The Tenpin experience: striking a 10/10 strategy

The Tenpin experience: striking a 10/10 strategy

The ultimate activities centre for families and friends is a one-stop-shop for growth.

The bowling alley was once viewed as a cold environment. We’ve created a warm, leisurely place where people feel welcome, want to stay, and enjoy refreshments with a range of activities for the whole family.

Graham Blackwell

CEO, Tenpin


With 54 locations across the UK, Tenpin is one of the most familiar bowling brands , offering everything from bowling, laser tag and arcades to escape rooms and soft play – all with an on-site food and drinks service.

The business is a million miles away from how many of us will remember bowling allies from our youth. “In the 1980s, for example, bowling allies were a relatively cold and regimented environment”, says CEO Graham Blackwell.

“The friendly and welcoming bowling centres of today couldn’t look more different, aside from having lanes, pins and bowling balls. We wanted to create a family environment. If I could turn all of our units into a home away from home, that would be amazing.”

How have Tenpin achieved their goals and ambitions?

Catering to different audiences

Achieving that family focus has required a major rejig of the traditional approach. Historically, for example, league bowlers tended to bowl at peak times – so it was necessary to open the door to a more family-friendly business model. “We moved leagues to other nights of the week that were less busy, opening up time slots for families,” explains Graham.

This also helped address the challenge of ‘everyday customers’ being put off or intimidated by the presence of league players while they were just trying to have some fun. By 2010, the atmosphere of the lanes had completely changed - bowling centres were now somewhere people wanted to go when they went out with family and friends across all generations.

“We also started looking at lighting and sound systems to create more ambience that would encourage people to stay for longer,” continues Graham. Introducing packages that included refreshments with an activity also increased dwell time. Currently, 50% of Tenpin’s food sales are attached to bowling.

Tenpin also looked at product offering by location in order to maximise spending and better tailor the experience to customers. “In Cornwall, we sell cider; in Scotland, we sell Irn-Bru. We’ve listened to what customers want,” he explains.

The nature of Tenpin’s inclusive and immersive model means it can redecorate its centres to fit customers’ evolving tastes, too. “Our experience has shown us that when trends shift, we don’t need to rebuild the walls, we simply need to repurpose the space we’ve created.”

Navigating through changing customer requirements

In 2020, Tenpin closed its doors during lockdown and, amid an uncertain future, the team used the time to invest further in its products and people. The team renegotiated tenancies with landlords and negotiated electricity tariffs to save money, allowing them to focus on other areas of the business such as market research, data analytics and digital marketing improvements. Preventing employee redundancy was also paramount: “no one was let go,” explains Graham.

Tenpin also invested by refurbishing and even opening a brand-new site at Printworks in Manchester. Sites also implemented Covid-safety precautions to make sure customers felt safe, including guarding between lanes and cleansing stations.

More recently Tenpin also launched incentives for their staff to boost the quality of service and retain their team members, including discounts, a new uniform and bonuses.

All these efforts proved successful. “What we didn’t see coming was that, because we had listened, customers were happy to come back.” Even with 50% less lane capacity, Tenpin generated as much revenue as before, while like-for-like sales growth was over 50% better than in 2019.

Tenpin has also adapted to changing customer profiles. Commuting in and out of cities every day is no longer commonplace, with many people working remotely or hybrid. “We tapped into these consumers who gained back hours of travel time and who, after working in their home office all day, wanted to get out and have some fun,” says Graham. While competitors increased prices to offset the cost pressure from people eating and drinking at home more, Tenpin resisted and instead focused on generating profits from its wide-ranging activities.

Tenpin has also started to unlock insights: before the pandemic 70% of customers were walk-ins whereas now 70% pre-book online. “That helped us with ordering stock, predicting footfall and targeting customers – by capturing and using data through our new CRM,” explains Graham.

Research from our insights, ‘All to play for: winning with experience’ suggests that there’s been a 67% increase in customers celebrating special occasions, which resonates with Graham, who explains: “Birthday parties are popular at Tenpin because we know the importance of making these special and our range of activities offers a crossover for different demographics.”

Adapting to keep pace within the industry

Tenpin has also responded to competition pressures both digitally and on site, by building a new website to drive promotions and introducing table-top ordering, more comfortable seating and straightforward menus to improve the on-site experience further.

These improvements also helped Tenpin’s yield. “Games completed quicker thanks to less waiting and queueing time, which increased our turnover time,” says Graham.

In response to customers’ cost-of-living challenges, Tenpin provides fixed deals – 25% to 50% off on promotional nights – to maximise loyalty. “People want affordable entertainment, and we strive to provide an escape from the world that doesn’t break the bank,” continues Graham.

Like many businesses, ESG is a focus for Tenpin, all be it a work in progress.

“Most sites are leased, so we work with landlords where possible to make exterior changes, our electricity is 100% renewable and we’re working towards carbon-neutral food menus and LED lighting on refurbishments, some milestones have been achieved or are within reach.” says Graham.

Working with Barclays

Having worked with other banking partners in the past, we at Tenpin think Barclays offers the best relationship, support and solutions to help meet our business goals.

Graham Blackwell

CEO, Tenpin

Tenpin found that Barclays was aligned to its strategy, came to the table with the right ideas and recognised the business’ opportunities. “Barclays was instantly excited about and interested in our business. They understood us, which felt refreshing, and therefore felt like the right fit.”

All payments processed through PDQ machines, website and call centres all go through Barclays. “We’ve become more efficient using one bank and one point of contact, and so reduced our costs.”


Corporate Banking Solutions

We provide a complete spectrum of solutions to enable your business to transact and trade easily, manage risks efficiently and finance its plans for growth.

Contact us

Get in touch

To discuss your business requirements and how Barclays can support you, contact us today.

Your next steps

The Tenpin experience: striking a 10/10 strategy

All to play for: winning with experience

Confidence is high across the UK Hospitality and Leisure sector as businesses continue to evolve their offering to consumers.

Hospitality and Leisure
Industry expertise

Hospitality and Leisure

Behind every door is a different opportunity. Explore fresh perspectives and insights. 


UK Consumer Spending Report

Read the UK Consumer Spending Report to view customer transaction data which can help to inform your strategy.