For Brad and Leisha Peterson, one could say that owning and managing Strike Zone has always been “right up their alley.” With a grandfather that built and managed his own bowling alley in Tioga, ND, the bowling lanes were basically a second home for Brad throughout his childhood. As a result, when the owner of the former bowling alley in Williston called the Brad and his wife in June of 2014 and asked them if they would be interested in purchasing and taking over the business, they knew this was an opportunity they wanted to pursue. All they needed was some different financial resources to get started and they would be able to purchase, manage, and transform the 50+ year old bowling alley into Strike Zone: the new and improved family-fun bowling alley they envisioned for the community of Williston and beyond.
To purchase Million Dollar Lanes and the connected Sports Den bar, Brad and Leisha were advised to utilize the U.S. Small Business Administration 504 loan program. Through this program, the Petersons could work in partnership with Dakota Certified Development Corporation and First National Bank and Trust in Williston to secure a long-term loan with a fixed, low, below-market interest rate. This gave Brad and Leisha the financial flexibility they needed to make the gradual, yet continuous improvements they wanted at a pace they could manage and afford. “The low interest rate helped us tremendously and I don’t think we could have done it without it. Dakota CDC was very easy to work with too.”
After officially purchasing and taking over on January 1, 2015, Brad and Leisha sat down, developed a list of improvement and remodeling goals, and assessed where to begin. They decided to start in the Sports Den, the bar and restaurant connected to the bowling alley, since majority of their sales will come from there. “The place was rundown,” explained Brad, “so we decided to start there and get that fixed up.” From there, the updating and remodeling spiraled. From walls, to sheetrock and paneling, to carpet and tiles, to tables and TV’s, and even to the bathrooms, Brad and Leisha worked to remodel the bar and restaurant and transform it into a new and improved Sports Den for all fanatics to eat, watch, and play in. Pretty soon, the Sports Den was hopping with locals and regulars.
“Our vendors are telling us that we are one of, if not the, busiest bars in town now…we’re glad to hear that,” beamed Leisha.
But this was only the beginning for Brad and Leisha. From there, the Petersons continued to pursue their vision for Strike Zone (the new name for Million Dollar Lanes). After repainting the walls, putting on new masking, adding new lighting, improving the seating, and installing a new and interactive scoring system, Brad and Leisha were one step closer to developing the family-orientated atmosphere for Strike Zone that they both dreamt of. These improvements attracted families, students, and leagues from all over the area to come in, play a game, and check out the facility.
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2017 that Brad and Leisha decided to try something new and inquire about adding arcade games to the Strike Zone experience. “We brought in 8 arcade games to see how they would work…kind of like a test run,” Brad stated. The Petersons had hopes of increasing their birthday packages, but the overwhelmingly successful results far exceeded their expectations. “The numbers we started at? We’re tripling them right now,” Brad added. “We thought it would increase our birthday parties—which it did—but the adults are coming in more than the kids are,” Brad continued with a laugh. They brought in 20 new games, and now they are working to expand and enhance the arcade experience even more. They are in the process of getting an additional 15 games and rotating through many fun and exciting prizes. The games all use electric cards, which make the coin, ticket, and redemption process faster and more efficient.
But the improvements still don’t stop there! Brad and Leisha “strike” again as they are also in the process of upgrading their restaurant to have a full-service kitchen with a new and improved menu. They have purchased a large, 1,600 pound brick oven for their pizzas, which will be made from scratch by their son, Levi. The entire menu will be simple, mostly including cheeseburgers, wings, and fried foods like French fries and onion rings, but will mostly be made from scratch as well. “It’s going to be fresh and good,” confirmed Brad.
Because of Brad’s previous 25+ years of business management experience for the local flower shop and Leisha’s travel agency management experience, the opportunity to work for themselves has been really rewarding. “The stress level is way different here. It’s relaxed and we don’t have this pressure from corporate,” Brad said gratefully. “I love being able to work together,” Leisha added.
Strike Zone is continuing to improve and thrive throughout the Williston community. Being the only bowling alley throughout the area, Strike Zone has the advantage to rise to the top and continue to bring in and attract families throughout the broader area. In fact, Brad and Leisha’s passionate and dedicated spirit has led them to be awarded the 2017 “New Business Entrepreneurs of the Year” award from the North Dakota Small Business Development Center. “We’re really excited!” Leisha explained. This has only increased their motivation and spirits to continue to enhance the family-fun atmosphere they have worked so hard to develop.
When asked for tips and tricks from these newly recognized, yet inspiring entrepreneurs, both Brad and Leisha had just one main piece of advice to “spare”:“You have got to be willing to give it a try, and then willing to put everything back into it.” They went on to say that they have poured everything they have earned back into the business in order to better serve their customers and provide the best experience possible for all who enter Strike Zone’s doors. “Now, it’s starting to pay off,” Brad said proudly. “Everyone knows it, and it’s looking good!”