The Next Generation

Where is the next generation of bowling center maintenance technicians going to come from? Until we can develop warp drive and travel to a few of the nearby star systems, the search will be limited to the third planet from the sun.

The maintenance of a bowling center requires skills beyond that of the stereotypical grease monkey that seems to pop into the minds of most people in the industry. A head tech needs much more than a basic knowledge of wrench turning and part swapping.

One of the first things a tech should learn is a basic knowledge of the rules of the game. Many parts of their job will be directly affected by these rules. Pinspotting, pit depth and cycle timing are just a few of the items a tech will be responsible for.

A strong mechanical aptitude is needed to become a successful head mechanic. While many people have this ability, transferring it to a bowling environment can be difficult. Adapting to changing needs within the bowling center requires an individual that can use their imagination at times.

He or she must have a talent for trouble-shooting, whether natural or acquired. This ability will help to set them apart from the previously mentioned mental representation of a bowling center mechanic.

A background in electronics, basic building maintenance, heating and air conditioning, lane maintenance and the management of inventory are also required to fulfil the desired traits of a true maintenance professional. Training in the art of interpersonal relationships is needed to allow them to interact with management, customers and the employees who will be working with them.

With all of these requirements, finding an individual to fill a head technician position can be difficult. Not many people walking down the street can come anywhere close to meeting all of the needs of a bowling center seeking a top level maintenance supervisor.

Where can you find a person to fill these huge shoes? Running an ad in the local newspaper rarely produces a qualified candidate. Internet employment websites are a better bet for receiving resumes from a prospective employee. Bowling specific web sites such as Bowltech.com, Facebook and Linkedin.com can produce very good results in your search.

Many of the large chain operations have training programs in place to allow them to promote from within. Pinchasers become “C” mechanics, next moving up to “B” mechanics. The jump to a head mechanic position is the next step in their chain of maintenance.

The training offered by the large corporate owned centers is very comprehensive and includes educational videos and manuals. Candidates are given written tests. After successfully completing a course of study, they move up to the next level of maintenance proficiency.

Depending on the individual, the time frame can be 5 years or longer to move up the corporate ladder. Head tech positions are not often available within the company. A qualified mechanic may be required to stay at “B” level for several years, awaiting an opportunity to show what they can do.

These highly trained “B” mechanics are sometimes unwilling to wait for a position to open within the company and often look to the open market for employment. An independently owned center can find a highly qualified tech that has waited too long for promotion and place him or her in their organization with little in-house training.

In centers without a corporate affiliation, the training of the maintenance staff can be hit and miss at times. Some have great programs in place and others have little more than a service manual and a parts book for teaching a prospective tech.

In many of the independently owned centers the head mechanic has been in place for several years. Some feel threatened by new employees and give them only small quantities of training to maintain a feeling of “job security”.

The best bet for most centers regardless of who they are owned by are the numerous classes and schools available to our industry. From 3-4 week schools on the pinsetters to one day seminars that specialize in major assemblies, these classes are worth their weight in gold.

Instruction in lane maintenance, automatic scoring and safety are offered by manufacturers on a regular basis. Even a seasoned veteran can glean a tip or two from these classes.

Kegel offers training on all of their lane maintenance equipment, along with oil pattern and lane surface maintenance. Kegel will be partnering with Classic Products (October 2019) to offer training on pinsetting equipment. Contact Classic Products for more details.

Any training might seem costly when accounting for the travel and lodging along with the tuition, but the knowledge given to the students can reap benefits to a center for many years.

As many head mechanics approach retirement age, there will be a lack of experienced help in the bowling industry. The only way to offset this loss will be to start the training of their replacements now.

It makes little difference how this will be accomplished. The next generation will be faced with both old and new problems that must be met head-on. Education is the most powerful tool in a bowling center mechanics’ toolbox.

What does “Non-Newtonian” really mean when it comes to bowling lane conditioners?

So, you know that non-Newtonian liquids are just like ketchup; you have to apply some force to make the liquid flow. But, what does “non-Newtonian” really mean?

You’ve likely heard of the English mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton. He is, after all, one of the most influential scientists of all time. He formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, laid the foundations of classical mechanics, and had a hand in developing calculus. He even did a lot of work in optics and built the first practical reflecting telescope!

Newton developed several scientific laws that described the relationship between forces, bodies, motion, and responses. You probably studied his three laws of motion in high school physics. You may have even studied Newton’s law of viscosity in school; though you may not have realized it!

