Friday, May 24, 2024

Out with the old, in with the new: Foxx View Lanes embraces newest pinsetting technology

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WAUKESHA — Foxx View Lanes is getting an upgrade, and the owner of the bowling center at 2440 W. Sunset Drive says the new pinsetters are much-needed.

The current pinsetters — Brunswick A1s — are aging. With the technology dating back to the 1950s, owner Stephen Hoehnen says it’s hard to find parts for the machines, but even “if you’re able to get some of the newer parts, you’re almost having to retrofit everything to it.”

Hoehnen also notes that the mechanics he relies on to repair the current pinsetters are rare and reaching the end of their careers. And if they were to retire, the bowling center owner wouldn’t have a professional on deck to repair the machines. Even so, he says fixing that type of technology is “pretty much just a game of playing preventative maintenance.” Hoehnen used a relatable analogy to convey the struggle.

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“More often than not on the older machines, it’s kind of like having a used car,” he said. “You do the oil change. You can rotate the tires. But you could be driving down the road and the check engine light comes on. …You can only do so much preventative maintenance on a machine that’s 75 years old.”

On Monday, Foxx View Lanes began the process of removing the current pinsetters — free fall machines — with EDGE String Pinspotters. In essence, instead of the machines setting up the pins mechanically, each pin has a string attached to the top of it. Pins are then lifted and lowered by that string.

Early versions of string pins impacted scoring, Hoehnen said, since “it was very easy to make splits and the string would actually get in the way.” But the new technology Foxx View Lanes is implementing was sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress in November. The bowling center owner says adjustments to string lengths, kickbacks, and more were made to get them “to play as close to traditionally as possible.”

Though Hoehnen noted it was a sizable up-front investment, the EDGE String Pinspotters are expected to have “major power savings.” Warrantied for at least two years, the owner says he won’t have to worry about tracking down new parts and bringing in a mechanic, especially since he expects it “to be almost impossible to find one in the upcoming years.”

Customers will experience the other benefits, such as quicker games and reduced downtime. Hoehnen says that current estimates suggest that the machines will shave off about 20 minutes of league play, which can make a big difference for bowlers who stop in for multiple hours on a weeknight. New equipment also means less opportunity for machinery to go awry.

“From the beginner bowler that’s an open bowler to the 230 league bowler, they don’t have to worry about throwing their ball down the lane that’s going to come back…with any mechanical damage from the machines,” the bowling center owner explained.

Reactions to the new technology

Nonetheless, Hoehnen admits that not everyone has had a positive reaction to the upgrade. He said that about half of the bowlers are indifferent, 30% might not be fully onboard but are still willing to give it a shot, and 20% have no interest in trying out the EDGE String Pinspotters.

Hoehnen’s wife, Cassie, said that as a longtime bowler herself, even she was initially skeptical of the new machines.

“String pins was a hard thing to swallow. I looked at this as something that was going to make the game less authentic, but then as we looked into them more, did more research … I was more open to the idea,” she said. “Given that it’s going to decrease the amount of issues that our customers are going to see … we decided that it was the right time and the right thing for us to do.”

One Foxx View Lanes regular, Ralph Hibbard, says that switching to the EDGE String Pinspotters is “the wave of the future.”

He recounted past updates to equipment, noting that wood lanes used to be the norm before switching to synthetic. Paper scoring was typical before progressing to telescores before progressing to automatic scoring. The bowler even noted that at one point, pinsetting machines didn’t even exist — they had employees do that job. But alas, “there’s a lot of people in our sport that don’t like change,” Hibbard said.

Participating in the sport since 1976 and bowling at Foxx View Lanes for decades, Hibbard comes from a family of bowlers — his wife is in local bowling halls of fame and his two sons bowled in college. Hibbard himself is the coach of the Mukwonago High School varsity team. He said new technology like string pinsetters is “the next step in the growth of the sport.”

Wisconsin-based Regional Sales Manager for Storm Bowling Matt Gasn says that as someone entrenched in the industry, he was “excited” to learn about Foxx View Lanes implementing the EDGE String Pinspotters as there’s benefit to both the bowler and the proprietor.

“String pins will make bowling go faster, so there’s not as many lane breakdowns. There’s no mechanical parts that can really go wrong with it,” he said. “There’s times where you’re sitting around in league for 10 or 15 minutes waiting for your lane to get fixed. There’s not going to be any dead wood or any issues that’s going to slow down the pace of bowling.”

Be that as it may, Gasn says that he understands why bowlers might be hesitant to try string pins. He said some traditionalists view the machines as giving the sport an “arcade game” type of vibe. Even still, he sees string pins as a way to revitalize a game with dipping participation numbers. For those on the fence about giving the new technology a shot, Hoehnen has one suggestion: “Why don’t you just come in and try it for yourself ?”

The EDGE String Pinspotters are expected to be up and running by May 20 at the latest. Hoehnen says Foxx View Lanes plans on oiling the lanes seven days per week this summer, so bowlers will have a “pretty fresh oil pattern” to test out the technology. Once the new machines are in place, the bowling center will also kick off its Kids Bowl Free program.

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