January 31, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dick Evans
Keith Spear Building a 10 Million Dollar International Bowling Business One Ball at a Time With Help of UPS in Daytona Beach
Who would have thought that a bowling ball business of all things would be UPS’s largest residential customer in Volusia County where NASCAR does business at the nearby Daytona International Speedway.
Keith Spear, who currently operates operates 14 pro shops, owns a booming bowling enterprise that may be the best kept business secret in Daytona Beach.
“I like to fly under the radar,” said Keith, whom I met at Bowl Expo in Las Vegas where he spent more than three million dollars on primarily bowling balls from every company in America.
He ships bowling balls and bowling equipment all over the world from his 33,000 square foot warehouse on Fentress Blvd.
“UPS backs its semi up to our warehouse loading area every morning and picks it up that evening, the products are shipped out the same day as ordered,” Spear said about bowling equipment headed for bowlers and bowling companies in America, Hong Kong, Australia, Great Britain, Germany and South America.
“Our yearly shipping bill costs us in the millions. Way back in 1997, I drove to UPS to ship to my very first customer, a gentleman in California.”
A decade later Spear estimates that he has 100,000 bowling balls in warehouse plus every type bowling glove, bowling bag, wrist device, finger plug, bowling towel and even rosin bag that is known to man.
Most of the warehouse space is reserved for high performance balls. However, there are also balls for children (Disney Tinker Bell balls) and for sports fans (2006 Steeler Super Bowl balls and NASCAR Jeff Gordon balls) that are hot items around Christmas.
“My inventory runs between 10 to 12 million dollars,” said Spear, one of the area’s elite bowlers, while showing me the rows and rows and rows of bowling equipment that was stacked almost to the ceiling.
He seemed almost in awe of his bowling ball business.
“We don’t have a walk in business, we ship everything and everything is done by the Internet.” That does not mean that high profile executives from the major bowling ball companies – Ebonite, Brunswick and Columbia to name a few – do not fly into town and walk in to talk business with Spear.
“Our business was up about 110 percent last year since we opened up a foreign market. A big key for us was when we struck (no pun intended) a deal with UPS to ship our equipment world wide. We do aggressive marketing around the world, offering thousands of bowling items. We get the equipment to the person or company within a few days and guarantee everything.”
That guarantee includes technical points like pin placement and top weights request, “which is a very important ingredient to our success. Everything is scientific. Our customers go to our web page and tell us how to lay out the ball. We do one ball orders and 100 ball orders and treat everyone with the same precision.”
That includes the 14 pro shops that he currently owns, including the one in Ormond Lanes. It was at Daytona Bowl that he met and worked with Jeff Gordon, Vince Carter and John Travolta on their bowling equipment and games.
However, now Spear puts 95 percent of his time at the warehouse although “We do no walk-in business on site.”
Two key components to his amazing business success were the fact he knows bowling inside out and outside in plus the fact that in quickly recognized the super power of the Internet as a business tool.
“I saw the Internet emerging from the very beginning. I kept my eyes on it and bought up a bunch of domain names, bowlingball.com among others.
“I have always been trying to sell things on the Internet but it has exploded to something that even I couldn’t possibly imagine.
“We are now doing well over 10 million dollars in business in a year and we employ 33 people and right now are on double shifts. We have two good crews, which is the key to building a successful business.”
Spear wanted to spread the credit for his business’ amazing growth.
“Anthony Ruocco is my COO (chief operating officer) and second in command. He has been with me for 12 years and is also co-owner of the 14 pro shops. John Congdon is my CIO (chief information officer) who also designed our web site and is vice president of new business development. Shawn Beach is our vice-president of new business development and Chris Quinn is our newly added customer service manager.
“And yes they are all very good bowlers.”
Keith Spear was known as a talented bowler back in the Pittsburgh area before a car accident resulted in him moving to Florida.
“I have been involved in bowling all my life and had my first 300 game and 800 set back in 1974. In those years, a 300 really meant something. I’ve had 47 perfect games in my career, including some since moving to Florida, but I honestly believe that no more than five or six were really, really, really earned. The others came on pretty easy lane conditions or I got a lot of breaks.”
Speaking of breaks, Spear got a good break when he got in the pro shop business after moving to Florida.
“I saw bowling as a sleeping giant in the early 1980s and felt its potential hadn’t been tapped. I was just trying to make a living when I moved to Broward County and got a job at Imperial Bowl.” Then he went to Don Carter Boca Raton Lanes and Altona Lanes.
“My first pro shop in this area was Deltona Bowl, which I opened in 1982. I still own the pro shop there. Later I moved to Volusia County.
“I got the right breaks because I was at the right place at the right time and was willing to work hard. I always had a love for mathematics and psychics and that has paid off in dissecting the dynamics of bowling balls.”
He believes that the United States Bowling Congress and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America are key components to bowling’s future growth in America.
But he believes that American manufacturers are the paramount ingredient in bowling’s growth world wide.
And with reason, America probably manufactures 90 percent of the bowling equipment used world wide, especially when it comes to high performance bowling balls needed to win lucrative pro or amateur bowling titles in more than 100 countries around the world.
“To me, the manufacturers are the backbone of the industry, they keep the business rolling. Bowlers want choices, they want one thing at the professional and elite amateur level to make money and win titles, but they want something else at the recreational level so they can hook the ball a lot and have a lot of fun.
“Either way, it is good for the pro shop owners, good for the manufacturers, good for the bowlers and good for the bowling industry.”
If you call in your order, the operator will answer “The Bowling Place.” If you spot ads in a bowling magazine it is called Viz-A-Ball."
I discovered the Viz-A-Ball headquarters was located in Volusia County via an ad Spear ran in Bowlers Journal International that asked bowlers to call 386/274-3100.
Being a relative of Sherlock Holmes, I figured out that the 386 area code meant Viz-A-Ball was a local business.
However, I had no idea how large a business it was and is and will be in the future.