Newton’s law of viscosity isn’t a fundamental law of nature (like the laws of motion or gravity). Rather, it is a relationship between two physical quantities; in this case, viscosity and force (called shear). When viscosity doesn’t change no matter how much force is applied; i.e. when viscosity is independent of shear; you have a Newtonian fluid. Most fluids are Newtonian and the most common one is water. Under normal conditions, the viscosity of water doesn’t change no matter how much force; or shear; is applied.

There are different kinds of non-Newtonian fluids; shear-thinning and shear-thickening are two of the more common kinds. The viscosity of these fluids will change depending on the amount of force that is applied. A shear-thinning fluid will experience a decrease in viscosity with more applied force while a shear-thickening fluid will experience an increase in viscosity with more applied force.

Ketchup is the perfect example of a non-Newtonian, shear-thinning fluid. You can turn the bottle upside down and wait for the ketchup to flow and it just never seems to happen. Give the bottle a couple of solid taps on the palm of your hand though, and the ketchup starts to ooze out of the bottle. The force applied to the bottle caused the viscosity of the ketchup to decrease (the ketchup became thinner) enough so that the ketchup would flow from the bottle. Once a force is no longer being applied; i.e. the ketchup is on the plate; the ketchup returns to its original viscosity and sits in a blob on the plate.

All that is cool, but how does this relate to lane conditioners?

Well, with a non-Newtonian conditioner, each bowler will see slight variations in ball motion. For example, a high-rev, high-speed player; here’s looking at you, cranker; will apply a lot of force to the conditioner. As such, the shear applied to the conditioner will cause the viscosity of the conditioner to decrease. This will allow the player to see a little more push; the ball will skid where it needs to skid. A low-rev, low-speed player; that’s all you strokers out there; will apply a lot less force to the conditioner. The shear applied to the conditioner won’t cause as much of a decrease in viscosity as the cranker saw. As such, the stroker will see a little more friction so the ball will read and pick-up where it needs to pick-up. In simpler terms, the stroker will see “good friction” while the cranker will see a little more slickness.

Of course, this is all on a very small scale. A 200 rev rate bowler might “see” the viscosity as 70 cps while a 500 rev rate bowler might “see” the viscosity as 65 cps. In the scheme of viscosity, 5 cps is very small. So, what the ball; and the bowler; see is very subtle. But, it’s just enough to help all bowlers find good ball reaction.

Learn more about Kegel’s non-Newtonian Lane Conditioner, Terrain.

The Mother of Invention

Every bowling center encounters Murphys’ Law. This means the worst possible breakdown will occur at the most inconvenient time. And to make the situation worse, you won't have the critical part needed in the back room. These are the scenarios that test even the most seasoned mechanic. A necessary part is not on hand, or a time-consuming crisis breakdown delays or postpones a league.

Lacking the needed part, most technicians will call a nearby center and ask to borrow it. But not all centers are on friendly terms. Distributors, if they have the item, may need several days to deliver it.

In the case of a simple to remove part, it can be transferred from an unused machine, but of course, this still leaves a machine unusable.  In some situations, the broken part can be taken to a local shop and repaired or duplicated. This can be very costly, but it could be less than the lost revenue from a broken down machine.

Many times, imagination will outshine the above mentioned solutions. Pinsetter technicians can and do rebuild, redesign, and reconfigure parts when the need arises. Some of these ideas are out of crisis and others come from nuisance problems.

No materials are out of consideration when trying to construct a required part in an emergency situation. Scrap iron, lumber and various types of rubberized parts find their way into the machines. Some work quite well, often performing as well as or better than the original manufactures’ parts. I have seen pool cues, garden hoses, shop rags and hose clamps used on pinsetters to get a machine through a league session. I am certain there are even stranger things that have been employed in an emergency.

Nearly all mechanics will remove these "emergency engineered" items when the correct part arrives. They'll keep their new found repair item on the shelf, awaiting the possibility of another need for it. While many great ideas are born from springs and duct tape when haste was a priority, these "quick fixes" should be removed as the correct parts arrive.

Scores of these emergency repairs fail miserably. Others are extremely simple, leaving one wondering why the machine was originally designed in such a complex manner.                                                                                   

Of course, most capital equipment suppliers do not recommend modifying their machines. Doing so can void warranties and in some cases circumvent safety features. The safety features of your machines are there for your best interests and should not be tampered with.

Some purists might say that the need for a quick fix is unfounded. If the mechanic is doing his job correctly, breakdowns will never occur. While this is a somewhat true statement, as with most things in life, there are always going to be unseen circumstances.

