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Coconut Bowl adds the 'wow' factor to family fun
by Sarah Cooper
Mar 11, 2010 | 2780 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy/Coconut Bowl -
Pirates, cannons and black light mayhem fills the 2,800-square-foot, nine-hole black light miniature golf addition at the Coconut Bowl at the Wild Island Family Adventure park.  The expansion used space the facility had vacant and was paid for with money saved, rather than through credit.
Courtesy/Coconut Bowl - Pirates, cannons and black light mayhem fills the 2,800-square-foot, nine-hole black light miniature golf addition at the Coconut Bowl at the Wild Island Family Adventure park. The expansion used space the facility had vacant and was paid for with money saved, rather than through credit.
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SPARKS –– Inside a rather industrial-looking building in the industrial area of Sparks lies the “wow” factor, one of many business techniques that has kept the Coconut Bowl and the Wild Island Family Adventure Park in business for more than 20 years.

As they work to keep the businesses’ family-friendly theme fresh and fun, the Coconut Bowl has added a nine-hole black light miniature golf course. Swashbuckling pirates hang from the walls and create menacing merriment throughout the indoor course.

“You need to put in a new attraction every two or three years or you lose that ‘wow’ factor,” said Coconut Bowl general manager Craig Buster.

In an economy where the average business has to beg, borrow or steal to make a significant expansion, the Coconut Bowl paid cash for its latest attraction.

“We had the money set aside before,” Buster said.

The 2,800-square-foot addition was bought and paid for with a little more than $325,000, according to a written statement from one of the local owners, Gary Nelson.

“Wild Island is about constantly freshening up the entertainment experience to keep our customers coming back and stimulate new interest,” Nelson said. “It made sense for us to expand now and add Pirate’s Cove to our offerings to provide more value and one more reason for people to come out and visit.”

While miniature golfers might get a bit of sensory overload while putting through the Pirate’s Cove, those who can tune out the wave of sound and lights might notice the intricate seascapes and beach fronts that line the walls. According to Buster, the 2,800 square feet of black light paintings were finished by the installer in three days. The attraction was designed and installed by Black Light Attractions.

Staffers from the Coconut Bowl found the idea at a trade convention in Las Vegas.

“We knew this was something we wanted to do,” Buster said, adding that management had been looking to add some new spice to the Coconut Bowl for a while.

The black light miniature golf seemed to be a perfect fit. Back in the corner of the now 72,000 square foot facility, an old defunct restaurant sat waiting for something to fill it. First the space had been the Smokin’ Marlin, then it transitioned to Spaghetti Joe’s. Neither was successful.

“So we decided to go right back to what we know and what we do best, which is family entertainment,” Buster said.

The defunct restaurants soon became the Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf attraction, which, since its opening on Jan. 29, has attracted on average between 700 and 800 customers per weekend. At $5.25 per game and $3.75 for going through a second time, the investment has started to pay off.

The Wild Island Family Adventure Park has been a Sparks fixture since 1989. The little spit of land in an industrial area was developed by locals Nelson and Tony Harrah.

“They just thought there was nothing for kids to do in town,” said Buster who has worked at the facility since the early 1990s.

And so the niche was filled for local family entertainment. The business started strictly as a water park, but soon added a component that could be enjoyed in cold weather.

“They wanted to be year-round,” Buster said, adding that diversifying has helped to level out the business’ annual bottom line. “Now, winter is our busiest season.”

According to Buster, his patrons are still mostly families from Sparks, although the addition of local retail giant Legends at Sparks Marina has brought in a few people willing to travel from Reno.

“I haven’t noticed a huge difference,” Buster said of the crowd that comes to the Coconut Bowl.

And although the crowds pinch their pennies more in a recession, they still come. The Coconut Bowl hosts 3,000 birthday parties per year, had 100 company Christmas parties in 2009 and will be catering about 60 birthday parties this weekend alone.

However, when asked what has kept business humming for so many years, Buster immediately responded that it was the management structure.

“From managers down to staff, we all take ownership,” Buster said. “The owners put a lot of trust in us and it pays off. When supervisors and managers are hired, they are told to act like they are the owner and really take charge.”

According to Buster, the average manager stays for 10 years. Buster himself started as a Go Kart employee.

“The fact that we all buy into it and take pride and ownership, that’s what makes us successful,” he added. “To us, it’s not just about making a buck.”
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