Fly Sunday morning out of JFK non stop to Dubai. This was a 15 hour flight, no small hop in the least. You know you're flying far when they serve you two meals and a snack in between. Drank tons of water, slept a bit, watches a few movies and finally arrived at 5am the next morning. After a 3 hour layover, I boarded another 8 hour flight to Durban down the east coast of Africa; landed about 5:30pm. After passing through baggage and customs, I met my new best friend, Guy Caminsky.
Guy was the owner of 3 bowling centers, one of which we would design for him to operate this new pro shop. He's 6' 1, thin, blonde hair, blue eyes and definitely athletic. I was eager to see what we had to work with so rather than call it a night, we headed to the bowling center. This country follows the rules of the road like England. The driver is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left. Thinking to myself, I was glad not to have a rent a car. Wouldn't get 50 yards without hitting someone!
After a short trip, we arrived at a mall. Curious. Not what I was expecting. You see security is a problem down there. Though on the surface, Durban is an absolutely breathtaking place with winters that are 70 degrees and sunny, beaches that stretch for miles and lots of world class golf, rugby and soccer, they're unfortunate prisoners of the oppressed who roam the streets homeless, hungry and aggressive. All entertainment is found in these colossal malls. Now these aren't your typical American variety. They REALLY know how to entertain themselves. Movie theaters, mini golf courses, bowling centers, pool tables, skate board parks, water rides, ice skating rinks, work out facilities plus all the shopping, eating and drinking you can possibly do. Guy has bowling in all 3 major malls in the area. He's an excellent player averaging in the 220s, a classic game along the lines of Mika or Walter Ray with a touch more bang for the buck.
We arrive at the particular mall he's opening a pro shop and head upstairs. Past food business, clothing shops and other obvious mall occupants, we arrived at SUPERBOWLING, Bumper cars, video games, indoor glow miniature golf and 11 bowling lanes. Tucked next to the front desk, was the pro shop area. It was about 10 by 20, snug but easily suits our needs. Partially painted, the new drill press was moved into the small drill room at the back along with the spinner station. The walls were barren with just some recently installed slat wall and one front counter.
Balls, bags, and accessories were still in their cases neatly stacked in the center of the room. We preceded to spend a few hours Monday evening separating the equipment and sorting the marketing merchandise; ball holders, price signs and other advertising. I headed to the drill press to see how that was going to work. I to eager to check out the mill/drill and get myself up to speed. Not being my particular brand, I needed to get it installed, within spec and able to teach Guy how to operate it. With a little tweaking, and some phone calls to Ebonite (7 hours behind us so they were open), we got the press up and ready for action.
Tuesday morning, we continued with merchandising and some pro shop training. In one short week, Guy will have to know enough to meet standards of measuring, and drilling bowling balls so time was of the essence. We discussed different marketing arrangements for products on the wall and pricing. He wanted grouped by company, which was fine. We setup each area with a brand and hung appropriate banners over each. There was no work bench, just as well since all the rolling bowling bags were stacked up behind the counter, we didn't have room for one anyway. We finished up a long 12 hour day with a basic pro shop layout, measuring area, drill press running and all the gloves, bags and accessories hanging appropriately on the walls and in the displays.
What happened over the next 4 days was astounding and magical. They came. Not in a steady stream but everyone. The shop was jammed with people looking to have their grip checked and purchase a ball. It was an avalanche. You see, I've been busy before. All pro shops get busy. But when everyone is a brand new customer, you need to see them bowl, investigate their grip, determine their goals, find an appropriate choice of balls, explain the motions and price, measure, discuss the differences from their grip, drill, shape, final fit and watch them throw it afterwards, that takes time. What amazed me more was that South Africans, or perhaps South African bowlers, are patient. Hours would roll by and most would be quite comfortable waiting in the shop, listening to each bowler's interview and taking in whatever bowling conversation was going on. I've never had a shop so full of customers where most were as quiet as church mice.