Imagination is not just limited to parts. Many times a tool that is pinsetter specific is unavailable or just has not yet been invented. Hands on experience with the machine will give insight to allow a fertile mind to explore the possibilities of tool design. A majority of mechanics will agree that there are times when a third and fourth hand would be of great assistance. Science has yet to genetically alter us to that specification. However, many mechanics have constructed tools to allow them to perform duties that once required another person.

There are numerous mechanic designed tools on the market. Most are constructed to save time, money and knuckles. Several allow for safe removal and replacement of items that can be very dangerous if not done with the correct tool.

Several of the pin and ball cleaning cloths being used today were once a bowling towel that was held to a piece of frame work with a clothespin. Most have been refined into the current configurations we see in the supply catalogs. Yet the humble bowling towel is still the material of choice for many mechanics in the effort to keep balls and pins clean during an unusual situation.

Most manufacturers have a very open mind to the ideas that are born on the "battlefield." A lot of mechanics have received monetary compensation for ideas that have been turned into sellable products.

The imagination of the maintenance staff can reach mind boggling heights, designing everything from the above mentioned parts and tools to building electrical devices to replace often outdated and or obsolete parts.

It's easy to be prepared for the "expected" things. It's the things that come out of the blue that will test your patience. Use your imagination to find a solution.  With a little quick thinking and imagination, you can be up and running again. I guess Mr. Murphy never ran into a bowling mechanic with a roll of duct tape and some electrical wire ties.

New Product Lifecycle

Have you ever wondered about the process of creating a new conditioner? How do we test? What do we look for when we’re testing? How do we choose test centers? How does field testing work? If you’ve ever wondered about the research and development process, or if you’ve ever thought you might like to be a test center for a new product, keep reading.

Creating a new conditioner is a lot like baking a cake without a recipe; you know how you want the cake to look and taste and you know you’ll need some flour and sugar. But, you don’t have an actual recipe so you have to figure out the rest of the necessary ingredients in order to get to the desired result. 

Creating a lane conditioner can follow that same concept. In general, mineral oil is the “base” so we’ll likely use some combination of mineral oils to start. After that, we experiment with different combinations of chemicals to try to achieve the results we want to see. Since we’ve been in the lane conditioner business for quite some time, we have a solid foundation of knowledge of many raw materials. We know that some materials will give us more “slickness” while other materials may help the conditioner be “hookier”. We constantly search for new technologies to help us create the best lane conditioner we can.

Once we have a formula, we start testing. For lane testing, we generally use a house pattern and we’ll use the same house pattern throughout testing so that we have an equal comparison when we make formula adjustments. We are fortunate to not only have our Batch Test bowlers, but some extremely talented bowlers throughout our building. So, we take full advantage and use them when we’re testing a new product. We try to use a variety of bowlers so that we can see how the conditioner performs for bowlers of different styles. And, as much as possible, we try to use the same set of bowlers throughout a product test. While they’re bowling, we’ll track scoring, bowler moves, and we’ll make notes on things like ball reaction, residue on the bowling balls, and carry down.

In the lab, we’ll test physical properties like viscosity, density, and surface tension. These properties give us some general characteristics about the conditioner like how it might flow on a lane. We also do temperature stability testing. We’ll put samples through freeze/thaw cycles to see if the conditioner is impacted by cold and we’ll do heat ramp studies to see if the heat negatively impacts the conditioner. We even do chemical compatibility studies. Belts and other materials from pinsetters, tubing and other parts from lane machines, and other materials that could contact the conditioner are cut into pieces and soaked in the conditioner as well as in some of the raw materials. We measure the parts before we soak them and then measure them again after one month. This helps us determine if the chemicals will create any issues with the parts.

The next phase of testing for a conditioner is field testing. Initially, we’ll test in one or two centers to make sure the product will perform well. We work with the centers to understand what they see from the conditioner using their normal pattern and maintenance routines. They provide feedback and we work together with them to make pattern adjustments, machine adjustments, and such to try to improve the performance. We track all of these changes and use the information to determine if we need to make adjustments to the product. If we make adjustments, we continue testing until we get to the point where we feel confident that we’ve created a viable product.

Next, we continue adding centers to our field test. Ultimately, we like to have at least 15 centers test a product for several months. We try to cover as many different variables as possible by using centers all over the country. By testing on different lane surfaces, pinsetters, ball returns, and so forth, we can determine if the conditioner will be a good fit for different combinations and in different environments.

While the product is in field testing, we continue collecting data in lab testing. We send samples to partner labs for analytical testing like flash point and fire point testing. These tests allow us to determine proper packaging and shipping requirements. We also submit a sample to USBC for approval. In order to gain USBC approval, a lane conditioner must meet the required specifications for viscosity and UV content.

