We visit the all new Lane 7 in Middlesborough

2012 saw entrepreneur Tim Wilks visit a number of boutique bowling centres that had started to spring up mostly in London and Manchester. He researched and found the concept was big in the USA and Scandinavia but only just arriving in the UK. Finding venues with the appropriate floor space for bowling lanes was the next task for him before deciding to invest and push forward. He also recognized people were becoming tired of the “Out of town” and chain centres and just wanted a cool little venue to go and have some fun. The original “Boutique” concept was high end but retro and catering mainly for people with money. The bigger chains have now introduced their own style of the VIP experience and that has had a lot to do with the success of the Boutique sector of bowling. Lane 7 was going to be different and Newcastle chosen for the first venue.

On Friday, December 8 in 2013 the £700,000 venue opened. What Tim and his designer wanted was a change from the early boutique model as he introduced the Urban Chic bar type venue.A few other venues have since followed this look of dark, industrial and as the name suggests, Urban.

Newcastle was a big success and not wanting to remain static, Lane 7 have since launch introduced ‘pop-up’ attractions which only last a few weeks before disappearing – including indoor mini golf, giant remote controlled racing rigs and traditional arcade games.

If Newcastle went well, Tim’s plan was always to open more and that is exactly what he has done. Aberdeen and Middlesborough were planned and have now both just opened recently, they are currently enjoying the buzz all new venues get at launch and just in time for Christmas.

There are plans for even more with Durham and Birmingham next on the horizon and all following the same style of design and format.

QubicaAMF invited us to visit the new Middlesborough venue and meet with Tim to speak about the new venues and the progress of Lane 7 in the bowling market. Traveling up with QAMF’s John Emmett, I got a chance to see the venue for myself.

The photos were released for the venue on launch and show the usual minimal and industrial look of other Boutique venues, you might think this could all seem the same as you visit each Boutique centre but that’s not true. All have a character of their own.

Lane 7 had decided on QubicaAMF equipment for their first venue and happy with products and services are now rolling it out in the other venues in a two year distributor deal. This means the latest TMS string machines with Walnut lanes, Conquerer scoring, Centre Punch lighting and harmony ball returns.

We have all grown up bowing on just one colour of lane over the years, so to see the walnut synthetic lanes actually in a working venue is awesome to see. It is funny how a change to the colour of the lane service can suggest a little class to your mind.

Rather than just look at a few cool photos here is a video walk-through on the venue.

Attention to detail. That is the one thing that shone through from my visit. That and making something look classy without spending the earth on materials. As you enter. on your right you start to see the lanes appear through a cage like copper wall. The copper is one of the touches you notice as it blends with the dark look and walnut hue. To your left another cage like bar with one of the best displays I have seen on my travels round the UK. Sat next the traditional shoe racks, a top row of red pins with a line of custom balls designed by Lane 7. A very cool trick here is they can be turned round to reveal Christmas designs on the back. You saw it here first folks. Under the balls are the many drinks on offer.

Before we get to the lanes and by turning left at the end of the bar, a small area with custom tables leads to gaming heaven for any kid who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Having thrown a few coins into the old arcade machines in the past, there is something of a warm happy feeling when you see a Space Invaders and Donkey Kong next to a 1942, Track and Field, Street Fighter and pinball machines all in full size retro glory.

So the lanes now and probably one of the best things about the venue. The Walnut pinstripe look together with the curves of the Harmony ball returns  leads your eyes to the bottom of the lane and big illuminated number. There is no lane 7 in Lane 7, there is not even a lane 1? Numbers start at 2 to 6. Next thing you many notice is no curtain wall, separating the TMS String Machine from view. You can see it all.

Speaking of seeing it all, thanks to the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup, I had access to a 360 camera so here is a new way for you to experience the venue before you visit.

360 Outdoor shot

360 Lanes

360 Bar area

Yet again though, having seen a number of QubicaAMF installations in the boutique venues it is not hard to see why many customers in the UK customers opt for the slick looking touch screens, Italian designed Harmony products and lanes in many colours. The QAMF products do blend well with the many different venue themes and designs. One system pretty much does classy or fun at the same time.

Middlesborough has taken the products to seamlessly fit with exposed raw feel of the venue and shown less can be more.

Having looked around the venue I had a chance to sit down with Tim and ask a few questions.

Why did you decide on the walnut look lanes?

We are trying to create a mood more for adults, nightclubs are dark so the darker materials do work better for that and worked well for Newcastle then Aberdeen and now Middlesborough so it’s not really something we are going to question.

Did you feel the colour gave a classy look?

Absolutely, that’s the reason we went for it. We are selling a premium sort of high end experience  that’s sort of matching the aspirations of people who are young and going out until two or three in the morning. And trying the match the kind of lives they lead with Bars the go in and Cars they drive. Bowling is no different so we are trying to marry up their aspirations in that client base.

How much work goes into creating a venue?

