Despite celebrating a decade at the helm of his $30 million revenue business, Melbourne entrepreneur Michael Schreiber has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Schreiber is the founder and chief executive of Strike Bowling Bars, an 11-strong nationwide network of bowling alleys, which opened its first venue on Melbourne’s Chapel Street in 2002.
In a bid to create a new out-of-home experience, Strike brings night-time elements to an otherwise daggy pastime, with a full-line kitchen, bar, plush lounges and private party rooms.
Pool tables, interactive games and karaoke rooms – in addition to touchscreen iPads – add an extra layer of “cool” to the setting.
Schreiber has also introduced laser skirmish at Strike, mindful that he is competing with social networking for the attention of his young target demographic.
“We’re offering social networks in a face-to-face sense, which is far better company than a boring old computer screen,” he says.
“Ten years ago, I literally travelled the world looking for what sort of adult entertainment concept might take off in Australia.”
“When we looked at bowling, we knew that we’d found the concept.”
“What Strike did with bowling was to take this entertainment format and completely reposition it. We made it a social experience rather than a competitive sport.”
Schreiber talks to StartupSmart about traveling around the world in search of ideas, why he chose bowling, and what it took to build the Strike empire.
You travelled around the world looking for the right start-up concept for Australia – why?
When I first entered the entertainment industry in the mid 90s, I travelled extensively as part of my role.
I principally visited the major amusement and attraction trade shows such as IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions).
Along the way, I used to visit and keep abreast of trending and emerging concepts in the US and other international markets.
This travel, along with my experience in concept development and management in Australia, informed my thinking around the Strike concept.
In essence, Strike was a construct of the various concepts I had seen and experienced over the years as well as the input of my own experience.
Which ideas did you reject before deciding on bowling?
I think which concepts had I tried before settling on Strike is more informative.
I was involved at a senior level with the development of everything from high-tech indoor theme parks, next-generation interactive games venues, sports bars, next-generation family entertainment centres, nightclubs, and the kernel of the Strike concept, Kingpin Bowling.
The development cost of these businesses ran into the hundreds of millions, and only Galactic Circus (next-generation family entertainment centres) and Kingpin still survive.
So in many ways, the Strike concept was forged from live experience and is modeled off the best-of-breed from what came before it.
What made you realise that bowling was the best option?
The epiphany was hard-earned in many ways. The prevailing logic was that the next form of out-of-home entertainment would be based on high-tech and this is where the global concept developers were focused.
Besides the work we were doing in Australia with Village and Nine, Sega teamed up with Dreamworks, and Steven Spielberg oversaw the concept creation behind Gameworks, their interactive concept that first opened in Las Vegas.
Gameworks too has faded away in its original form and Dreamworks are no longer involved.
Shifting through the ashes of all this innovating and pioneering, I was struck by the consistent appeal of bowling, which was housed in the Kingpin concept.
With the benefit of hindsight, bowling is an obvious choice – time-tested, all-ages appeal, easy to play but hard to master, all-weather availability.
Looking deeper into the trends around bowling (data from various organisations, Google searches, etc.), it became obvious that although the model was in transition, operators had focused on the sports side of the business at the expense of the entertainment side.
Once I had the core attraction nailed down, we surrounded it with symbiotic activities such as pool, karaoke, a bar, DJs, interactive games and great customer service to define the concept.
We continue to innovate, and have recently added laser skirmish as a second core attraction.
How do you decide whether a good idea will actually make a good business?
In the first instance, I stay abreast of trends and what is happening around the traps. I trust my instinct and try different experiences, and form an initial view.
If I see something that I like, I will study, break it down and model it up to see if and how it makes sense.
We more than often reposition or repackage and improve versus just pick up a piece to bolt on. The decision at the end of the day has to be around commerce and not ego.
I have seen too much money burned in my career and I have an intense dislike of the smell of burning money, specifically when it’s my own.