As we continue with field testing, we keep notes on pattern adjustments made by each center. This helps us learn what works; and, more importantly, what doesn’t; with patterns on different surfaces. We use this information once a product is released to the market so that we can give our customers educated adjustments for their patterns when they switch. What that means is you can switch with a little less trial and error and a few less irate bowlers.
Just before we release a product to market, we build all of our marketing and sales materials. We use information we gathered from our field testers and data we collected during our various phases of testing. We conduct in-house training for our Techs, Customer Service, and Sales staff. And, we start making batches in preparation for sample kits. Our goal is to release the conditioner to the market in the summer so that your center has time to try it and fine tune your pattern before your fall leagues start again.

Now, all this may sound glamorous, but many of our test centers would likely tell you that testing isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. It can get ugly and you certainly have to be willing to make your bowlers angry. When we send a center a new product, we request that the center try the product without making any changes to their normal procedures and pattern. So, if a center had been using a conditioner that was characteristically hookier, and we asked them to use a conditioner that is slicker, the bowlers would see something different than what they’re used to seeing. And, if scores go down, it could make for some pretty angry customers. Test centers can’t be reactive to that though. We need centers who can give us quality feedback and that are willing to make the adjustments we suggest based on their feedback. We need centers that will work with us as we work through issues and try to improve the situation. It can take some time to fine tune the adjustments and we need centers that are not going to throw in the towel while we work through the chaos. The rainbows and butterflies come when we get the right adjustments and scores go up and bowlers comment about not moving as much during a league session. Being a test center can be as frustrating as it can be rewarding. 

We do our best to create products that solve a problem or fill a need in the industry. The process takes a lot of time and it involves a lot of people. If we didn’t have customers to give us valuable feedback and we didn’t have test centers we could trust to help us during the development process, we wouldn’t be able to create solid products. We count on our customers to tell us what they think and even what they need as we continue to create products to improve the bowling experience.

If you’ve made it this far and still think being a Kegel test center sounds pretty darn awesome, you can reach out to our Kegel team to see if you qualify. You can also fill out our Test Center Information Form so we can gather all of your center specifics. 

You just push the button...right?

As I sit in the back of another bowling center, maintaining lanes for another tournament, I have been thinking about that famous line above, partially because I have already heard it at least once today.  There are so many stories…some funny, not so funny, and some downright scary if you were in my shoes.  I thought a glimpse of what we do behind the scenes could be an eye opener for many.  Making things run smooth through chaos can be our biggest attribute sometimes.

The tournament I am currently at is a great example of the time put in outside of actually running lanes.  Starting with a flight across the Atlantic and getting off the plane as first light breaks in Europe, which can be OK for those that can sleep on planes.  My mind before an event however, runs 100 MPH, so that never happens.  Explaining the Lane Mapper to the agent withholding it in luggage was easy THIS trip…first hurdle.

After arriving at the bowling center and plugging in my batteries for the mapper, I realize the charger isn’t working.  The adapter that I brought is not converting voltage properly, so a quick google search of local hardware stores and off I go, many Euro’s later, we are in business.  I finished mapping half the house around 4pm local time, just in time to head back to the hotel to find there was a new windows update pushed out that wouldn’t allow the PDA from the mapper to connect to the computer.  Hacking windows registries until almost midnight and that problem is solved.  The bowlers will be happy; they can have their lane map, barring nothing else tries to get in my way.

Arriving the following morning, or same morning if you like semantics, the mapping is finished.  Setup the machines, run all the tests and calibrations, study the maps, pick a pattern.  Out by 5:00pm, it’s a good day!!!!

Once the tournament starts, it’s the normal day to day obstacles, bowlers take more time than anticipated and we run two machines and catch things up so squads start on time.  In 11 days I will be back in the US to start all over again.  No rest for the weary.

Thinking of previous events as well, it’s normally not the machines that we deal with when we have problems.  I remember going to a major event and doing a test clean on the first set of lanes for testing.  I honestly thought something was wrong with my machine.  I ran the second machine I had with me and saw the lanes had the same look as the first I did a strip only on. 

At first I thought the lanes had a delamination problem, but upon further inspection, there was a film on the lanes from 10-10 that I couldn’t pull up.  I scratched it with my finger nail and was able to remove it, but the lane machine would not.  Running down the list of things to do. I tried straight cleaner with a rag by hand, that didn’t work.  IPA with a rag by hand, two strikes.  I don’t like to strike out, so it was time to call the chemical engineer back at the office!

