Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator data (https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator), $100 in March 2019 had the same buying power that $118.74 had in March of this year.
For Soldiers and families, that $18.74 represents a considerable drop in discretionary income from just four years ago. As the economy continues through its challenges, at Fort Bliss, Texas, there’s a leisure facility that understands and believes a dog and a beer at the bowling alley, or a kid’s pizza party, or a couple of strings of bowling doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive.
“Some of the things we pride ourselves on is keeping the facility clean, keeping the customers happy, and keeping our prices in a range that’s affordable,” said Janette Caswell, assistant manager of Bliss’ 52-lane Desert Strike Lanes Bowling Center.
Desert Strike is a Bliss Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility. FMWR is an Army program that goes back to the turn of the 20th Century when the Department of the Army first established Post Exchanges on installations where service members and families could shop for goods and services. Garrison commanders provided oversight of sales and costs at the PX and any profits went to troop morale programs.
Today, FMWR is its own program with management of Soldier-support services in a wide array of areas, from the School Liaison Program for school-aged military kids to Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, a program supporting junior troops’ off-duty time by organizing trips and experiences. Just like more than a century ago, any profits from Exchange or FMWR entities are reinvested in military communities or are distributed to unit morale funds and programs like BOSS to benefit the well-being of troops and their families.
New price rate option for customers, still keeping the old one
Caswell said Desert Strike has adjusted their rates for bowling to better serve their customers, both those who want to spend an extended time on the bowling lanes with an hourly rate, and also those who may be only popping in during their lunch breaks during the week with a per-person, per-game rate.
“We noticed that a lot of outside bowling centers were gearing toward hourly bowling,” said Caswell. “We’ve decided to go in that route, however many have eliminated the ‘per-person, per-game’ rate, where we have not.”
She also said Desert Strike has what they call “birthday packages,” which offer multiple pizzas, games of bowling, and soft drinks for a set rate, saving customers over the cost of buying the items individually. While they’re typically used for birthday parties, Caswell said military units also have had get-togethers at Desert Strike and have ordered “birthday packages” to feed their troops.
In another effort to save customers money at the register, the Strike Zone, Desert Strike’s short-order lunch counter and snack bar offers free, same-day bowling vouchers for certain menu items.
“We’ve worked on doing food-and-bowling combo specials,” said Caswell of the same-day deal. “If you get a burger or a sandwich combo, or Tiki fries, bring the receipt to the counter and you get a free game.”
Pro shop with coaches on staff
For those more interested in the bowling than the beverages, Desert Strike has a full-working pro shop with two certified bowling coaches that offer lessons for competitive fees compared to coaches off post.
“Whether someone wants to learn how to bowl and get the basics down, or up their game; if they’re having an issue during league [play] and they don’t know what the issue is, one of our two coaches can help,” said Caswell.
Service, cleanliness, and a business model that puts profits into a fund to support service members has always been a part of the FMWR leisure idea of providing customers professional service at rates service members can afford.
The same rings true at Desert Strike. Consistent quality before high-profits-over-everything has been the “post exchange” model for more than 100 years, and in times of financial challenges, without skimping on quality, every dollar saved counts.
“It’s the standard that we have,” said Caswell. “We tell employees when we hire them that we have a very high standard on cleanliness and customer service. We don’t want to gouge anyone so we can keep them coming with reasonable pricing. We need to make the money we need to stay open and make it affordable for everyone who comes in.”
Desert Strike is located at 2949 Carter Road. It’s open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. For more details on the Army's 2015 Best Bowling Center, visit https://bliss.armymwr.com/programs/desert-strike-lanes-bowling-center.