Tom Tanase is the CIO for an incredibly innovative and driven company, and that company’s business just happens to be bowling. Bowlmor AMF, based in Richmond, Virginia, operates 309 bowling centers across the country. Tanase’s challenge as CIO is convincing IT talent that Bowlmor AMF is every bit as fast-paced and innovative as any tech company.
“Applicants see we’re a bowling company and not Google or Facebook and wonder what there will be to do here,” Tanase says. “They think, ‘Where’s the incentive?’ It’s actually quite exciting, but we have to get them here to see it.”
The “here” is another challenge. Richmond is a growing city, but it’s not New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, where the talent pool for IT runs deep. Other major companies in town vie for the same talent that Tanase seeks. Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. is based there, for instance. So is Capital One. And Amazon has two fulfillment centers in the area.
A dated perception of the company can be another hurdle that Tanase must overcome. When Bowlmor acquired AMF Bowling Worldwide Inc. on July 1, 2013, AMF was in bankruptcy. Bowlmor was the smaller of the two companies, with just six successful venues at the time. Applicants recognize the AMF brand, and they tend to ask questions.
“IT people are risk averse when it comes to corporate instability,” Tanase explains. “We turned the company profitable in less than a year, and we’re on a 20 percent growth rate now. Still, there’s that stigma of a company that once struggled, and it’s something that I have to overcome.”
Finally, there’s the work itself, which can seem intimidating to someone used to specializing within IT.
“We run a small shop here, considering the size; we are the largest bowling company in the world,” Tanase says. He has about seventy employees in his department to handle technology for more than three hundred bowling centers across the country.
“The talent I need has to have a willingness to be more cross-functional than they would be in a normal IT department,” Tanase explains. “I need everyone to reach out across the company and be able to do more than one function.”
CUTTING EDGE ON THE LANES
While Tom Tanase and Bowlmor AMF produce a very innovative workplace for employees, the world’s largest bowling center owner and operator is also innovating in the experience for bowlers of all ages. According to reports, the organization has invested millions in advertising and bowling center upgrades in the past three years to showcase the fun of the sport to families, millennials, and league bowlers alike.
Bowlmor AMF encompasses four distinct brands: Bowlmor Lanes, a modern, upscale offering that appeals to those in the mood for a gourmet meal and signature cocktails along with ten frames; Bowlero, a self-appointed “hipster-inspired hangout” complete with blacklights, arcade games, and plenty of nostalgia; and Brunswick Zone & AMF, classic bowling centers ready for family visits, birthday parties, and league-play.
Across these brands, Bowlmor AMF continues to open new bowling centers and bring the existing ones up to date. That dedication to pleasing customers is key to the 1.8 million league bowlers, and the sixty-nine million people who bowl at least one game a year. As the company continues to diversify its approach and reinvent the bowling center, Bowlmor AMF is eager to see those numbers rise.
Explaining that on the phone or presenting it on paper is the challenge.
“When we get them here to show them the atmosphere and how we work together, it becomes a real selling point that they’re not going to be stuck doing just one thing,” Tanase says. “They’ll be involved in opening new centers, figuring out new technology, helping the database department figure out how to run reports quicker, and much more.”
Tanase has stabilized the department since he took over as CIO about two years ago. He says he can count on one hand the number of people who’ve left the IT department, and some of them have since returned. A big reason is that he supports their thirst for new knowledge.
“We just opened our data center for three or four days to get trained on it,” Tanase says. “Training is a really strong selling point to keep employees happy. They like the fact that they’re always learning something new.”
Tanase’s team needs to be on the cutting edge because Bowlmor CEO Tom Shannon is constantly pushing his employees to innovate the very concept of a bowling center.
“The innovation of the business forces innovation at the IT level,” Tanase says. “We have to figure out what they want us to do, whether it’s how to automate sales reports because they want more customer information or how to create a new system for online booking. We go down paths we’ve never been.”
Those paths often lead to greater customer convenience and deeper customer data. The aforementioned online booking system provides both, combining the consumer booking portal on the front end with a CRM system on the back end.
“We ripped out two old systems that don’t talk to each other and replaced them with one that does,” Tanase says. “I also have half my development team working with marketing on a customer loyalty program, which is a huge initiative for the company.”
Meanwhile, Bowlmor is testing out new self-ordering kiosks in more than a dozen centers that allow customers to order food and drinks and pay their bill from tablet-equipped lanes. Tanase says the company is looking to have self-ordering kiosks installed in one hundred bowling centers by the end of 2017.
“We have entire restaurant/bars with more than one thousand different products available,” Tanase says. “We had to figure out how to make it feasible. We put it together, and they’re out there right now. We blazed a new path in the hospitality field.”
It’s exciting work for any IT worker. They just have to see it to believe it.