After a few pictures, and a lengthy conversation, she asks me to grab some vinegar from the snack bar.  We let it sit on the lane for a few minutes and to my surprise, the film came right off.  This means I needed a mild acid based cleaner to clean the lanes and remove the film.  Not wanting to hurt the lane bed itself, we found a cleaner that would work from a local hardware store with a little more “potency”, and another problem is solved for the day.  Granted I returned to the hotel smelling like a fresh pickle from using the vinegar as a test, but the bowlers would be happy at the end of the day so it was worth the trouble.

During the PWBA tour, I was at an event with one of the most attentive staff I had worked with in quite some time, which saved me from a disaster believe it or not.  We had been charging the machines on the far side of the building for testing, and the first day of open practice.  No issues all week and it was smooth sailing.  I walk into the center after going to get breakfast and one of the staff pulls me aside and says they had moved some things around for my machines. 

Apparently, they had some electrical work done earlier in the year for a renovation, and the water heater on the OTHER side of the building was tied to the outlet I had plugged my machines into.  They never knew it, nor did I, and it hadn’t been an issue until the center was full of people going to the bathroom and washing their hands making the water heater turn on and ultimately tripping the breaker I had my machines plugged into.  They happen to notice that the lights on my charger had gone out and started to investigate on their own.  I guess their attentiveness was good on three fronts.  They know what the water heater is linked to, people had hot water to wash their hands, and my machines got charged and didn’t die 4 lanes before I finished in the middle of a tournament.  Kudos to them for saving me on that one.

What came out that example was a lesson learned, and I now carry a tester for loads and outlets that I use when I go to bowling centers.  I had to laugh out loud as I typed that last line.  A little known fact is a lot of the upgrades or changes that happen to machines come from the fact that we experience things in the field and want to make them better for the end user.  Automatic shut offs after a certain period of time on battery operated machines, suction cups on drip pads, redesigns of certain parts, and numerous software changes based on scenarios we encounter just to name a few.

Lastly, as most know, Kegel provides lane maintenance for a multitude of tournaments, but JR Gold is the most brutal workout a lane technician can go through.  No problems have occurred at this event over the years that are worth writing about, but just to give you an idea of the schedule we maintain; seven days of up at 3:30am, pushing the button by 4:30am, and staying at the bowl until 8:30pm through multiple re-oils.  We provided 4 of the 8 lane technicians, 16 brand new machines, did almost 14,000 lanes, and we also provided and went through over 50 cases of oil and cleaner.  This is equivalent to what a 40 lane bowling center does in 1 year in a week!!!  Not to mention the 200+ lane tapes that were read over the course of the week. 

Even through all of this, we answer questions for customers that may be at the centers with their children, do our paperwork and answer emails between squads; it is truly non-stop for a solid week.  We would not however, have it any other way. 

I can only hope that this small glimpse of what one lane technician has experienced over the years, will allow you to appreciate what we do.  When my career is over, I could probably write a tell-all book that wouldn’t sell more than 10 copies but would be 200 pages long and one heck of a funny read for anyone in the business. 

It all leads to one bottom line, we take pride in what we do, the builders in manufacturing take pride in what they do, and at the end of the day we all try to make things look seamless. Hearing the statement “you just push the button” is actually a compliment.  If you walk into the bowling center and see me wrapping up lanes for a tournament and you can say, “You have it made, all you have to do is push a button”, then I have done my job well.

Have you hugged your mechanic today?

A recent topic on a bowling technician website caught my attention. It was posted by a proprietor wanting to know why he could not find a mechanic for his center. Bowltech.com is visited by some of the best techs from around the world as well as several manufacturers. The gentleman had been trying to hire a mechanic for the past three years with hardly a nibble.

After posting his compensation package, he was still in a quandary as to why good mechanics are so hard to find. Several members of the bulletin board responded that many topnotch techs were lured or forced to seek maintenance positions outside the bowling industry. Others were very happy staying where they were, having growing families and roots in the area. A few even felt that they had been driven out of the bowling industry by management that treated them as "second class citizens".                        

Money is a consideration - a good tech can be worth $20-30 per hour - and many are doing the job with little or no benefits. To many techs, the work environment is also an important consideration. A number of techs I talked to said that they felt as though they were being isolated from the rest of the employees.

Having spent over 25 years as a mechanic, I am sympathetic with both the proprietor and the maintenance people. Hiring a head maintenance technician can be one of the toughest things an owner has to do. Starting a new position can also be stressful for a head mechanic. Hopefully, with the suggestions that follow, everyone's life can be a little easier.

