Bowlers Journal caught up with QubicaAMF CEO, Emanuele "Manu" Govoni, and Chairman of the Board, Pat Ciniello, today about this week's news that the company's legacy partners had finalized a transaction with BowlmorAMF to acquire full ownership. You can read about that story here, and find much more about it in our upcoming January issue. Below is our conversation about the deal with Govoni and Ciniello, which includes plenty of interesting insight into the present and future of both QubicaAMF and the bowling industry as a whole.
BJI: What do you think this move means for QubicaAMF going forward?
Govoni: Going back to our roots and taking control of the company from a management and ownership perspective means we’re going to be able to move things ahead more quickly, with more determination, in the right direction. Now that we are in full control, we can do things more rapidly, and take the company—and, hopefully, our customers’ businesses—to the next level.
BJI: And what can you tell me about the direction in which you hope to take the company?
Govoni: We are going to focus very strongly on customer service and product innovation. We believe there is room to improve in both areas. We will continue on our path of being the innovator of the industry, but also customer service and the way we provide those customer services is going to be very important to us as well.
BJI: After the sale of Brunswick retail centers to BowlmorAMF, you guys asserted your belief in the bowling industry and your commitment to it. Do you see this move as an example of, for lack of a better phrase, putting your money where your mouth is?
Ciniello: I think you’re 100% right; we’ve put our money where our mouth is. We have been getting phone calls and emails from throughout the industry congratulating us on this. And we truly believe in reinvesting in the facilities and in the changing models coming up in the industry. We want to deliver products that help our customers grow their businesses. We definitely believe in making those things happen on the proprietor level and the business level.
We met with all our employees yesterday and we’ve had a great response. We wanted to lift morale. Things have been a little quiet in the industry for a while, and I think this has proven to them that we’re serious about it. We didn’t incur any additional debt in doing this. We’re mean and lean and ready to make a difference by bringing new products and innovation to the industry.
Govoni: In general, we feel that consumer needs are shifting strongly. Consumers today want to stay within a budget, and they want everything now. What it takes to make consumers happy today is very different from what it took 20 or 30 years ago. There is a big gap between what our industry is offering consumers today and what we might be offering to be more effective. We want to fill that gap. So our proprietors align to provide a better customer experience to consumers.
BJI: Pat, in your experience as a proprietor, just how dramatically have customer needs and demographics changed in this industry over the years?
Ciniello: Well, we saw that with our first Headpinz location in Cape Coral, Florida, where we took a traditional bowling center, pulled out six lanes and put an arcade in, and redid the exterior as well as the interior bar and restaurant. And we have tripled the revenue of that location, and it’s still growing. As for the customer base, we see more families come in, we see people coming in to have more fun, and we’re very excited about that. It’s why we’re building a new facility at this moment. And I think a lot of other proprietors are starting to see that if they don’t reinvest in their business, people are not going to come through their doors. You have to give them a reason to come, you have to bring the excitement. We’re bringing that with things like our new furniture line, and with [the Highway 66 mini-bowling attraction]. You see more bowling centers moving toward the FECs, and you see more FECs moving towards the bowling.
We just had a great experience at IAAPA. There were so many people there that were ready to invest in their businesses, looking for the new ideas. The only thing constant is change. To be successful in this business, you have to be looking for that next new thing to do. Businesses are realizing that in order to do that they need to reinvest. We’re excited about that model; we’re excited about helping our customers; and our new facility in Fort Myers will feature all our latest and greatest equipment.
When you change the model, you have to change the thinking of the employees and the owners. It’s more about the food and beverage aspect of it, the entertainment aspect of it. Demographics are shifting. There is more of an affluent crowd coming in to the facilities. They have those dollars for something they perceive as having value.
We want to grow bowling. My personal desire is to keep league bowling in there and grow both league bowling and casual bowling.
BJI: Plenty of people will be happy to hear you talk about growing league bowling, because, in the aftermath of the Brunswick-BowlmorAMF deal, there was a lot of anxiety about what that transaction meant for the future of league bowling.
Ciniello: My background is traditional bowling and league bowling, and I am a league bowler myself. Why not grow that base? The people are there; you have guaranteed income coming in. We met with customers last night who were talking about building an FEC and they were going to build a hybrid center that included league play. We see other FECs now reaching out trying to build clubs and leagues. On Monday through Thursday, why leave those lanes empty? Let’s build league bowling, so you have the best of two worlds. I am very strong on league bowling and I think it’s important to preserve that and the legacy that we have.
BJI: What does it take to get everyone within a company on the same page in support of your intention to reinvest in the business at a time in the industry when such investment is not necessarily abundant?
Govoni: We feel that getting the team on our side, and getting the world team motivated around the goal of growing the company and growing the industry, is absolutely key. We have spent the last three weeks aligning the world management team and the world organization around the growth project we have in mind. We believe that if we as owners truly take care of our employees by setting expectations and inspiring them, they are going to do great things for our customers. So, actually, aligning people is easy, because when your heart is in the right place and people understand that you’re in it for the long run, and when you explain what we’re going to do differently going forward—that our plan is not going to be big on layoffs, but that it is going to be big on growth—we feel they naturally will align with you. As a leader, if you follow through and do what you say you are going to do, everything winds up very nicely.
Ciniello: We have a lot of long-term employees. We walked the whole warehouse yesterday and office of 375,000 sq. feet in Richmond. We talked with people who have been there for eight years to people who have been there for more than 30 years. And we feel like hope is back, that the message is being sent that we’re there and we’re involved. We’ve proven it in the past; we’re in it for the long-run. We think our employees are one of our biggest assets and we want them to be part of the family we started back in 1993 and 1994, and the response has been tremendous. There were tears in people’s eyes; there was hope there. And now we have to deliver what we’re promising. And we’re going to do that; we’re going to make it happen.