Inside a musty bowling pro shop, a customer would approach a wall displaying bowling balls. Rather than testing finger holes or weight, the customer would stop and sniff.
“What’s that smell?” they would ask, and Hank Boomershine would chuckle.
“It’s the ball,” he would say. “Go ahead, smell it again.”
In the history of bowling, ball manufacturers had given little thought to the odor bowlers encounter as they approach the foul line and lift the ball mere inches from their face.
There were the early smells of grain from now-obsolete wooden balls. Then the sulfur-y smells of rubber. By the 1970s, plastic and polyester came on the scene, to be followed by urethane, which produced quite a stink on oily lanes.
By 2000, bowlers had another choice: citrus or green apple. Today, a bowler can choose from maple syrup, caramel, creamsicle, cherry, pina colada and a whole host of other fragrances.
That’s because in the 12 years since Storm Products Inc. released its line of scented bowling bowls, their popularity has grown exponentially among professional and league bowlers who enjoy the soothing scents of peppermint and lavender before throwing a perfect hook.
And the Brigham City, Utah-based bowling equipment manufacturer saw demand for its now-patented line of balls spread across the country and worldwide, said Boomershine, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
In a tucked-away shop on State Street in Schenectady, Ted Klonowski bends over a Storm display that reads “Smell me!”
“It’s called Ginger Verbena,” says Klonowski, owner of Klonowski Bowling and Billiard Supplies.
It smells like ginger and some sort of citrus fruit later determined to be a lemon/grapefruit mix.
Nearby, the deep blue and electrifying pink swirls of the Storm Tropical Breeze emit a familiar “just-out-of-the-shower” odor.
“Ah, that’s our sensory perception one,” said Boomershine over the phone Wednesday afternoon from his Utah office. “It’s like an Axe scent.”
Once Klonowski helps a customer determine that a 14-pound ball with a 2.48 radius of gyration and 6-inch flare potential might be the one for them, they’re often delighted to find that the Storm Virtual Gravity comes with a fresh mint-orange scent.
“I sell them every day,” said Klonowski of the scented line. “I carry a half a dozen and in fact, I just drilled up two of them for some young guys. They kind of giggle about it when they find there’s a fragrance. It’s like a little bonus, but it’s not the thing that sells the ball. In my store, it’s the one that matches the bowler’s style and is going to knock down pins for them.”
Although its niche demographic started out as professional and league bowlers, it has steadily grown to include open bowlers. Most are purchased at bowling pro shops around the country, and Capital Region shop owners say there’s definitely a market for them.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Jack Golinski was utterly confused when he first saw mention of scented bowling balls on Storm’s website.
“For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out,” said the owner of The Pro Shop inside Burnt Hill Lanes. “Then one day I just put two and two together and realized that’s a pretty good idea, because as you’re up to the lane the scent comes up to your nose, you sniff it and it really relaxes your body.”
Currently the market leader in high-end bowling balls, Storm has never claimed that a ball’s fragrance enhances performance. But studies have shown that peppermint, lavender and similar scents can have a relaxing effect.
Storm’s president and CEO Bill Chrisman inadvertently stumbled onto the aromatherapy benefits when he first created the scented line.
“He worked in the chemical business and made industrial-strength cleaners,” said Boomershine. “And so he made fragrances for them so you could have a more pleasant and appealing product. So that’s really where it started. Certain fragrances can create feelings of calm and focus, and can bring out certain senses. So this just expands it to the bowling ball.”
Boomershine said company policy prohibits him from providing sales figures for the company’s scented line, but in its years on the market sales have grown at least 10 to 15 percent “just for the fragrance.”
Locally, sales for the scented balls have increased as well, though shop owners couldn’t indicate by how much or whether it was due to the fragrance or other Storm-brand qualities.
Though skeptical at first, Golinski liked the scents so much he eventually bought his own: grape, wild cherry, cinnamon, creamsicle, and more.
“They’ve got birthday cake, bubblegum, mint, spearmint, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’ll show customers our catalog and it lists the fragrances right there and they go, ‘It’s scented? That’s kind of neat.’ A lot of people buy it just for that.”
But in Klonowski’s 46 years selling bowling balls at his Schenectady shop, he’s learned how to tailor a ball to the customer. And he says he knows one thing for sure.
“Fragrance doesn’t knock down the pin.”