What to look for and where to look

Working on bowling equipment is a highly specialized occupation and is probably the least respected as far as the industry goes as a whole. It has evolved to the point where the tech is expected to not only work on the pinsetting equipment, its peripherals, and maintain high scoring lanes, but also must be a computer whiz, a plumber, carpenter, an electrician, an appliance repairman, and an inventory specialist. In some centers he must drill bowling balls and in the same day, help in the snack bar.

The head mechanic is on call anytime the center is open (most are open about 18 hours a day) and is expected to come in and do repairs on weekends and evenings. Many work for long weeks during state and national tournaments without a day off. He is in charge of his night and weekend employees and therefor needs to have some "people skills." These skills are applied when dealing with customers as well. Meetings regarding employee relations should include your head technician

When searching out a candidate for your position, you should decide how much experience is desired. Longevity in the bowling industry can be a sign capability. Seasoned veterans are going to be rarer to find and will also be harder to woo away from their current locations.

Many of the large chain operations promote from within their own companies, moving techs through their training programs towards the goal of placing them in company centers. Some of these younger mechanics have great attitudes and are more likely to be open to the idea of relocation. The hunt for a new key employee should start with ads placed in the trade magazines and the numerous job related websites.

After reviewing the current crop of ads, I noticed most ads for managers were well written. These ads used colorful words and conveyed a feeling of excitement. Most ads for mechanics seemed dull, with little more than a stark description of the position. The use of descriptive language with a more detailed explanation of the position being offered can make your ad stand out. Word of mouth can also bring you results.

Contact bowling suppliers in your area. These distribution centers have contact with mechanics from around the country, and can get the word out to bowling world about your vacancy. Also, do not discount technicians from outside the United States. Some outstanding mechanics live overseas and might be willing to make a big location change. Be sure to include your e-mail address in your ad. This will make responding much easier for those who are not in your immediate area.

Once you begin to receive responses to an ad, take the time to check references. A well written resume with job history is an important tool in determining the viability of the prospective employee. Skills that are listed on the resume can also give you an idea of what you can expect out of an individual.

If a desired attribute is missing, you must determine if the individual is worthy of the cost of additional training. Many colleges offer night and weekend classes in fields that can be helpful to the bowling center. These classes can add to the value of the mechanic and in the long run, save a center a substantial amount of money. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning classes and clinics are offered by some manufacturers. Welding and electronic classes are available at most Vo-Tech schools.

In some specialized centers, such as military and casino operations; the mechanic has the luxury of a staff of other professionals who will take care of the various areas of the building. This leaves him with the bowling operation to maintain. Even in these centers, the head mechanic should have a rudimentary knowledge of facility maintenance on his resume.

What to offer

A good package of benefits can assist in bringing a quality employee into your organization. Health insurance, profit sharing and retirement can carry a lot of weight when looking for an important addition to the bowling center team. A compensation package that includes assistance with relocation costs is a big plus. Moving a new employee and family across the country is an expensive proposition. Hourly versus salary is something that should be discussed. This issue can be extremely sensitive and should not have any "gray areas" regarding overtime or extra compensation for extra work accomplished.

Contacting other centers and non-bowling facilities can give you valuable insight regarding pay and benefits. Check with hospitals, bakeries and manufacturing facilities near you. The engineering departments of these businesses can give insight into what kind of competition you might face in the event of a mechanic leaving your center. Review all of the jobs that will be required of your head maintenance tech, and compensate him accordingly.

Money, however is not everything. Having the tools he needs is another benefit that can bring a good mechanic into the center. A good set of hand tools along with the necessary electric or air equipment can make many repairs easier. In this quickly changing world, some high tech tools are becoming necessary.

Access to a computer and a cell phone is very important. Many technical drawing and wiring diagrams can be emailed directly to a mechanic. Most manufacturers now have websites with support for their products. Bowltech.com and Facebook mechanic pages have a wealth of information for both the beginner and the most experienced mechanic.

Another important tool is continuing education. Most manufacturers offers clinics and seminars year round. A well informed maintenance staff is critical to a center's success.

The ability to manage the budget for the department is another thing many techs feel that they should have control of. When a part or supplies are needed, he should be able to place an order without having to jump through flaming hoops. Many mechanics have abused this freedom and have forced management to take hard stands on spending. Still, an arrangement should be possible without compromising the maintenance of the equipment or the building.

Most long time mechanics share one thing in common...a love for what they do. Not much compares to the feeling of accomplishment they get when they hear the gentle hum of "their" equipment. The head of maintenance in many cases in responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. The livelihoods of all the employees in the center are directly tied to his ability. The enjoyment and comfort of your customers depend on this "Rodney Dangerfield" of the bowling industry. View him as an important member of management. Provide a set of work uniforms, include him in decisions and give him "some respect."