These small sites need a lot of work and obviously we are just trying to grow at the moment. Our main focus will be to keep the attention to detail and as you go things can become a bit dogged and worn or waiter service drops off and before you know it, you are just keeping a shabby offer. I think it’s detail for us that is going to be the difference.

How did you come up with the whole look and concept for Lane 7 venues?

I’m quite hands on with the fit out with the designer we use Julie, We find it is very easy at the end of a project to start conceding.  The decisions you make at the end of a project are very important, the ones you make in week one are just where are the toilets going etc but at the end, it is all the things the customer will see and touch. So this is actually when you need to keep your standards despite being mentally drained, you have to keep those extras and not coincide.

Upcoming centres? Can you reveal anything to us?

We have signed on Durham and that will progress in a few months. We are also going to Birmingham in ‘The Cube’ a fantastic site. Visually, that’s going to look stunning, just because of the sight lines as the customer approaches the centre. The orientation of the lanes I think is going to be unique for the UK.

As for size, Birmingham will be quite big with Durham around the same size as Middlesborough. We are learning all the time how to use a space more efficiently and where traffic flows will go, how to lay the bar for best footfall off the lanes etc etc. We will only get better at that as we go.

Why bowling in the first place, did you have some knowledge of the activity and an affinity towards it?

I’m one of four boys so competition was rife in our house. There was semi finals and finals for every sport under the sun. You name it, we had a competition. I think for us it’s maybe more luck and a hunch. I could see there was a good experience there and the market since we launched it has gone more that way towards people wanting an experience in a venue. Like going to see a film its not just the movie but the whole experience before during and after. That was my hunch at the beginning.

You had a choice of companies for the lanes and machines why did you opt for QubicaAMF and What was the reason for TMS String machines over traditional freefall machines?

When we started Newcastle, no one was in any sort of reasonable marketplace or doing it in any volume doing eight lanes with string in the UK. For a number of reasons we went down that route, consumption of electricity, less ongoing costs, less moving parts. Also we were worried about staffing levels and the fact you need a lot of experience to run a freefall machine. Whereas the fact with a little bit of mechanical and electrical background and 10-12 hours training you can get to a fair competency and so we can keep them maintained without having to find people with 10-15 years experience. That will become hard for the industry going forward as more go to string in finding people.

Going back to why AMF, we had a number of issues with the initial install because we were hammering, we were having adults and groups of men firing 14lb balls down, backends were all over the place and motors breaking. We worked really hard with QubicaAMF for six or seven months and in fairness, Its not really about that. If something goes wrong, that is not the problem, i’ts how you deal with the problem. That’s how you can judge a relationship and we worked really hard over that period of time to resolve those problems and I’ve got to say, in that period of time, I was satisfied as it was not easy for us or QubicaAMF and I think they learned a lot about the lanes and we learned a lot about them. Ultimately we refined that model again and we sat down and we have enjoyed doing the business we have with QubicaAMF so we are looking to roll out. I dont have the time to go back and horse trade again and again so spoke to the main players, we looked at some of the other alternatives in the market and we came down to it. We liked the product that we got in Newcastle and we knew with the modifications it was a good product that would stand up what we need and so we agreed a principle for a period of supply over a couple of years and so far we have rolled out a couple of sites quite quickly and it’s been relatively pain free.

There’s no right or wrong to it as you cant always road test the lanes be it a Brunswick or QubicaAMF product, you can only assess what you are given with price coming into it but ultimately price is a one hit thing at the beginning, you pay your cheque at the start and it is also about where we are going to go long term. After sales service and if things go wrong, do we think we will get the assistance?

The best thing that happened for ourselves and QubicaAMF was the early problems stress tested our relationship and we managed to get through it and that gives me comfort knowing we had those problems and got that support.

What has worked in Newcastle in the model?

The nice thing about our business model is, as a rule we are getting lots of groups of adults coming in, having a couple of beers and they have relaxed a bit and the atmosphere as someone gets a strike. One group is really loud and that sort of almost brings on the others and it is ok to be that loud. Before you know it, its quite raucous. That makes a great atmosphere.

Thing I have noticed most, It’s in everyone. Well in the vast majority, people will always claim they are not competitive. Wait until you are a couple of frames down and the person who says they are not competitive is leading at frame three, they suddenly take an interest in it.

Is there any plans to hold competitions or challenges between the L7 venues or sport bowling in general?

We know were we would like to go with things like that but we are waiting for technology to kind of catch up a bit or become affordable but we have some things where we would like have some transparency across the sites for the customer. We have discussed it in house, looked what’s out there and at the moment we feel it would be quite clunky so I think as things progress we have got some ideas.


My first visit to a Lane 7 venue and I have to say, I loved it, Although the venue was empty when I visited I did get a sense of what it could be like when its full and it looks a fun place to be. You cant ask for much more than that. Great venue from an up and coming boutique chain.


“For me the Attention to detail stands out in Middlesborough, plus the Walnut look Synthetic lanes ooze class in a great looking Urban Chic bowling alley”- Dom Gall – Talktenpin.net

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