As the proprietor of French King Bowling Center in Erving, MA, Mr. Semb operates a best-in-class bowling center and tirelessly promotes the sport of Candlepin Bowling with great passion and enthusiasm.
In addition to running his own bowling center, Mr. Semb has served as the President of the International Candlepin Bowling Association since 1996. Under his leadership, Mr. Semb has masterfully enhanced the betterment of Candlepin Bowling in a manner that will never be surpassed. He is a true ambassador for the industry and is constantly seeking to grow this beloved sport!
ASG Bowl: Based on how successful you’ve been in this business – what has been the greatest secret to your success?
Ralph Semb: I can answer this in one word – Personality. Be personable with all of your customers. Be willing to help people and educate them on the game, it’s a lot fun when you can watch someone learn and enjoy the sport.
ASG Bowl: In promoting any type of business, you always need to keep new and current customers engaged and by making them wonder what you’ll come up with next! In addition to maintaining relationships with your customers, what have you done to attract new customers and retain long-time customers?
Ralph Semb: First, you have to know your customers. I like to promote Candlepin as a fun family activity – family activities are important and we need to help keep the children from being bored! It is important to focus on bringing families & children into the bowling center and giving them the music and excitement that they want. The old days of league competition are dwindling. The families that come to French King want to get their money’s worth every time they step in the door. To do this you need to go out of your way to make them welcome in your establishment. At French King, we play updated music and always try to use new and unique styles of candlepins. It’s important to make changes and keep up with the times – have a welcome sign at your center and list what’s going on in the center each week; for birthday parties, have the child’s name up there on the board and make them feel special. We also make sure to stay up to date with the ADA, we want to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.
ASG Bowl: When looking at your different operating expenses – what particular cost has seen the most consistent increases and what have you done do to offset such a rising cost?
Ralph Semb: The cost of electricity has continued to be rise. We are currently changing the motors on our machines to a more efficient operating motor which has helped decrease costs. Also, working with energy suppliers or brokers can be very helpful in evaluating usage vs. cost. I always look at improving our numbers and shorter term contracts.
ASG Bowl: What advice would you give anyone who is interested in getting into the bowling business?
Ralph Semb: Be prepared for long hours because there are no weekends off! If you are business minded and want to be your own boss, you have to put in the time. The most important and time consuming part is maintaining superb cleanliness in the center – it’s a reflection of who you are and what your customers will think of you. It goes without saying, but you have to maintain your machines and check them every week. It does not take a mechanic to operate a bowling center – one person can operate 40 lanes if you have the right equipment. It is very seldom that the machines break down but it is important to modernize the machines. Utilizing the technology out there is important and strategic in keeping the machines maintained on a regular basis.
ASG Bowl: So, when it’s all said and done, how do you want to leave your mark on the sport of Candlepin Bowling?
Ralph Semb: It’s so important to the health of our industry that we maintain strong focus on the sport of Candlepin Bowling – especially in its home state of Massachusetts along with the rest of New England, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This is a true pastime and the game is always exciting, no matter who’s playing! We need to convince people that you don’t need to hit a 300 game to have fun. Whether you’ve played for 20 years or it’s your first time stepping into the lane, Candlepin is something that anyone can enjoy.