Finding the right person might take some time, but the search can bring you a true professional, someone who is ready and willing to contribute to the success of your center.

In the Good Old Summertime

As the warmth of spring starts to creep into our thoughts, summer projects come to mind. While they are necessary to keep our machines and lanes maintained in top-notch manner, other priorities need to be addressed for the summer.

The spring months are the perfect time to evaluate any educational opportunities that will arise in the summer. Ongoing training for your staff should be scheduled at this time. Check with bowling distributors in your area. They will have information regarding seminars on lane maintenance and pinsetter maintenance. Ball drilling clinics are often conducted by manufacturers in conjunction with their distribution network.

The slower months of May, June, and July are the perfect time to schedule a training session with Kegel. We offer training on all of our lane maintenance equipment along with classes on lane care. Training sessions on lane machines and lane maintenance can fill quickly and must be reserved in advance. The information from these classes can lead to cleaner, more consistent lane conditions for your bowlers. Maintenance issues can be addressed by the experts and solutions gleaned from their knowledge.

Our state of the art, newly remodeled training center offers coaching from world class instructors using the latest techniques and high tech equipment such as Specto and the Torch.

The major equipment suppliers will hold schools for their specific machinery year round, but the summer sessions are the most popular. Make reservations early for these classes. Sending your mechanic or even a pin chaser to school can pay huge benefits. The knowledge acquired can be put to use immediately at your center.

Bowl Expo is held every year and contains some of the most advanced training available in our industry. From marketing, to maintenance, to new products and services, this is the one event to put on your "must do" list. Send as many of your staff as possible to the classes and seminars.

Over the years, some of the most useful information I have ever learned came from Bowl-expo. And not all of it was from a classroom! The interaction between managers and their peers can lead to impromptu round table discussions that can solve the bowling centers’ worse problems. It is great to know that you are not the only person with a dilemma and others may have already solved it and are willing to share their solution.

The same goes for your mechanic. The center mechanic can gain a tremendous amount of knowledge during a day long clinic, then retire to the lounge and learn even more over a couple of beverages with his cronies. This kind of communication is important; it gives him an insight to the procedures of maintenance personnel from around the country.

Attending the trade show, you can start to build a rapport with a distributor that was just a faceless voice on the other end of the telephone. Take the time to shake hands and say "Hello" to the face that takes the orders that keep your center supplied.

Some participants in the trade show offer discounts for orders placed at the show or within a short time-frame after the show closes. Take advantage of these reduced prices and other specials. They can save you some big bucks! .

The summer can be a great time to start team building. Start a softball team, host a picnic or barbeque. You and your employees just spent 8-9 months indoors and could use some fun outside of a bowling environment.

Reserve a tee time at the local links and have a fun type golf tournament. Have quirky prizes and events. Many times these events can be traded with the golf course staff for a bowling party.

An event like this can be a great way to ensure that the employees that might be laid-off during the summer will be willing to return in September. Your part-time help is often overlooked, and should be included in whatever "end of the season" bash you decided to hold.

The education and well being of your staff should be one of your top concerns. By showing them that you do appreciate their hard work, you will create a loyalty that won't soon fade. Give your employees the schooling they need to do a better job, and both you and they will have an easier time when the leaves start to turn yellow and the snow begins to fly.

Tick Tock Tech Support

“Hello, thank you for calling the technical support line of (Insert company name here). If you have reached this recording, it means you are calling outside of our regular business hours or all of our support staff are helping other customers. At the tone, please leave your name, company name, phone number including area code, your account number; service tag number; make and model of your product, a brief description of your problem, and a member of our support staff will return your call as soon as possible…”

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard something like this recording, I might be able to buy a private island and retire. Not much is more frustrating than having a major problem with a piece of equipment and reaching a recording.

At Kegel however, we do our best to get you to a person by providing emergency tech support 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. With a response time of 30 minutes or less, you can be certain you will have help with your lane maintenance needs.

No matter how old a customer's machine is or what their problem might be, Kegel Tech Support is free for our customers, and we don’t plan on making changes to this policy any time soon. But to ensure we can support you in the most accurate and timely manner, there are some things we may need to ask you.

 The information we will ask at the beginning of a tech call are:

  1. Confirmation of the center’s physical address along with updated points of contact, phone numbers, and e-mails.
  2. Lane machine information: type of lane machine, serial number (can be found on the bottom plate), and the version of the PLC thoughtware. This information can let us know what pattern or upgrade possibilities are available for any specific lane machine.
  3. Lane information: wood or synthetics, and if synthetics, what type, plus the age of your lane surface.
  4. Lane chemicals and supplies currently being used: lane conditioner, cleaner, and cleaning cloth.

