'How I challenged tradition and built a $50m business'

From overcoming hard knocks to disrupting an industry from within, Michael Schreiber's journey to establishing a multimillion-dollar business empire is an inspiration to SME owners everywhere.

After combining his successful Strike Bowling business venture with Sky Zone in July 2016, Michael has been around the business entertainment block, now sitting on a business empire. How did he get there? He never gave up.

The early days

Michael grew up in South America, dabbling in ventures here and there, until he arrived in Australia in the 1990s with his mind set on entertainment.

“Initially, I worked for Village Nine Leisure, so when I arrived in Australia, Village and Channel Nine were setting up a joint venture to come up with the next form of entertainment ... for shopping centres,” Michael recalls.

“Westfield challenged Village to say 'What's the next thing to put next to a multiplex? We've got multiplexes, we see a trend in people wanting to spend more money on entertainment, what's the next product?'. I joined that company to try and solve that question.”

Starting out on his own

From here, Michael started up entertainment brand Intencity, which he believes was ahead of its time, as it wasn’t received too well by the public.

In 1994, the consensus was that “a virtual rollercoaster is vastly different from a real rollercoaster”, but today, virtual reality has picked up and could be a lucrative avenue in the future.

After Intencity and Village Nine Leisure, Michael moved on to form EDG Entertainment, setting up a number of businesses, one of which was Kingpin Bowling.

“We had about six or eight venues at Crown [Casino, and] ... out of all of those various concepts, the bowling was the one piece that acted as a real destination,” he says.

“All of the other concepts fed off the foot traffic at Crown, whereas people would make specific [trips] to Kingpin. That was the observation that became the kernel of idea to set up Strike.”

Disrupting from within

Drawing on the lessons of the past, Michael used this momentum to start Strike – an entertainment venue with bowling as its anchor point.

He didn’t just want to start a new business from old ideas, but to change the notion of what bowling was.

“Bowling has existed as a sport [for decades], and that was really the main function of traditional tenpin bowling,” he says.

“Its golden era was in the 50s and 60s, and over the last 20 to 30 years, league bowling has been in decline because it didn't evolve, it didn't change with consumer lifestyles.

“Signing up for a bowling league requires you to come bowling every Wednesday at 5pm, for 30 weeks in a row, and people ... it's incongruent with their lifestyle.

“That was a fundamental change to the sport of bowling.”

Having identified the shift from sport to social bowling, Michael decided to capitalise on this, turning the traditional sport areas into what he calls “social entertainment spaces”.

“Traditional bowling alleys are very, very focused on the sports market, and everything involved around the sports market,” says Michael.

Because of bowling’s traditional sporting history, Michael faced his fair share of criticism, being told: “'You can't do this', 'That doesn't work', 'You can't have a 10-lane bowling alley',” he said.

“There was a lot of embedded thinking, which came out of where those models were,” he says.

“It's kind of like pioneering: I didn't have a road map, so you consider what you want to do, you buy your kit, you set it up, you do your work, and then you start understanding the business more and more.”

Since 2002, 16 Strike locations have been established, featuring bowling as well as bar and food, laser tag, and a recent expansion into escape rooms.

Financing ideas

One tactic Michael says helped him reach where he is today was relying on bank debt.

“Bank debt is your least expensive form of debt, typically,” he says.

“If you put forward a professional presentation that makes sense, and you obviously have security, in the initial stages it's worthwhile establishing a credit record and a banking record with a bank to get going in a small business. Over time, so long as you meet what you promised, your facilities will grow.

“It's not easy getting money from the banks, but ... if you've had a long relationship, and you've met all your obligations, and they like the space, it gets easier.”

When it comes down to it, Michael's idea of success is squarely focused on pushing against the established norms.

“I'm a big believer in innovation, trying to challenge the status quo, come up with a better mouse trap, and then work hard to let people know, and work hard on the fundamentals," Michael says.

“Change the status quo, come up with an idea, test your idea, and then work hard.”

He adds: “Be positive. Be resilient. Get the people around you to be positive as well: to focus on the positives, and get through it. That helps people have fun, enjoy themselves and go that extra mile to make ... things more successful.”

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