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15 minutes with Derek Dukes, who can bowl in his sleep

He and Brandon Falk now in the final stages of purchasing Southgate Lanes

15 Minutes with Entrepreneur Derek Dukes

Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs staffer Nicole McConnahea visited with Derek Dukes of Southgate Lanes, 9700 N. Dixie Highway, Bluffton. Derek has worked at the bowling alley for almost 20 years and has spearheaded marketing for the business including dynamic videos on social media, which had the BCE eager to learn more.

Nicole: Give us your story.
I started cleaning tables here at Southgate Lanes at 14 in exchange for free bowling. At 15, I made my first paycheck. That was 19 years ago. I graduated with a Business Management and Marketing degree at Rhodes State College.

Nicole: I hear that you have exciting news. Please share with us.
Brandon Falk and I are in the final stages of purchasing Southgate Lanes. Hopefully as of Sept. 1, we will be taking over ownership from John Dailey.

This is a big step for John Dailey who has run the Lanes for 34 years. The bowling alley has been under Dailey leadership for 60 years. 

In some ways this is the worst year ever but also the most exciting. COVID threw a big wrench in our plans but we still have big plans in the works.

Nicole: Tell us what the bowling alley was like when you began.
Derek: Southgate Lanes had gone through some big cosmetic changes at that time. John had installed underground ball returns, a scoring system and a big bar renovation. I would say it was a place to go bowl and then eat and drink while you were there.

Nicole: Did you have any rebranding to do?  
Yes. Six years ago we took on a new logo. We wanted to change the image to be viewed as a place with more than just bowling. That is why we incorporated the fork, beer bottle and bowling pin in the logo. The three images represent the idea that we have more than just bowling.

Nicole: What are your favorite parts about what you do?
People! I enjoy seeing and visiting with people. In the bowling industry, or any small town service industry for that matter, you have to be a people person. We are extremely lucky to have the staff we do, they are a great mix of personalities that really create a fun environment to work and hang out in.

Nicole: Let’s talk about your Facebook marketing. I have heard you described as a marketing genius. It is evident that you have fun.
When I first started hitting Facebook hard there was just too much info. Too many words! Facebook then began restricting the word count. This was not attractive and it was just too much noise. Now when I make advertisements, I keep it light hearted and add a teaspoon of info. It all does require time in editing. I use the video editing software Camtasia. It works well for what we do. 

Nicole: You always have exciting partnerships going on. Tell me more about how you partner with other businesses. 
I love collaboration! I want more of it to happen in Bluffton. Maybe someday we can see a business to business coupon. 

Nicole: I want to talk about your rivalry with Norada Lanes.
It all started when someone was showing off a Norada Lanes koozie. I slapped a Southgate Lanes sticker on it and posted a video on Facebook and tagged Norada Lanes. Our rivalry/friendship has been super beneficial mutually.

Both lanes share similar size and ideas. We have actually changed associations to be with Norada Lanes. We are now part of the Putnam County Association. It was kind of a big deal to switch and we are excited about the future with all of those Putnam county bowling centers.

Nicole: What are you most looking forward to for this year? 
Normalcy. I would love some normalcy. However, I do believe that there will be good that is seen out of all of this.

Nicole: What words of wisdom can you leave with future entrepreneurs? 
Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid of negative feedback. No one will succeed in public service without taking criticism.

Also, and this is important, everyone needs someone whom they can trust. Brandon is that guy for me. I called him mid shift at a solid full time job and told him I needed help. He quit that job on the spot to come and take this on with me. Brandon has been a life saver.

Southgate Lanes creativity comes in handy during a pandemic! This summer the business is hosting casual “Summer Trio Bowling,” has scheduled a Jazzercize “Stars, Stripes & Sweat event on July 2, and now has a patio for outdoor drinks and dining.

For a sample of videos, visit Have questions? Call Southgate Lanes at (419) 358-6966.

Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs,, [email protected], (567) 525-6667.