If you can have this information available before you call tech support, it will help expedite your call, fix your problem quicker, and we greatly appreciate it.

Apart from lane machine tech calls, we get a lot of calls for oil pattern assistance, but telling us that your lanes are “squirrely” or “spotty” doesn’t tell us much – we need specifics in order to help you the best way possible.

For instance:

  1. Do the backends seem to play tight or is there too much backend?
  2. Is there not enough hold area or not enough swing area?
  3. Is the pattern not holding up long enough, and if so, where are the lanes breaking down the quickest? For example; specifically from boards 8-12 from 25-35 feet.

Once you know that information and you call us, make sure you have the following:

  1. What are the pattern numbers in the lane machine? Do you have a KOSI program sheet of your pattern you can quickly e-mail?
  2. What kind of lane surface do you have?  If synthetic, what brand, how old, and are the on top of old wood lanes or not?  If wood, when was the last cut and re-coat?
  3. What kind of oil transfer system is in your lane machine – transfer roller, wiper bar, dual transfer brush, or the newest Duo System? Each oil transfer system has its own unique characteristic and oil patterns must be built to complement the system.
  4. If not shown on the program sheet, what is the oil pump set at – 40, 45, or 50 mics?
  5. How many games per lane are you trying to get out of the pattern?  Fifteen games per lane (one shift of league play) or more than that?
  6. What kind of oil and cleaner, and what is the dilution ratio of the cleaner?

From this point, the Kegel tech can begin to tweak your oil pattern, or figure out what else might be causing your problems.

what if you have to call another company for support?

While many of the following tips for tech support do not apply to Kegel, they do give advice for tech support calls to companies who might not have a fully staffed tech department on hand.

When we call for support, we want to talk to a real person with an answer to our question, and we want the solution now! Most of the time when we call tech support it’s a crisis breakdown and it must be taken care of post-haste.

So we make our panic-stricken call, and we fall into a mindset that we are the only customer on the planet. We want to get our problem fixed and we want the solution as quickly as possible - we do not want to "leave a message” for the next available tech.

Unknown to us, there may be numerous messages ahead of our own. In our mind we feel that after a couple of minutes, we should be hearing from the support desk. In the real world however, it could take several minutes to receive a call back.

The people working the phones often are helping more than one customer at any one time. They may be trying to walk people through procedures who have no expertise with the equipment - this can be very time consuming.

The number of staffers working the phones can also vary, which can contribute to long wait times for support and call backs. No one can predict the number of calls a tech support desk will get during the course of a day and they are sometimes caught shorthanded.

Another cause for a delay in returning your call might be the fact that you did not give enough information while recording your message - so have all your information ready when you call. Make, model number, part number, and serial numbers are going to be needed. If the tech has to spend time researching what equipment you have, it will add to the time it takes to get your equipment repaired.

Giving a detailed description of the problem and what you have already attempted will help the tech. They can then start the troubleshooting procedure prior to calling you back. This can help you get operational faster.

Patience is needed when waiting for a call back from the support desk. While waiting, try to troubleshoot the problem yourself. Sometimes a solution to the problem becomes apparent after a few minutes away from the afflicted equipment.

When you finally receive that call back from the support desk, take notes! Do not rely on your memory to be able to recall a long sequence of troubleshooting procedures. Note whom you are speaking with and all reference numbers that are given to you.

With this information, you can make return calls to the same person who worked with you earlier. The reference number will allow them to access a case file on your problem, thereby speeding up any potential solutions.

Support techs may sometimes hand you off to a more experienced employee in order to provide you with an answer quickly. These veterans often have years of education in the real world, but are in high demand. It may take extra time to get a response from one of these top level support staffers.

The people manning the support desk are often trying to assist customers who have no experience doing repairs. Do not feel offended if they walk you through some very basic steps while on the phone. They have no way of knowing your level of expertise.

When a problem has been solved, be certain to write down what was done and why. This way if the problem arises again, you have the troubleshooting procedure and any calls to the support desk will be shortened considerably.

After a solution has been implemented, a call to the tech desk is a nice gesture. It will let the company know that you are up and running. If a tech was especially helpful, let a supervisor know. Techs rarely receive a pat on the back.

The next time you call a company’s support desk, try the above-mentioned suggestions. Have patience, speak clearly, speak slowly, and if you are forwarded to a recorded message, don’t run from the phone screaming something about “If I had a dollar for every time I have heard…”