Six weeks ago, Bob Baker had never owned his own business.
Today, he co-owns five of them with his wife, Julie Ann, and they're all under the roof of the former Payson Bowl now known as Rim Country Lanes.
"As far as a business opportunity, this is a really exciting thing," Baker said. "You've got so many facets: the lanes, the bar, the pro shop, the arcade and the snack bar. It all adds up to a fun challenge, and it looked like something that would work. So I went for it."
But the Bakers, who are now trying to move their family from Chandler to Payson, didn't go for the opportunity due to any great passion for knocking down wooden pins with 16-pound balls. "We're just casual bowlers; we've taken the kids a few times and that's about it," Baker said. "It really wasn't bowling that brought us here. It was the business opportunity."
And it was an opportunity they took very seriously. Before making the final decision to take over the facility Aug. 3, they hired a business consultant out of Washington state, considered the Rim country's demographics, and drew up an extensive, three-phase business plan.
"The services will remain largely the same," Baker said. "But the first phase of our plan is general clean up and getting the equipment to work reliably."
In the past, he said, the primary complaints of patrons have been that the facility, built in 1983, "has always been dirty, the equipment doesn't always work, and when it breaks down there has been no one up here who could fix it right away. So the first thing we did was to hire a mechanic. It may take a little while, but we're making pretty good progress."
Phase two of the Bakers' plan is equipment purchases (new house balls, new shoes) and a refurbishing of the lanes.
"Everything behind the foul line is called the 'approach area,' and the first 16 feet of the lane is called the header," Baker said. "We are going to replace the approaches and the headers. We don't have an exact install date yet, but we're looking at mid-October. That will take care of a lot of the wear and tear you see right now."
The greatest concern of experienced and league bowlers, Baker said, is having a consistent oil pattern on the lanes.
"The most important factor there is your lane machine, which cleans the lane, strips off the old oil, and applies the new oil. In the past, there were two separate machines doing those jobs; we're buying a new machine that does both jobs, much faster, in a single sweep."
During phase three, the Bakers will focus on general house improvements such as painting, putting in new carpets, and renovating the bathrooms.
"We also want to close off the recreation room, which is now used as the entrance to the bar. We'll need to do that in order to initiate our youth programs, like birthday parties and youth league gatherings."
The snack bar already has a new, complete menu that includes breakfast (sample item: bacon, eggs and toast for $2), daily specials (hot turkey sandwich, potatoes, gravy and vegetable for $5), hamburgers ($3) and sandwiches (roast beef, $3.50).
Over time, there will be other changes in all corners of the building. Cosmic bowling, wherein glow-in-the-dark balls are pitched at glow-in-the-dark pins under black lights, will be offered. "We already have a lot of the equipment for that," Baker said.
The bar will feature karaoke nights and dart tournaments.
The arcade room will be moved in order to make room for a new computer gaming center, where groups of people can log on to computers, go to their favorite online gaming sites, and compete against each other while sitting in the same room.
Of course, with improvements one can expect an increase in prices. About two weeks ago, bowling fees were raised from $2 to $2.50 for adults; $1.75 to $2.00 for children under 12; and $1.25 to $1.50 for shoe rentals. "It's still cheaper than you'll find anywhere in the Valley," he said. "And I'm hoping that we'll be giving it back to the community."
That is Baker's ultimate goal: to target all of the Rim country's market segments.
"There's a large retirement community here, a lot of young people and families," he said. "We want to have a safe, clean, fun environment that everyone can enjoy. This is the only bowling center within 60 miles the closest is Cliff Castle in Camp Verde and there isn't a lot for families to do up here. So you've got a captive audience, so to speak. This could work. It has the potential, and I'm up to the challenge."
For more information, visit Rim Country Lanes at 1109 N. Beeline Highway, or call 474-9589.