars, Iowa, which he still runs today. "And people that came in [from throughout Iowa] were like, 'Gosh, we wish someone would come to us.'”
Sullinger and his wife “sent fliers out to everybody, bought a truck, bought a trailer, and we got 10 or 11 answers back. It just grew from there."
A single week in October saw Sullinger conduct ball demos and product shows in Tornado Alley in Arapahoe, Neb., on Oct. 20; Lamar Lanes in Lamar, Colo., on Oct. 21; The Alley Bar and Grill in Tribune, Kan., on Oct. 23; Sunflower Recreation in Oberlin, Kan., on Oct. 27, and so on.
Sullinger says that, when he sets his schedule, "I go through about 10 calendars before it's finalized.”
He visits most centers once in the fall and again in the spring, though the smallest among them tend to see him only once a year, in the fall.
“I don’t have any employees; I do this all on my own,” Sullinger says. “The owners of the bowling centers sell the bags, shoes and accessories, and they make the appointments for the balls, so when I show up I drill the bowling balls, they pay me for everything that they did, then I give them their percentage and I move on to another town.”
Part of the joy of working tiny towns, Sullinger says, is that “they don’t care if you average 240. They average 140, and they want to get better, so I can put a ball in someone’s hand and give them a few lessons, and I get texts or emails or phone calls from these people telling me they had their first clean game, or their first 500 series, and they’re ecstatic. It’s very rewarding.”
This story appears in the December issue of Bowlers Journal International. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here: http://www.bowlersjournal.com/bowlers-journal-subscriptions/