There have been two major influences in the past 20 years in South Africa; Don Johnson and Jan Schmidt. Both made visits in the 1990s which helped set the direction for bowling as they know it. We're so lucky in the US. Information flows freely from Demo Days, brand seminars, Bowl Expo and Trade shows, Information is easy to get, questions get answered, there are people to call. In South Africa, it's nothing like that. They're an outpost; way off the beaten path. Think of pro shop professionals as navigators and our customers are ships. We keep them on course by drilling proper grips and proper layouts; monitor their progress on the lanes. Watch the, grow. South Africa's last course correction was 15 years ago and from my first few customers, they were off course.
A local pro shop ran with the ball from what Don Johnson and Jan Schmidt described. What came out was a rubber front edge insert in the thumb and 3/4” to 1” away pitches in the fingers. For those of you who understand the grip, I can see you cringe at the combination: an inability to let go of the thumb, a mandatory flying elbow and non-lift of the fingers producing a low rev rate, top spinning release. It happened time and time again for nearly every bowler who walked through the door. It wouldn't be a bad direction if lane conditions were dry wood and you your main objective was to get length down the lane. I can see a time when this could be somewhat practical. However, SUPERBOWLING is synthetic with a Kegel machine using a challenge pattern for the upcoming tournament. Another local center not under Guy's control, Dolphin Bowl, is also going synthetic in a few months. What was necessary was taller revs, higher rolls and more leverage from their release.
Each bowler became a project; to sell them on change. Not casual change by any imagination. I'm talking grip, timing, release. This is major and not to be taken lightly. Remember that navigation metaphor? We're talking a hard course correction where a person feels they've wasted time. Selling change like that, especially with an expensive bowling ball, that's not something to be taken lightly.
Proper coaching and pro shops are seriously lacking here as well as a steady stream of reasonably fresh bowling products. We take for granted that all the best bowling balls in the world are made in the USA. Ebonite, Columbia, Track and Hammer products are proudly made in Hopkinsville Kentucky. Several major wholesalers have extensive inventories of every ball in every weight ready to ship anywhere in the USA on a moment's notice. I can contact one major wholesaler near me and get anything I need next day; and that's ground service. If I buy a reasonable order, freight is free. The difficulty in South Africa is that ordering from Ebonite and exporting them half way around the globe is no easy road. In fact, there's no road, it's shipped by boat. Air shipping is way too expensive and totally unrealistic. It actually takes 7 weeks shipping from Hopkinsville to arrive in Durbin, South Africa. Think about that. Order a ball not in stock and you wait at least two months. How many pro shops in the US would struggle to remain open if that were the case?
Guy ordered fifty balls a dozen double and triple rolling bags, some single bags and totes along with a variety of accessories. He though we were buying for the locals and plenty for a tournament that weekend. Little did we know what was to happen. We sold everything in 4 days. I would say that at least half the people we worked with understood the direction. Timing and release are the nuts and bolts of bowling and to do something that extensive and expect instant results isn't realistic but in about half the cases we did, they could see an instant upgrade in ball motion and carry. About a quarter were skeptical but trying the new method. With their fingers pitched the way they were and a thumb that wanted to hang, it's a lot to ask a person to do in such a short time. Some couldn't grasp how lightly the thumb really holds the ball and the feeling of the fingers "lifting" the ball onto the lane. It would take some longer than others. Some I feel will revert back to what they're used to and resist the major change. I remember back in the early 90s when reactive resin came out. It was a monumental change to ball motion and those who could make that major move left with their feet resisted the new technology. Hammer products ruled the 80s and now they wouldn't be strong enough. It's was tough to accept but proved true. This was the same situation.
To say there's a growing sport half way around the globe is true. To the few people I got to meet, measure and drill for, they got a glimpse into the future, our present, the philosophy of how to release and exploit the amazing motions synthetic lanes, high performance equipment and a little state of the art coaching can do for their game. Let's hope this course stays true.