Bowler rolls into career as entrepreneur

AT PLAY

Arnold man parlays his love of the sport into a Web site and, soon, a retail store

November 16, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Grant Bingham never bowled until he was 20. That's when his father asked him to join a Severna Park Elks league and give the sport a try. It turned out to be a move that would eventually change his life.

Bingham got hooked right away. The Arnold resident worked so hard at it that he eventually bowled in leagues seven nights a week all around Anne Arundel County and rolled his way to a 212 average.

But Bingham wanted to do more with bowling. He'd been working full time in newspaper delivery and circulation but decided to make bowling more of a part of his life. Bingham started an online bowling supply business in the summer of 2004 and will be opening a bowling store, Bingham's Bowling Supply, in Millersville in the next few weeks.

Bingham said he wanted to start the online site - binghamsbowlingsupply.com - to help bowlers with the supplies they need, and, he hoped, at a good price.

"I've been bowling for a lot of years, and I got tired of paying high prices," Bingham said. "I felt like I wanted to give bowling something back because it's given me such fun over the years."

The Web site has done well for him, growing since opening in July 2004. Bingham uses the site to supply retail customers with bowling balls, bags, shoes, accessories and apparel. Starting the Internet site took lots of hard work - especially typing, Bingham said with a laugh - and he found a Web designer in Idaho to put it all together and get it going.

The site has a solid base of customers who come to it each month, and Bingham said he's pleased with the growth.

"It's done better than expected," Bingham said. "I didn't think it would take off as much as it has."

The success of the Web site is one of the things that put the idea of opening a store in his mind. That, and a bit of a break, made starting a store seem possible.

Bingham decided to put information about his Web site in the Yellow Pages, and when he began getting a lot of calls from people who were interested in the site, the idea of starting a store came to him.

When people buy certain types of bowling supplies, they like to be able to try them on or get a good look. Bingham and his wife, Melinda, were running the Web site out of their home while he continued with his newspaper job. Finally, he realized it was time to choose.

"I think I just made the decision talking to my wife," he said. "If we're going to do it, let's do it full-force. Let's give it a try. It wasn't a hard decision for me."

That's when they decided to open the store and run the Web site along with it. Bingham said they'll be working seven days a week to run both businesses.

"I'd just like to draw a lot of the customers in from the Annapolis and Arnold areas," Bingham said. "A lot of them go to the Glen Burnie pro shops, and I'd like to get them. I am just looking to do good business."

Bingham has lots of contacts in the Mid-Atlantic area because of his bowling and related activities, including being a sponsor of the Free State Classic Tenpin Tour, an amateur bowling tournament club that makes its way around the metro area from October to March each year.

Stacy Karten, who started and directs the tour, said that Bingham running a Web site and a store should be a good way to draw business.

"Some people can make it by just doing the Internet," Karten said. "There are people that still ... like to walk into a building and touch and feel what they're doing. He's probably going to have the best of both worlds."

Bingham still plans on finding time to bowl. He'll be on the lanes Monday and Friday nights in Annapolis. The Severna Park native can't bowl as much as he once did, but he's glad to give up the time for his new businesses.

He's been laboring at getting the store ready to open soon so bowlers can come there for the holidays. Bingham said he's been working with his wife and Dave Moore, his father-in-law and another bowler, on getting the store ready.

Melinda Bingham is in nursing school but has been coming to the store at nights to help set things up. She's looking forward to the store's opening.

"It has been a lot of work, and we've put a lot of time into it," she said. "I think it's going to turn out really well. He's out there to sell things affordably to the bowler, and I think that's why we're going to be successful."

jseid1234@yahoo.com

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