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Bowls, Bias and Bots: How Aero Bowls Reshaped Lawn Bowls

Bowls, Bias and Bots: How Aero Bowls Reshaped Lawn Bowls

Robots aren’t exactly the first thing you’d think of when talking about lawn bowls. The time honoured tradition of a friendly game of bowls with your mates, barefoot on the green with a cold schooner in hand, doesn’t mesh with the image of robots crafting immaculate bowls.

It’s a different story for the elite competitors of professional bowls. For bowlers on the national and international stage, bowls that offer consistent bias and trajectory could be considered the Holy Grail of the sport.

As of 2009, Aero Bowls has provided bowlers with that Holy Grail. In a move that pioneered the manufacture of bowls, co-founders Walter and Sharon Jacobs invested in robots to manufacture the perfect bowls, achieving their mission of “A perfect line every time”.

With their innovative approach to bowls quickly receiving acclaim from champion bowlers, the Aussie-born company has cemented itself as a leader in their field.

Elevating the sport beyond the old standard

The difficulty with lawn bowls lies in accuracy. While victory in a casual game of barefoot bowls is measured in feet (literal human feet), at the professional level it becomes a game of inches. Half an inch can make the difference between a world champion and a mere contender.

The trouble is, not every bowl in a set is made to be identical. Tiny differences in the bias of a bowl can spell disaster for players at the elite level when every inch counts.

When you bought a set of bowls, it was always different,” says Walter. “So the whole idea of going into Aero Bowls was to make sets of bowls that were always identical”.

The champion’s bowl of choice

With the vision firmly in place, Walter and Sharon reached out to a friend to get a champion’s take on what they wanted to achieve.

His name is Kelvin Kerkow, he’s an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) recipient, he was a world champion, and a Commonwealth gold medalist. We’ve been good friends for 20 odd years”.

We met at a coffee shop in Tweed Head and I said to him, ‘We got this idea of making bowls and if we could make a set all the same, what do you think would happen?’”

“He said if we could do that, then we would take the whole market”.

With this vote of confidence, Walter and Sharon moved forward with their plans, investing significant time and money into delivering a better product.

We had to design the bias of the bowl, how the bowl curves. The Aero curve is like the Harbour bridge, just an even arc. Other bowls don’t do that. Other bowls have a hook at the end and that makes them less accurate to play with and more difficult.

It took the team a long time to perfect the technique, even using robots from Japan which hadn’t been done before to manufacture bowls. But persistence paid off, and the innovative approach to bowls paved the way for success.

“It involved a huge amount of work and the capital invested of over $3.5 million to get it all going.”

Once Kelvin was on board, (or on the green), other champion bowlers started to play with Aero Bowls. Once they did, they saw a big difference.

As soon as they started to win competitions, which is what happened because it was easier to play with a more accurate bowl. [Bowlers had] a lot of confidence in the set that they had. Bearing in mind that it’s unlike golf in one respect that two golfers can use the same golf club, you get a different result.

We bought robots, which never happened before, to make lawn bowls. Lawn bowls were made by a number of two or three factories around the world and they were never accurate.

Which meant the best players who have played before always have their own set of bowls would never allow anybody to use it or change. Suddenly with Aero, you didn’t need your own set of bowls. You could use any set.

Changing the trajectory of the game

13 years later Aero Bowls is now the largest manufacturer of lawn bowls in the world. Recognised as the leading bowls manufacturer by the game’s top players, Kelvin’s prediction had come true–Aero Bowls had taken the market.

There’s a competition called the Bowls Premier League which is televised by Fox. About 80% of the bowls there were Aero Bowls and that’s all Australia’s top bowlers playing. You can see the bowls on the bowling green, and that gives a lot of confidence to people who are using or wanting to change bowls.

“It changed the game worldwide.”

Aero Bowls has become so popular, they even have players leaving sponsors to join the Aero Team.

With an airtight retail operation, an innovative attitude and keen attention to customer experience, Aero Bowls have proven they’re one of the most successful retailers in Australia.

Discover how Aero Bowls used Lightspeed’s unified POS and Payments platform to power their success. Read the case study to find out how they use Lightspeed’s tools to elevate their business.

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